Sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do.
Today, I made a heart rending decision to put down one of my dogs. Imogene Louise Threadgoode, aka Idgie, was the sweetest, most loving dog you could ask for. Happy, playful, and a bit of a stinker. Yet her mind was a jumble of neurosis, anxiety, and fear. And in the end, her demons won out.
For months, I worked to soothe her anxiety. She chewed walls. Doors. Books. Floors. She cried if left alone for more than a few minutes (and I work at home!). Even if I went into another room, anxiety set in. She’d charge the dogs next door and fixate on them; birds and squirrels knew better than to visit our yard with her high prey drive. We tried holistic meds, calming oils, CBD, soft music, Thundershirt, walks, a den-like crate, eventually moving on to prescripton meds. I literally spent over $2,000 trying to find a solution. Nothing worked. Her anxiety was so bad there was no way I’d ever attempt to integrate her to my pack until she was mentally stable. She was simply too unpredictable. For now, gates separated them to keep everyone safe and I had rotations down to a science.
And what a funny personality she had! A Boston Terror…uh…Terrier mixed with pibble and who knows what, she loved being outdoors, tongue hanging out, as her flip-flop ears and bright eyes took in everything around her. She’d run to her favorite dirt spot and wait for me to say, ‘don’t you dig!’ and she’d start flinging dirt every which way! Then stop, make sure I was watching, and start again! At night when we’d watch TV together, I’d make sure whatever we viewed didn’t have animals of any sort or else we’d experience several moments of her ‘talking’ to the screen. Loudly. Like an armchair quarterback watching his favorite team lose the Super Bowl!
Watching Idgie blossom was a true joy. She settled into typical dog life – get up, eat, potty, chase squirrels, bark, nap, snack, nap, cuddles, play, bark, eat – you get the picture. Even when she developed smelly belly and skin allergies requiring food so costly it was obviously made from gold, she still bloomed.
Idgie and I had a routine. Before she went out to potty, before she ate, she had to give me hugs. I’m not talking, ‘Oh, my dog sorta put her paws on me and I call it a hug.’ No, she truly put her paws around my neck, laid her head next to mine, and stayed there a few seconds. If I pulled away first and she wasn’t finished, she grabbed me with both paws and held on until she had her hug quota for the morning, then she was off. Idgie was the epitome of a happy dog and I even thought she might be ready for slow integration to the pack.
Then last week, I had a new furnace installed. For reasons unknown, she freaked out. Reverted to her previous behaviors which, until then, hadn’t existed for over a year. Whining, crying, chewing, peeing. Wouldn’t come near the furnace. Wouldn’t sit on the couch with me; she’d hide in the bathroom. Started gate-fighting with one of my other dogs. I don’t know why it upset her, but it did, and just like that we were back to square one.
Today, I made a horrible mistake for which I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive myself. Doing my daily rotations, I forgot she was outside for potty and let my three senior girls out. She immediately jumped on my old pibble, Xena, and a fight ensued. A bad one. It took 15 minutes to break it up, even though she was the smaller of the two and badly injured.
Two years of hard work to make her better crashed in a split second. In that moment, I knew something was broken in her mind. No amount of meds or training or time can fix such a broken mind – one that’s always on edge, fearful of her surroundings, and when it comes to fight or flight, it’s always fight. I believe whatever happened to her during those crucial formative months as a puppy set the stage for her present state – lack of a healthy pack to teach proper pack behavior, socialization, or abuse at the hands of others – I don’t know. All I do know is something wasn’t right in her mind and she was suffering.
My dear friend, Helen, immediately came when I called to help get them to the vet. As I drove there, my mind raced – what if this happened and it was my Mom’s little dog instead of Xena, who can defend herself? What if she inadvertently bit my Mom or someone else? What if, what if? Chaos whirled in my mind as the tears flowed because in my heart I knew what needed to be done
Yet, I persisted in trying to find a solution. I talked to Idgie’s original owner, to my Mom, to Helen, the vet staff. I shared her history, previous unprovoked attacks, and her past and present behavior. We talked of alternatives, of which there really were none. They all agreed putting her down was the most humane and right thing to do. The hardest thing, but the right thing.
When the moment came, I sat on the floor with her and stroked her head. She happily ate an entire bag of treats as I watched the light in her eyes begin to dim. Through my tears, I told her I was sorry I failed her. That I wished I could have fixed whatever was broken. I held her close and said in just a little bit, she’d see Jazzy at the Rainbow Bridge and she wouldn’t be scared anymore.
As she slowly lowered her head to my lap, I told her what a joy she was and how much I loved her, my darling hugger. I kissed her. And then she was gone.
Idgie, I am broken. I’m so sorry I couldn’t fix you. I love you and you’ll always be in my heart, my sweet little girl. May you finally find peace.