Monday, December 22, 2014

Allowing the cobwebs to be brushed aside can be intolerable when such heartache and sadness are on the other side, but one thing a life of rocky paths has taught me is that working through the pain is the only way to the joy on the other side, joy I only discovered in the span of my twenties as I did the hard work of bearing my soul and allowing it to be nurtured a bit by the hands of others. That same soul is aching at this time with the loss of a companion, of a dog who came into my life in my twentieth year and nearly saw me through to my thirtieth, the one who was there as I hit rock bottom and found my way out again, the one who was by my side as I said goodbye to my grandma, to my father, to the only place that ever felt like home. She was there as I allowed my heart to love and as I welcomed my sunshine of a daughter into my life. And now she is gone, forever. My heart is broken, the guilt and the pain are impossible yet very real and in ways that only those have lived it would understand a huge weight has been lifted. For the first time in nearly ten years I am allowed to breathe fully again - or at least will be if this knot ever untangles from my chest.

Life with her by my side was not easy and not only because of circumstances I was faced with but due to the circumstances of who she was, due to a part of her that I could not reach my own hands in and nurture into a joyful place of its own. By her first year her bite record was higher than would have been tolerated had those bites been reported. Despite the months of puppy and dog classes we attended I could not get through to her on the level needed to build the life together I had dreamed of. Rather than graduating class with a picture and a smile I left with guilt and embarrassment at her leaving the trainers hand bloody. We quickly had to stop visiting dog parks as it became too dangerous, too much of a liability. I had to switch vets after she sent a tech to the emergency room. A neighbor was bit in the face but took the blame as so many others did. There's also the story my mom likes to recall of her standing on a stump in the backyard as Lilly ran circles and repeatedly lunged at her, something we laughed off as puppy play at the time, but soon realized was a sign of something more. My own body was often left bruised and battered in those early days, in ways nobody would allow from another human, but that I felt was my responsibility to work through and fix with her. I made excuses and explained off the behavior. 

For nearly ten years I carried the burden and each year our box shrank down in size, our lives grew smaller and smaller while they should have been blossoming. With every bite or confrontation we took more precautions, we hired an in-home trainer, we took a class for aggressive dogs that was cancelled after the first night, we felt hopeless and desperate and I often begged from the deepest parts of my soul for something to change, for some kind of relief from living under the constant stress and increasingly unsustainable lifestyle we had made our way into. E has been left with physical scars he will always carry, Jasper's ears are altered from her very teeth, Leroy's face has been stitched back together after an emergency vet visit a few seasons ago to fix the cheek ripped from his face, we all have scarred hearts from living this life and all it entails for so long and for having to go through what we have to try to make our way to the joy on the other side. For what options we were left with if we wanted to stop the list of those who have been harmed in her path, to protect our family, our neighbors, our friends. We made the impossible choice, the only one left and the one I feel so misunderstood on by anyone who hasn't lived this life, the choice I never thought I could make, but the one I myself had to decide on after too many close calls with a hand much smaller than mine, mine that was once left numb for days after repetitive bites as a grown adult when loading up into the car after an otherwise fun day at the park. 

The gates were no longer enough, the constant shuffling in order to keep everyone safe. My health was suffering, my other animals were left neglected as all of my energy went to simply keeping everyone out of harms way, my family was under a constant level of stress I wouldn't wish on anyone. And yet we endured. We pushed through it and managed the best we knew how until we couldn't, until the bared teeth and rolled gums finally found their way into my mind rather than my heart and I made the hardest decision of my life, the one to say goodbye. To release her from the constant stress and anxiety, to allow our other animals to stop living in fear, to protect our family from anymore undeserved pain and suffering. It still all feels like a dream, like something as impossible as it was. 

Visitors to our home now delight in finally having a chance to meet our dogs, they ask if we enjoy having the gates down, having our lives opened up, not living under so much stress, but those questions are impossible to answer as all I feel now is a level of guilt and pain I have never felt in my life. At having said goodbye nearly two weeks ago tomorrow the tears have subsided a bit, but each time I walk past her ashes on my dresser my eyes well with them and I lose my ability to breathe. Nearly half my life has passed since I have eaten meat, I used to work at a no-kill shelter, I live a life in which I do my best to reduce harm to animals...and yet, here we are. I made this impossible choice. All I can hope is that others would understand how extreme the situation must have been for me to make this choice, how unsustainable. I wish there really were those magical farms where troubled dogs could run free, where I knew she would be loved and cared for until the end, but if our years of searching and begging have taught me anything it is that this was our reality. There was no magic answer, nobody who would come in and save the day. We had knocked on all doors and we had exhausted all resources, all we were left with was the hard reality, the fact that as her body lay still and the tears ran down my face, that was the first time in nearly nine years that I was able to bend down and kiss her without fear. 

So now we move forward. We all try to heal. We journey into the woods with Jasper by our sides to try to find our way to the lifestyle we can only imagine. We take down the gates. Our daughter can explore her home and yard freely for the first time in her life. We can welcome another daughter into our arms without fear of the other one being harmed when the balls are inevitably dropped and a gate is left unlatched, a door left open, a piece of food left on the floor. The anxiety can fade away. We can open our door and all flow in and out of the garden. We fill our other pets stocking with toys they haven't had the pleasure of playing with for years. We can shower them with love and affection. We are no longer living in a dangerous environment, we are now living in a home - I fear it will take me much longer than I would hope to enjoy that reality. For now there is so much sadness where I can only hope the joy will one day be. 


To anyone else who may be experiencing this, my husband found this post and reading through the comments filled with stories provided me with a lot of what I needed at the time. Maybe it will help you in some little way too.


  1. Oh Sara, I am so sorry, my heart is aching for you right now. While I have never been in this place, I can appreciate how difficult it is for you. It is never easy to say goodbye, but when we have had to make that decision it is even harder.

    It sounds like you did all you could, and asked for as much help as you possibly could, but in the end, nothing could have helped. And you choose your family, your home, and a life with less anxiety and stress, you made the right choice. I know it hurts, and there will always be a deep sadness there, but soon the joy will return.

    Sending you love and hugs my friend. xo

  2. Sara, I'm so sorry it had to get that bad. I have to say I can only imagine the sorrow you are feeling, but I think you made the right choice and I don't think I would have lasted nearly as long as you did in that situation. Hope your heart is feeling better soon!

  3. Thank you for sharing such kind words of support. This past month as challenged us in ways we were hoping to never have to face, but as you know, from challenge comes growth and I can only imagine we will come out stronger on the other side.

  4. Thank you so much for your kind words Lauren. This situation is one I wouldn't wish on anyone and I'm not sure why it was part of my story, but hopefully time will heal and we will grow and learn from it all.