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Loving is leaving

LEAVING is sometimes LOVING your dog. An eight year old Great Dane lost his home after a few bite incidences, all which could be rationalized, none coming out of aggression. Food was involved in one and each one had backed this big boy into a bad decision. If anything insecurity had more to do with his reactions, fear rather than dominance. This is a beautiful specimen of a dog, a gorgeous example of this breed. He has been well loved and cared for his whole life. Eight years of his life was spent following and loving his owner. He had it all for a full life of everything a dog could ask for.

Losing his home was the absolute worst most tragic thing that could ever transpire. For a dog like this to lose his person, his people, his home, his routine, his stability, his courage, his reason to breathe… is like a death.

This regal from birth and yet clearly annihilated dog arrived one day and we set him up in the kitchen, with his bed and toys and food and water station. We committed to him…whatever he would need. I instantly loved him, was in awe of him and then also felt terribly bad for him and wondered about the truth to the bite incidences. I took it slow with him, not wanting to find triggers by pushing and ruin our beginning. I was a stranger. I never even met his mother. Now I was the mother. I met him in my house, when he first arrived, after his owner left, obviously also destroyed, in tears no doubt. For him and I, our relationship began when he came through the door into my house, into my world, and straight into my heart. I was a stranger. I was the mother. I let him feel me out and decide if he liked me, but he wasn’t even trying. His nose never sniffed the air, his head stayed dropped down, he kept a distance. I wanted to wrap my arms around his neck and hug him to show him I loved him. He had a bite history…he was depressed and despondent. He was not here in the moment with me. I would baby talk and send him warm, loving blasts of energy, positive thoughts and adoring looks. I tried with every possible food source to get him to sniff…look at me…come to me…eat. Nothing else in the world was as important as getting him to eat. Inside I was begging him to survive and digesting the fact that such a beautiful animal and sweet creature lost his home.

He was obliterated. He was the most depressed and despondent dog I have ever seen, aside from one morbidly obese and elderly Rottweiler, sick with pneumonia and straight out of the shelter, who gave up on life, and who didn’t survive. The benefit though in this situation was that this Dane was in excellent health. Even though, however, I knew that if he went over 24 hours without eating anything, he would already be hurting. Such a big stomach to be empty. He went a day and started vomiting the next day, a very small amount of dark bile. We grimaced and tensed and inside, were sick with worry for him. We considered cancer considering his age. He wouldn’t survive this self induced starvation. Luckily he continued to drink water. We went straight to boiled chicken and hamburger, rice…dry kibble, tried gourmet canned foods…merrick, natural balance, so many different treats, eggs, deli meats – roast beef, ham, hot dogs, broths…all met with refusal. He would even eventually start to smell…but then still refuse. The first thing he ate from me was a few pieces of cheddar cheese as I prepared my bagel the next morning. I was ecstatic. I had him! I was the mother. We cooked lamb chops in a frying pan and we had his nose in the air, drool pooling and dripping, eyes bright and the hint of excited anticipation in the air…a good sign. He devoured the meat and this lead to a week of cooking daily for him…lamb chops, pork chops, sausage, and all of this meat is farm raised literally down the road on a beautiful farm. The chance that we had all of this meat in the freezer and could daily cook something aromatic and even lightly seasoned…making it impossible for him to hold out is just a miracle. I even opened a newly donated bag of Purina One Lamb and Rice and when I opened the door for him to come in from the yard, he was pulled to the open bag by his nose, took a big sniff and looked up at me wagging his big tail. I looked down at him, “Really?” he was eating nothing but people food, not even canned food. I filled his bowl with the kibble, dropped it in his stand and he went to work. From that day he eats all day from full bowls of this savory kibble. He had stability. He had dropped some weight by then and I knew he would fill back in eating like this.

This poor boy could have had it so much worse, if not in a home and with 24/7 attention, if not getting the efforts to feed him he could have started physically having serious issues, became dehydrated and had to go to the vet. He was just shut off, shut out and beginning to shut down. The emotional torture that it was for him to lose everyone and everything he knew, so suddenly, abruptly… over, could have killed him.

We are grateful everyday that he greets us with happy eyes and wagging tail and stomping feet. We also have the pack to thank for giving him so many examples of happy and secure much loved pets to reassure him and even eventually offer him the fun of social play. We won him over and we can say that we know he is safe for the rest of his life.

And then the owner asks to visit…

My first reaction is a stab in my heart and a nauseating twist in my stomach. I wish they just never asked. I know how they feel. I have had to endure this particular kind of loss. I gave up two of my dogs who were like my children when a long term relationship ended. I cut the ties, with both human and dog so I never put my pet through losing me more than once. I try to imagine the experience for this dog, knowing what I know about him, based on what I have observed since he arrived. I often try to mentally picture myself in the dog’s skin, behind their eyes, to wonder what they see and feel. The only thing that I could relate my human emotion to is, I remember what it was like in young and fickle affections to have a boy that I liked come in and out of my life. His eyes wandered often and I, like many pubescent teenagers can attest, had much angst mixed up with love. I imagine that this must be what the emotions would be like for a dog like this boy to have their master return and then leave again.

And no matter how slight the effect, is it worth it for the dog? To be utterly honest, I have to be this dog’s favorite person to be a master for this dog. I had to compete with a lifetime of loyalty that you nurtured for eight years. I not only almost lost, but the dog himself was almost lost in his depressed state. To get him to come around was for him to be reborn. Not only is he happier everyday, but he is totally 180 degrees from being the depressed dog that arrived. He is a puppy again. He jumps and plays and barks and nuzzles plush toys (and then tears them up a little), and stomps and chases balls. He gets giddy with excitement when he sees you coming around the corner and his ears go back and his tail wags and then he pushes his big head into your stomach and leans in and steps on your feet. He slobbers and is just the goofiest happy boy I could ever imagine. And he loves his new home and his new people unconditionally. He has met a dozen new people, from teens to adults and been perfect and even gets affection from some. Everything is perfect right now.

I worry that he will be waiting everyday for you to come back if you ever again come in. And right now, in this moment, he isn’t waiting for anything…just the happy and contented expectation of a new day of this easy country living in his new contented life.

Even if the stability that we have built up until now is so strong that he continues to eat and suffers no physical effects, even if he still loves us like he does now, what if he has a bad reaction to a visitor out of any frustration pent up from waiting for you? He is in the kitchen and not in the living room because of two also older male rescue dogs that he is not comfortable with. If he loses that spot, so perfect for changing his water bowl ten times a day because one good drink turns the whole bowl to gelatin and for him to get leftovers of everything we cook to keep weight on him and keep him healthy, it would undoubtedly make his life harder. And we have no reason to ever doubt his ability to meet new people. That part of his life is over. He has never made a mistake in this life. I never will give him a reason to. Your presence is a stressor in the end when you leave… again.

f he ever had to choose, he will always choose you. That will never change no matter how much time goes by. And I don’t think that you can explain to him why he is not allowed to follow you until the end. He is yours. You are his. And that is eternal. Unfortunately for you, we just need him to forget that, here, in order to be truly here, in the moment, allowing himself to be dog. I would want nothing less for him. I want everything for him, as you do.

I cannot say no you cannot visit without feeling like a mean person, but if you ask me what is best for him…I know it is love if you leave.

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