It's hard not to feel like failures as pet parents.
When we arrived at the Caring Hands hospital, I was still wracking my brain on what else we could do. Perhaps if we got out of our lease early and got a house out in the country, Rocky would be less anxious. Perhaps we could ship him off to BF's mom for a few months in Maine where it would be less quiet and less amount of dogs and no elevators. Perhaps if we put him on a muzzle for 6 months while we got anti-anxiety medication. I even looked into a controversial surgery called "dog disarming" which would cost about $2,000 wherein they pretty much file away the teeth so if a dog were to bite you, it would not puncture flesh. In fact, it would be like a grandmother without teeth biting you...there would be no harm.
However, the fact remains: Rocky could not be trusted. We could no longer touch him since sometimes he liked it, sometimes he hated it. The only time we would touch him is when he actually jumped up into your lap. And even then, I wouldn't pet his head, I would pet his chest in a soft circular motion, a technique I had read about in TTouch training...that I was waiting for a date to open up to sign up. Whenever I massaged Evie that way, she would close her eyes and be in the most relaxed state she could be in. When I did it to Rocky, he would relax momentarily but once he heard a sound or saw a movement that was not to his liking, it snapped him out of it.
Rocky was put to sleep yesterday around 11:35am. When he was sedated, his tense face finally looked relaxed. The bf and I sat down on the tiles and petted him and talked softly to him about his time with us. Chad even said "this may be the only time we could actually touch you, at least we got to". When the vet came in, we talked about what we had done before we had come to this decision: Hired a personal trainer who observed his behavior, did exercises with him whenever he would see dogs (either in management mode where we would walk away with "Over here Rocky!" or feed him baby food at first sight of a dog, to give him a positive experience with being 'calm' around dogs at a distance. Timing was crucial here. When we first did that exercise with Evie, it didn't take long for her to a) be calm around dogs and b) start asking for her treat every time she looked at a dog. Rocky NEVER did that. I was waiting for the day, after a few weeks, where he would finally look at a dog and look at me for his treat. He would just nervously eat the food each time), we rearranged our schedules: I soon found out the dog rush hour in my building was between 7am and 8am. Rocky had to be taken out between 6:15am and 6:45am to have complete control of the elevators. He was walked every day for an hour by our dog walker Carl between 12pm and 2pm. Dog rush hour at night was between 6pm and 8pm. Imagine our dismay when we took Rocky out not only at midnight but at 2:30am in the morning to find other owners with their dogs. I found it ironic to think: "Who the heck is walking their dog at this hour?" He was fed twice a day: 8am and 8pm. He was signed up for Reactive Dog class and, just in case, paid a $800 dollar deposit ($1,000 to be due at time of training) at Olde Towne School for Dogs for training (although, training was not really the issue here but still kept all options open.). After hearing that Rocky could get leash aggressive being taught on a choke collar , I went back to OTSD, in tears, saying that I didn't want Rocky to get worse if they were going to use dominance training. I watched a class and was even offered to talk to another dog owner who had a dog and human aggressive dog who had went to 7 trainers before going to OTSD. However, the owners of the training school wanted to keep the privacy of their clients. Also, just because a dog growled at humans didn't mean that dog had sent two people to the hospital for treatment. We were chagrined to find out that each time Rocky sent a person to the hospital for treatment, the hospital, by law, had to contact Animal Control. The Animal Control officer, who actually turned out to be really nice, said the first time didn't concern him....since he bit the bf. (ACO says "What are you going to do...report yourself on...yourself?"). The second time he came over, we had to quarantine Rocky....which we had been doing already! The third time.....who knows. They could take Rocky. Or worse, they could take Rocky AND Evie---and Evie could barely hurt a fly!
Do I regret ever getting Rocky? Absolutely not. Did he love us? Maybe, maybe not. Did we love him? Absolutely.
We knew he didn't have INTENTION to hurt others. He didn't CHOOSE to be this way. He would just get so fixated on something that would make him anxious and have to bite--hard---to make that anxiety go away. If we knew his triggers, say if it were tall men or girls who had cancer, then it would be something we can work with. He once growled at a guy across the street. He had a suitcase. Perhaps he didn't like guys with suitcases. But then the next day, we would see three guys with suitcases and he wouldn't react. He once whined at a sight of a baby. But when he met my niece, he was extremely gentle. He would growl at different people and I would rack my brain to figure out why he was growling. Was it because he was wearing green pants? Did she have a scarf? Did he not like people with blonde hair? But God forbid he attacks a child or a stranger. Especially if a person in the elevator or on the street decided that Rocky was just too cute not to be petted and CHOMP. Lawsuit. We could lose everything.
The last straw for me wasn't necessarily the attack itself, it was the way he attacked. He had attacked my friend with her back turned to him. Not only was he across the room, he was across the room lying down on his side. My friend Jen was lifting up my laptop (at this point, her back turned to him) and he decided to run across the room, jump up and clench and bite up and down her right arm. To me, that spelled unpredictable and unacceptable. I WISH it was because she tried to take his food or his toy. Then it would explain things. But Rocky just did not like Jen and would not feel better until he got a chomp on her. As soon as he bit her, he looked up asking for his treat. He had no remorse for any bites or fights he had been into. In one case, that was good because it took no time for him to move on. On the other hand, it was terrible because how do you discipline a dog that didn't understand remorse for his actions?
We think (we don't know, since we're not dog experts) Rocky may have been a puppy mill dog or perhaps he was abused by his previous owners..or maybe both. He was just so anxious majority of the time. He had erratic breathing. A few times, he would lie on his side, with his eyes closed and his breathing would go extremely rapid. I wondered if he was having a seizure sometimes. Rocky also rarely slept. Sometimes he would sleep in the bed. Sometimes he would sleep underneath our clothing that we had on the floor. Sometimes he slept nuzzled into our comforter that I didn't have the heart to pick up when I finally saw him sleep. Sometimes he would pass out in his crate. At one point, I thought perhaps he couldn't relax because he wanted to be in a crate. I put him in Evie's cloth crate once and the next morning, he had chewed a hole, jumped out of it and slept in front of our bedroom door. I wasn't upset about it, in fact, I was a little touched that he thought to sleep out of our door. Bf thought he may have had a fear of open spaces (hence why I think he was a puppy mill dog). I found him underneath our chair, underneath my blanket, hiding out in his crate or...which I thought was a little bizarre...putting his head underneath our bed but the rest of the body outside of the bed.
After telling the vet our long story about Rocky, we were hoping she would have something that we just didn't think of. Bf almost called a kabosh on the whole thing after we sedated Rocky. We both decided that if somebody decided to back out of the decision, we were free to do it---ONLY IF we had an alternative to this course of action. He looked at the vet, with tears streaming down his face, asking if we were the only pet parents who had done this. She replied "No, but its extremely rare. But we would tell the parents to try a different number of alternatives....which you proactively already did. We can POSSIBLY pull some strings to get you to see that behaviorist you wanted to see but your concern about him being a liability is a huge one. You are being responsible parents and I know this was not easy"
Thanks to Rocky though, I know more about dogs than I thought I would ever have to know. I know the difference between a pinch collar, a choke collar, a halti and a gentle leader. I know the difference between Clomipramine, Reconcile and Acepromazine. I know the difference positive reinforcement, clicker training, dominance training and being positive without being permissive. I know what a reactive dog doesn't necessarily mean aggressive and what barrier frustration is. I went to a dog seminar surrounded by vetrinarians and trainers who were getting certifications while I was there, 1 of 3 "regular people", wondering how I can help my dog. Rocky was an extremely smart dog who learned all the tricks I taught him, who worked for EVERYTHING (going through the door for a walk, he had to do a sit; to get his dinner he had to do a sit, a down, and a down stay to get his dinner...which he had to work for as he had 3 different food dispensers I would give him. I also got to the point that he knew hand signals AND verbal signals). Rocky would have probably been a champion agility dog in another life.
In the end, I think we were too late in his life to be able to make him realize that life could be a peaceful positive place. It's going to be tough to have to explain to other people about Rocky and have them judge me for being a bad pet parent. One person said "just use shock collar" (like shocking him was REALLY going to make him less anxious), another person said "get a treadmill. Sounds like he has pent up energy." As if hiring a dog walker for 5 days a week wasn't enough, while walking him at midnight every night. If he really did have pent up energy, wouldn't he destroy things at our place? We once took him to a dog park, where he around for about an hour and a half. Not only was he exhausted, he puked his water because he had drank it too fast. Also, it was about 30 minutes before he was reactive to dogs all over again.
It's hard not want to smack people who have good intentions but have no idea what books I've read, classes I've attended, people I've hired to make Rocky a little less anxious. You many how many times I've had to fill out a questionnaire and an application for a professional to look at Rocky? FOUR TIMES. My hand is tired just thinking of writing over and over again in detail about Rocky's anxiety and reactiveness. You wouldn't look at another's person child and say "your child probably has too much sugar. lessen the sugar". Or you wouldn't go up to another parent and while their child was having a tantrum, say "BAD CHILD! YOU HAVE A BAD CHILD!" (Yes, that has happened to me.)
Last night, we were at the pet store to pick up more food for Evie (I know, bad place to be after putting your dog to sleep). I saw a guinea pig who looked exactly like Rocky. Yes, we bought him and a companion for him and a guinea pig mansion. It was something to be excited about and something we can honor Rocky with. I named the new guinea pig RJ (Rocky Jr) and BF named the other one Ivan after Ivan the Russian in Rocky 4. BF, who is a labrador person, started looking for corgis. He found a male Pembroke, 4 months old, at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria and called to inquire. Luckily for me (or unluckily in BF's eyes) he was already adopted. I'm not ready for a new dog, BF thinks we should get right back on the horse (strange statement for him to say regarding dogs). That discussion is still to be determined.
Rocky's ashes will be scattered in an apple orchard outside of Virginia. Caring Hands hospital was nice enough to make a clay paw print to remember him by. I'm not a religious person (although brought up Catholic) but I refuse to believe that his little spirit is just....dead. I hope he is at a heaven or the Rainbow Bridge and where he can finally relax and be in peace. I hope he is running in a field with other doggie friends and never has to look behind his back again. I hope he knows not all humans are bad people.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.