In a previous post I mention Sugar my rowdy St. Bernard Mix. The truth is that she is aggressive. Yesterday my husband and I had her put down. If you are reading this, then I must have found the courage to post my story.
Last summer my daughter asked if I could help by taking a dog. Sugar was a year and a half old St Bernard mix. She belonged to a long time friend that needed to re-home her. She had bitten a child and was being quarantined at the pound. My daughter and Anna (Sugar’s mom) were very upset that if they couldn’t find a home the dog would be put down. I discussed it with my husband and being the soft hearted suckers that we are, decided to rescue her. We met Anna at the dog pound in phoenix and picked up Sugar. She was an excitable, loving big puppy that instantly wormed her way into out hearts. She was a bit unruly, but smart, confident and trusting.
Her first day here was rocky. Upon arriving home, she immediately tried to attack my bull mastiff through the fence. We let everyone calm down and introductions went fairly well. She took the dominant role and Gabe submitted. Rosie, our 12 year old female Shar Pei mix wanted no part of her and just kept her distance. That first night Sugar found a Sonoran Desert Toad and got a major dose of toxin. Incilius alvarius is a desert toad with hallucinogenic excretions. They are common here during the monsoon season. The poison is fast acting and can kill a smaller animal. Larger dogs will get sick but it is usually not fatal. It’s a great defense for the toads. In the past my dogs have dropped the toad instantly and left them alone after that. Sugar must have been persistent and gotten a huge dose….foaming at the mouth and convulsing. We live in the middle of no where, closest vet is 30 minutes away. Getting him out of bed in the middle of the night and meeting at the office would have take at least an hour, more likely 2. The toxin comes and goes very quickly. Best way to deal with it is to get as much out of the dogs mouth as possible. So that is what I did, just repeatedly flushed her mouth with water and crated her. She was fine. But that damn dog never did learn. The toads come out in the evenings to mate and hide during the day. So, I had to keep sugar on a lead at night and walk her outside. Even that didn’t keep her from the toads, she was obsessed. She must have built up a tolerance, because later reactions were never as bad as that first night. She liked the high and spent the rest of the season hunting down toads. I spent the rest of the season trying to stop her.
Sugar had no manners or discipline, she was food aggressive, bossy with my other dogs and always trying to get to the chickens. She was also very smart, loyal and eager to please. Over the next month she learned the rules and got over her food aggression issues. We still had to separate the dogs at feeding time, but I could take her food away without any growling. We took baby steps with training and she responded well. She learned no, out and leave it really fast. She was still too excitable and had bouts of jumping on my other dogs without provocation. An example would be visitors at the door. She would become excited barking and jumping….then just pounce and attack the dog next to her. This was new to me. I have dealt with fearful aggressive dogs. The no warning attack is much harder to handle.
After one of her nastier attacks, my husband and I did discuss getting rid of her. Separating a Bull Mastiff and a St Bernard mutt during a viscous fight will leave even the strongest dishearted. I asked my daughter and Anna to find another home for her. She really had no where to go, this was her last chance. We carried on. With calm and consistent correction she seemed to improve. I burnt off her excess energy playing fetch and she even learned to return the toy instead of running off with it. For the most part she was interacting well with the grand kids. If she growled at a child she was immediately either crated or put outside. I supervised her visits with children and she had to go outside if the kids had food. We sectioned off part of the property to use as a dog run and the 2 big dogs were confined when I was away from the house. Leaving my Shar pei either inside the house or to wander the back yard in peace. I am retired and mostly just a home body. Sugar stuck to my side, constantly under foot. She was always curious, sticking her nose into anything that I was working on. Loved fetching things….if I left my knitting for a moment, she would track me down with it in her mouth. As I put clothes into the front loading washer, she would pull them out and return them to me. Her favorite was water play, running and jumping while I sprayed the hose. She was always trying to join me in the shower or tub. She became my shadow. Since she knew how to open doors, even using the bathroom alone was impossible. Things starting looking up and she was becoming a part of the family. Anna (former owner) came with her children to visit. Sugar played nice and it was a great day.
Her aggression started escalating again last month. She took a dislike to my 12 year old granddaughter and started growling and preditorily watching her. I corrected her and separated them. It was odd, but I wasn’t really alarmed. She warned and I reacted.
Tuesday afternoon I threw all the dogs outside and took off for a quick trip to the grocery store. When I got home Sugar and Gabe were at the fence to greet me. Sugar was excited. Her usual reaction to excitement is to ram the chain link gate to the rooster pen. A behavior we were working on correcting. This time instead she turned and viciously attacked Rosie. In my panic I forgot the combination to the gate. Rosie was howling and crying in pain the whole time it took me to unlock door, run though the house and out the back door. I grabbed a newspaper flyer on the way and was smacking Sugar to try and get her off of Rosie. Rosie was covered in blood and had gone limp. Her leg was death gripped in Sugar’s mouth. I yanked on Sugar and kept beating her with the paper. Finally she let go of Rosie and turned on me. I have been around dogs my whole life and pretty confident in my ability to handle them, but in this instant she terrified me. She was not the dog I knew and loved. A snarling stranger was ready to lunge at me. I shouted her name and she paused, then again went after Rosie. Kicking and waving the paper, I was able to keep her back while Rosie ran into the house.
So many thoughts run through your brain in times of crisis. Is the vet’s office open? do I have his home number? how am I going to get this dog in the truck? is Sugar out there killing my Bull mastiff next?…… Rosie was a bit shocky, trembling, pale gums. I could see Gabe hiding under the desk, so he was fine. After wrapping Rosie in a beach towel, I cleaned off most of the blood and saw that the damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Her head, neck, chest and front legs were covered in bite punctures. The worst was a deep 3 inch cut to her head and a little tear in her ear. Everything else looked pretty superficial. She was responsive and coming around. She couldn’t stand, and I thought her leg might be broken. At one point when I was dumping bloody water to get fresh, I could see Sugar outside. She was rolling on her back, then up and running in circles playing……absolutely euphoric. I think it was at that point realization hit. In addition to her aggressive nature and predator tendencies, she was addicted to the dopamine rush. My behavior modification could in no way compete with the high she was feeling. She would always be unpredictable and dangerous.
It was a long night with no sleep and lots of tears. My husband took the day off work to help me. We had to carry Rosie to the car for the Vet visit. Our vet and his staff is amazing. He knows all of our dogs and I totally trust his advise. He listened to my tearful story as he examined Rosie and agreed Sugar needed to be euthanized. Nick and I went for coffee while Dr. Oplinger worked on Rosie’s wounds. Nick and I discussed our decision. We concluded that it needed to be done right away. Waiting was not only painful but dangerous. I texted my daughter and Anna. They understood and supported the decision.
We picked up Rosie. By that time her pain meds had kicked in and she was able to slowly hobble to the car. There were no broken bones, just cuts, punctures and bruised tissue. With antibiotics and pain medication she will recover. Rosie was safely home. The Vet was waiting. All that was left was to say goodbye. When I let Sugar out of the run, she was excited. She ran around the property a few times, tortured the hens for a bit then came to visit with me on the porch. My big cuddly puppy was back, hugging against me and licking my chin as I put her harness and lead on for the last time. I took a final picture, gave her a big hug and told her I loved her. My husband drove her to the vet. I was too upset to go with them.
So, yeah…..Yesterday was a really shitty day.
Today I am still crying. It’s going to take some time to process everything that happened. These 2 things are absolutes: 1- Putting her down was the right decision and 2- Having her in my life for the past 9 months was a blessing.
My heart aches for anyone faced with this difficult decision. I have no advice. The struggle is a personal one and any decision you make is the right one for you. If you have made the decision and need comfort I offer this:
- You did not put down a healthy animal. You euthanized an animal with an incurable illness. Even in the wild healthy animals do not attack without provocation or reason.
- Stop with the “what ifs” What if I had just kept her penned separate? What if I had re-homed her to a hermit living alone with no children or other pets? For every “what if” alternate action you could have taken there is a horrible “what if” result. What if she got out of the yard and attacked the young boy who rides his bike down my street. What if she injures a new owner…..etc
- Anna graciously texted me these word and I offer them to you “There are too many precious lives in both of our families to take the chance she’ll hurt someone else”
- Harboring an animal with a history of violence makes you liable for any damage they cause. You risk everything you own if the animal were to harm anyone.
- You do not need to justify your decision to anyone. The term “did what needed to be done” comes to mind. Should Rooster Cogburn have left Mattie’s horse to suffer in True Grit? Was Atticus wrong to shoot the mad dog in to Kill a Mockingbird? Find honor in having the strength to “do what needed to be done”. Anyone that disagrees can go to hell.
- Be kind and allow yourself to grieve. I not only lost Sugar yesterday, the decision cost me what ever tiny bit of innocence I had remaining.
Rest in peace my Sugar Booger.