One of the Worst Days Ever!
We were forced to make one of the hardest decisions to put our sweet Ollie Boy down. Almost three months later, our hearts are still in pieces. As I sit here, trying to find the words to explain what happened, I'm in tears. We lost a family member who we loved dearly. We had to have our sweet boy euthanized because of vicious behavior. It was the hardest decision we've ever made, and we are still struggling. So many people have asked, "What happened?” How do we answer that without being harshly judged? I feel like sharing some of our back story, our history is important to understanding.
Our family loves dogs. I love dogs! I was born into a family that already had a dog and lived my entire childhood with at least one dog and sometimes two or three. In fact, there are only 4 years of my entire life, that I didn't have a dog. That was only because we were a very young Army family with almost no funds and no yard. As soon as we obtained housing on post, we got a puppy and have had at least one dog, sometimes two ever since.
Before anyone points out the obvious, I realize that a dog is an animal. But to me, they are an integral part of the family. My childhood dog, "Charlie", was my true bestie. He comforted me through my parents’ divorce when I was 12 years old. He was there for me when we moved to a new city and school just before high school. He was there for my first date, first heart break, and pretty much every high and low of my life until my senior year. I used to say that it was a good thing he couldn't talk because I shared every secret with him. When he finally got very old and sick, we helped him cross the rainbow bridge. It of course hurt, and we all cried. But it’s much easier to accept the loss of a pet when they are very old and in pain.
We have walked this road a few times. We helped our sweet, silly Basset hound mix, Moo, cross the rainbow bridge when he was about 12 years old. He was blind, deaf and crying in pain. It was time. We cried and were sad but, we knew he was no longer in pain. We still had our Australian Cattle Dog, Aggie. All our kids were still at home as well, and our schedules were so busy, that there wasn't time to think about being sad.
Aggie was such a good girl! She was my 30th birthday present from my husband. Everyone knew she was my dog. She literally followed me everywhere I went. Even if I just walked in circles, she would be right by my side. She would play catch for hours and hours with our kids or the neighborhood kids that walked past. She was also fiercely protective of the family. We were blessed to have had 14 very full years with her. When it was time to help her cross the rainbow bridge, we knew it was the right thing to do. She was in so much pain and could no longer stand on her own. We grieved hard over our sweet Aggie baby. She left a huge hole in our hearts. I desperately wanted to fill that hole with a new puppy right away. Miller was not ready yet. We had some intense, fellowship (heated conversations) over the topic of a new puppy. In the end, I told Miller that God would put the right dog in our lives at the right time.
Australian Cattle Dogs are not your "typical" dogs. They are insanely smart, super high energy, loyal beyond comprehension, and so full of personality. For those reasons, we knew this was the breed we would always have. So, I searched for breeders near us and found two. At the time, I didn't know they were close friends who worked together breeding and showing their dogs. One breeder had puppies but the other did not. Unfortunately, they were all spoken for, and we would need to wait until the following year when they repeated the breeding process. We "friended" each other on Facebook and began to learn more about each other. I fell in love with a beautiful blue, male and gushed over each picture the breeder posted all summer long. Little did I know at the time, but that beautiful blue, male pup was Jake. But that is a story for another time. Let's just say my prayer was answered and God placed Jake in our home at the perfect moment.
When Jake joined our family, our kids were grown, and Miller was just finishing his bachelor’s degree and would begin traveling again. He ended up serving back-to-back deployments. That left me with a lot of extra time on my hands, that I spent pouring into Jake. As a result of all that time, he was able to master a large variety of tricks. Jake is my baby. I like to say that he is practically perfect! He is the sweetest, calmest, best-behaved dog we have ever had. He is not a typical Cattle Dog at all!
Somewhere along the way, we decided that Jake needed a baby brother so he would have a buddy to play with. We contacted our now friend and breeder and began the process of waiting for puppies to arrive, and then deciding which beautiful baby would be ours. We chose a very tiny, sassy red boy and named him Olaf (Ollie). From the very start, it was very clear he was nothing like Jake. The amount of energy this boy had was incredible! Puppies are energetic and they bite a lot, but Ollie was so extra that we said he must have been part piranha. They say that every dog chooses "their person". Ollie was supposed to be my husband's dog, but he chose me. Ollie decided that whatever I was doing, he needed to do as well. Shortly after the pandemic hit, I decided to stop working outside of the house. Ollie became even clingier to me. Most of the time, I loved his company. His quirky, sometimes demanding personality made me laugh daily. He and Jake inspired my book "The Housewolf Chronicles." He was funny and very affectionate. Most of the time, but not
all the time.
Ollie was a very nervous, anxious and aggressive dog. Looking back, this is how he was from the very start. If he were human, he would have been described as selfish, and demanding. Any toy that came in the house would instantly be claimed by Ollie. If Jake tried to play with one, Ollie would immediately take it from. To put it bluntly, Ollie was a bully. Thankfully, Jake, typically remained calm, gentle and easy going, and would walk away from Ollie instead of fighting back. Like I said, Ollie was aggressive, and that aggression had been increasing quite a bit.
To be honest the signs were always there. We couldn't take him to public places to walk because he would try to pick fights with other dogs. It was impossible for my husband and I to walk the boys together. Everything was a competition to Ollie. If Jake was slightly ahead, Ollie would snarl and then jump on Jake. So, to avoid any possible conflict, we would walk one dog at a time. We couldn't pick him up, or even brush him without Ollie snarling and/or biting. I can't begin to count how many times he bit me over the 5 years he was with us. He rarely broke the skin and if he did it was so minor, that it wasn’t a big deal. He was always sorry and very sweet afterwards. Honestly, having anyone come over to visit was stressful. He never seemed to know how to act. He started lunging at visitors and then back away with his ears back and tail tucked like he was afraid. It was unnerving. We were literally adjusting our lives around him. This was not a case of an untrained or undisciplined dog. Ollie was well trained. Something just wasn't right.
So, what happened that caused us to have to make such a drastic decision? I’m not really sure what caused his aggression to escalate. The first major change was on a typical Sunday. Our son is over nearly every Sunday for dinner. Ollie & Jake adored him, and often spent time playing with him, soaking up all the attention they could. For several months, Ollie would show his teeth and sometimes growl when Matt would say goodbye. Nothing vicious, but obvious disappointment that his buddy was leaving. On that Sunday visit, Ollie snarled and snapped at our son. It was startling and upsetting. We scolded him and he settled down. He seemed genuinely remorseful. The next day when I gave the boys a bath, Ollie was not having it. He snapped at me and caught my hand a few times. No broken skin, but he had bitten me hard enough to cause a bruise. The next evening, I was sitting on the floor petting him, rubbing his legs and paws, like I had done since he was baby. Ollie suddenly snarled at me in such an alarming tone that Miller jumped up to see what was going on. We thought perhaps he had hurt his paw or leg somehow. But that was not the case. When my husband started to get up off the floor Ollie again snarled that same alarming snarl, he had done with me. Miller swatted his behind and firmly said “that’s enough”. Ollie snapped and viciously attacked him. He bit Miller’s arm and was not letting go. Miller had to pry him off. His teeth had gone all the way through on both sides. It was ugly! It was traumatic for both of us. Miller told me that was the last straw and that he had to go. He said it was too dangerous to keep a dog that bites. We could not take the chance of him harming anyone else. I of course responded emotionally, and we exchanged words. I was devastated, worried and at the same time angry. It wasn’t my husband’s fault, but I was mad at him. I stayed in the living room all night with both dogs and prayed. I just couldn’t process what had happened or what we had to do.
The next morning, feeling completely defeated and heartbroken, I called our breeder hoping she could help. My thoughts were that as his breeder, she would offer sound advice for the best solution. At this point, I was still hoping that my husband would calm down and change his mind. I was not thinking logically, my thoughts were definitely emotion driven. She was very kind but spoke straight facts to me pointing out that my husband no longer felt safe with Ollie. Trust had been broken. If Ollie bit us, he would bite anyone. She said we couldn’t in good conscious, place him in another home. If we took him to live on a farm, the moment he showed aggression to the farmer it would end very badly. Our only option was to put him down, hugging and kissing him as he peacefully passed. In my head, I knew she was right, but my heart just didn’t feel that way. I immediately called our other breeder who happened to work for a veterinary clinic and asked if they could help us. I am extremely thankful for their help. The decision to end the life of a dog that appears physically healthy is gut wrenching! It was literally one of our worst moments. In that moment we were not judged, but instead we were treated with extreme kindness and compassion. We were reassured that this was the responsible decision.
All pet owners will eventually face the death of their beloved furry family member. Losing a senior pet naturally or through euthanasia is heartbreaking. The grief caused from the loss of a family pet is as deep as losing a child. Losing a pet through Behavioral Euthanasia is no less heartbreaking. I actually believe it’s deeper. I know personally, the guilt, and constant “what if’s” seem to be never ending. I can’t help but feel like we failed our boy.
We often forget that animals are animals. They all have teeth, and all have the potential to bite. We can make every effort to train them to be obedient, and gentle. However, just like humans, they have their own free will. No matter how much time is spent training, loving them, and doing everything possible to live a long and peaceful life together, the unexpected can happen. Just one minor misjudgment of trust could result in, a child or an elderly parent getting injured, or even another household pet could lose his life. Sadly, some really tough decisions would need to be made. There is no fool proof training program. If a serious injury or worse occurs, behavioral euthanasia is an ethical choice.
I recently read something that explained living with a mentally or behaviorally unsound dog is life altering. It can easily be compared to living with an abusive person. We spent the past five years, constantly adjusting our lives to maintain peace in our house. Our sweet Jake shrunk his own personality down and allowed Ollie to push him around. None of our efforts could have predicted or prevented what happened.
Almost three months later, our hearts are still in pieces, but slowly beginning to heal. Jake is mostly back to his sweet, silly, playful self. Ollie wasn’t a bad dog; he just wasn’t well. We will forever love and miss him.