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I’m thinking of a splinter, how a minute foreign object embedded in a finger or foot can cause enough discomfort to slow or completely halt our normal flow of activity, its size disproportionate to the rest of our bodies. So it is with a tiny pebble in a shoe or microscopic remnant of the roast beef between two teeth or a sticky burr stabbing the dog’s pad. At first we feel a little tic or snag…and then either its effect grows or our awareness of it sharpens, becoming extra-focused until the pain exaggerates and what we feel is no longer our finger anymore but the splinter itself. We once loved sliding our hand down the banister that bore the splinter. We relished the walk on the wooded path that yielded the pebble…and that roast beef tasted scrumptious the first time around.

I meditated on Sunday, asking for clarity and cleansing. When we rid ourselves of that which causes discomfort, like pulling a splinter, we endure an acute, temporary pain. I once had to euthanize a dog, a standard poodle, with severe behavior and temperament problems. His third owner , I purchased him from a deceptive groomer who cited as the reason for his rehoming a brown spot on his tooth which prevented him from AKC showing (we all know this could have been altered). Wanting only a pet, I was unconcerned with cosmetic perfection.
With me, Max was loving and obedient. In the street, with other people and other dogs, he was insane. We couldn’t walk in public when a person or another dog came into view. He would bark ferociously and lunge at them aggressively in what was really an uncontrollable fit . We tried group obedience classes. During the “down” lesson, Max’s misbehavior prompted the smug instructor to make an example of me by taking the leash from my hand to show the class of 20 or so “how to do it right.” I enjoyed watching him sweat and huff until he thought he had the dog in the down position, but I saw Max about one inch from being flat on the concrete. The arrogant instructor, himself squatting, turned his head sideways and upward toward me and said, “See? This is how it’s done,” at which point Max leaped up and wrestled with him angrily. We were asked not to return to class.
Next we tried private instruction with a well respected trainer my schnauzer and I had used earlier. After an hour with Max, she recommended I give him away as he was beyond repair. This thought appalled me. I was already his third owner and he was as attached to me as I was to him. And how fair would that be to another person or to this poor dog? How unethical. He would be mine or he just would not be.

He was certainly a problem. I loved him even as he became more destructive physically and socially. I couldn’t trust him with other dogs or people and feared the consequences of having company, particularly my toddler niece. He was too ornery and loud to be crated, barking incessantly and disturbing the neighbors in the building. When I left him alone, he opened drawers and removed sharp instruments. I once came home to find him in the living room with a large butcher knife. Thank God he had stolen it by the handle. Every time I turned the key to enter my apartment I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer.

In a pleading consultation with my vet, Dr. Grubb, I asked for a treatment I’d read about to temper aggression in male dogs: female hormone injections. He cautiously agreed. After a few months with no improvement, we tried another round of hormone therapy. One afternoon while I was out t he swiped his angry paw across the kitchen counter and sent a lead crystal bowl crashing to the floor. It splintered into a what looked like a geometric pattern of deadly blades on the tile. I had inescsapeable visions of my schnauzer stepping into that room and cutting an artery. Not quite a day after this as I opened my door, he bolted out, and unprovoked, attacked a leashed dog walking upstairs, biting him just above the eye. I offered to pay the vet bill and immediately called Dr.Grubb, probably the kindest scientist in Delray Beach. He said gravely, “I think you have done everything you could possibly do for this dog.” The next morning I brought him in to be euthanized.

Did I love him? Absolutely. Did I understand that at least a year of neglect or possible mistreatment had created his problems? Yes, with much compassion. Did I have to let him go? Without question. Was it the hardest decision I ever had to make? Yes.

Natural law presents this lesson to us repeatedly with our companion animals, whether they suffer psychologically or physically. We must sometimes make the decision to release those we love overlooking feelings of guilt and overcoming selfishness, even when we know that loss demands much recovery time. And we do recover, learning to cherish memory as much as presence.

Our human-animal bond rests on higher planes that honor spiritual commitment . With human –human relationships– and the disagreements, correctly or incorrectly perceived slights, values differences, and imbalances we accumulate-- it’s not so clear-cut . What’s worse? Pulling out the splinter keeps us awake at night or leaving it in, trying to convince ourselves, “Well, doesn’t hurt all the time..."?


Interesting post, Lisa.
Except for the euthanizing part, if you substitute doctor for (vets) and the other doggy references and just say "my friend X" it read s like a textbook case of abuse...with th victim saying "He doesn't do it all the time" or some other variation
Patrice said…
I had a German Shepherd-mix who was taken from his dam and littermates too early. He loved us, and we loved him, but he became dangerous and frightening. We couldn't walk him, we couldn't have people over safely unless he was confined, we couldn't even leave him at a boarding kennel so that we could get away.

Finally, he suddenly and without warning bit my friend, a woman whom my dog knew well.

We didn't know what to do, trainers couldn't help us, and it never occurred to us then to take him to the vet for behavior issues.

Because he'd bitten a person, we had to quarantine him at the county animal control. That two weeks was horrible -- I went to visit him every day. He was so happy to see me, but they wouldn't let me take him out of his kennel to walk or see the sun or pee on a bush.

Finally, we had to euthanize him. I still feel guilty about it, like I should have been able to do more to help him. And now that I know more, I realize that there was more I could have done -- I just didn't know any better at the time.

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