A little over a week ago, the kids had the day off from school. It was Good Friday, technically not a religious day off, but close enough.
I was off work that day and Scott went in for half the day. We had plans to go do some fun stuff over the weekend.
While I was in the kitchen doing some dishes and boiling eggs to color, I heard a big ruckus in the backyard. Our three dogs, Gibson, a dalmatian and something mix we've had for almost five years, Peavey, a black lab and something mix we've had for three and a half years and Fender, our new red heeler puppy were all out there for their morning run around. It wasn't barking. Gibson liked to bark at Baxter, the saint bernard that lives next door, through the fence. It was growling and snarling. I ran out the back door to find Gibson and Peavey locked up fighting.
About a year ago, we started having issues with Gibson and Peavey fighting. Let me back up. When we got Gibson from a local adoption agency, we were his third family and he was three. He would growl at certain people. When he did, we'd move him to another room. He didn't growl at our kids, but he did growl at their friends. He bit our neighbor's daughter at one point. I got in touch with them via email and said what I'd want to hear, that we would take care of medical bills if they chose to take her to a doctor, that we were going to keep him in another room when kids were over, apologized and all that. My neighbor was very understanding and he didn't bite again. I did keep a close eye on him when the kids had friends over. When we took him to the dog park, he'd alpha dog. He would jump on other dogs, trying to bite them on the back of the neck, a way to establish dominance. We had taken him to a doggie day care and the owner said he was showing dominant behaviors.
Gibson did the alpha dog thing with Peavey. Except with food, Peavey was in charge of his food and Gibson respected that space. Then they started fighting. Gibson would start it. They always drew blood. Scott and I didn't know the right way to pull them apart and we both got bit breaking them up. Once this started, one of our go to babysitters wouldn't come back because she was afraid of Gibson. I called the agency where we'd gotten Gibson and they sent out a behaviorist.
A great guy came out and watched the two dogs together. He showed me other things Gibson was doing. When Peavey tried to come up to get attention from the behaviorist, Gibson would turn and give him a hard stare. He told us not to allow that, it was a sign of Gibson possibly being aggressive. He suggested that we make the dogs work for everything. We started to make them sit and stay before they could eat or go out the back door. We taught them tricks and put Gibson in a time out in our laundry room if he growled or snarled at anyone. He told us how to grab the dogs by the back legs and helicopter them apart if they were fighting. Scott did make it clear that if the aggressive behavior came back, it wouldn't be safe to have Gibson in the house with our children.
Things got better for a while, nearly a year. Gibson still did some alpha dogging, but the fights stopped and Gibson was more respectful of Peavey's space. We were really dealing with the issue of the two of them running out the front door to dash about the neighborhood, but we were working on it.
We got the new dog, Fender, from a woman out in front of Wal-Mart who was looking for a home for him as she had lost her's. Fender got a clean bill of health from the vet. And, the good thing, Gibson was happy to play with him. But, he kept Peavey away from him. If Peavey got too close, Gibson would bark at him, walk towards him to make Peavey retreat and we dealt with that the same way we dealt with everything.
Then, Good Friday. Peavey and Gibson were fighting in the backyard. I yelled for Zoe to go wake up her dad. The dogs were fighting. He and I each grabbed a set of back legs and yanked them apart. Gibson kept barking and snarling, pulling hard. We got both Gibson in house and put him in his crate. Peavey calmed down right away, we checked him out and brought him inside. Gibson snarled at him from inside his crate. Peavey went into our bedroom for a half hour or so. We brought him out and Gibson snarled and barked. We tried again half an hour later. They kept their distance but things seemed okay.
Another hour later, Scott was in the shower and Gibson went after Fender. Then, suddenly, Peavey and Gibson were locked up again. Zoe grabbed her brother and ran upstairs where she closed them up in her room. I couldn't get the dogs pulled apart. I yanked open the back door and pushed a cookie sheet between the two of them. I had a hold of Peavey and pulled him back. I tried to shove Gibson out the back door, but he kept lunging. I ended up kicking him in the chest to get him outside. When I slammed the door shut, he ran at the door. He stood outside, snarling.
I told the kids it was okay to come out and I went into the bathroom to catch my breath and wash my face. I was shaking. I told Scott what happened. He and I had a brief discussion and then brought the kids into our room for a very tearful family meeting. The gist of it, was that it wasn't safe for us to keep Gibson in the house. He was attacking the other dogs. He'd bitten before. He growled and a dog that growls is a dog that will bite. We talked about how we had to keep Gibson in another room when they had friends over. And we all cried.
We went out and checked on Peavey. He was bleeding. Not bad enough to need stitches, but he needed to get cleaned up and flinched from the washcloth. We brought Gibson inside and put him right into our bedroom. Ten minutes later I went in to get something and I told Gibson to get down off the bed. He lifted his head and growled at me. I said "Oh no!", looked right in his eyeballs and told him again to get down. He growled again, softly, but got down. He and Peavey both laid down and seemed exhausted.
I got in touch with the agency where we got Gibson and told them of our troubles. I told them we needed to surrender him since it wasn't safe for us to have him in the house anymore. They told me that he would go on a waiting list for a kennel, they'd let me know.
I know that this organization has adoption fairs every weekend and they'd probably have a place for him by Monday. For the rest of the weekend, Gibson bullied Peavey. If Peavey tried to come get attention, Gibson would run in front of him to keep him from getting close to anyone. He growled at Peavey. He was slow to obey any commands we gave him.
On Easter Sunday, I got an email from them saying they had a spot for him. We had to tell the kids. When we went upstairs to talk to them that night, Peavey started to come upstairs with us and Gibson blocked his way, doing a low growl.
We all sat on Zoe's bed to tell them what we were going to do. Zoe went into hysterics. Gibson was on her bed. Peavey walked into the room. Gibson growled and did a low bark at him. Scott told Zoe that that was the sign of a dog that will bite. All I could do was hug my daughter and say "I'm so sorry honey. I'm so sorry I'm so sorry." and cry.
Will immediately said he wanted to get another dog. We told him that we weren't going to even talk about getting another dog until Christmas.
I went to work on Monday then came home and put Gibson's leash on for the last time. He and I took our last car ride. I got him inside the adoption agency's office and turned in my paperwork. I started to cry. I cried while I signed the papers. I cried when they gave me a collar to put on him. I took his collar off, I'd promised Zoe she could keep it. I cried when another volunteer came up to get him. I cried while she petted him. I cried while she walked him away. I went outside, faced the wall of the building and sobbed.
I called Scott at work and I cried. I drove home while I was crying. I walked into our house and two dogs greeted me instead of three. I cried.
Zoe texted me when she was on the bus home from school asking if Gibson was gone. I told her he was gone. I cried. She'd worn black to school that day and told me that she'd started to cry during her orchestra class. She was in the small alcove where she practices her harp. She'd turned away from her harp, facing the wall and crying. Her teacher, a really wonderful man, went in to see what was going on. She told him we'd had to give away our dog. She got off the bus crying. She and I both cried on the couch.
It was a situation where intellectually, I was good with it. The dog displayed aggressive tendencies. He got out and ran around the neighborhood. If he attacked another pet or, god forbid, a person, we'd be not only liable but might have a criminal charge since we were aware of the behavior before hand. It would be irresponsible of us to keep him. It was going to be better for everyone involved to surrender him to the no-kill shelter where he'd be worked with and placed in a home that would be better for him.
My heart said something very different. My heart felt like he'd died.
The energy in the house is different. Peavey and Fender are working things out. Fender has learned 'sit' and is working on not going outside until we give the release word. We're correcting him about jumping on people. Peavey and Fender have not run outside this week and they'll back off from the door when I tell them to.
But, this whole thing broke my heart.