I Killed My Dog Today

Today my wife and I asked our vet to kill our healthy, affectionate, three-year-old pit bull that we love.

Otto left the world in a manner befitting the time he spent on it. It took a veterinary technician, three assistants, and a muzzle to install a catheter on his leg, and when the doctor injected a massive dose of sedative into the catheter, Otto leapt from my wife’s lap and fought it hard, bucking and snarling and trying to split the muzzle with the strength of his jaws, as the vet, exiting the room, blurted out “I’ll be back with more sedative. I thought for sure that would do it.” The vet came back with another round of sedative, which diminished my 90 pound monster’s rage to the impotent stumbling of a furious drunk moments before a face-first gutter dive. Then the last ingredient, a pink serum, flowed into the catheter and Otto lay limp and completely relaxed, finally at peace. The vet, removing the stethoscope from Otto’s chest, declared “His heart has stopped.”

“He looks like a different dog,” Kaarin said. She was right. Only in death did it become clear that Otto was always tense and vigilant, prepared to fight for his life, even in his sleep.

He had terrible nightmares, sometimes several a night, from which he woke ready for battle. We had to — very carefully, only after jumping out of bed and getting a safe distance from him — remind him that he was with us and safe. He would snuggle back in, huff and snort, and relax into a state that seemed calm but in retrospect was ‘ready to fight’ down from ‘nuclear war′.

We didn’t see it during the time we owned him. We loved him too much. We believed that we could train the food guarding and toy guarding and dog aggression out of him. I believed it. I had done it before with Moksi.

And we did. No, really.

We had our work cut out for us. Otto had been abused before we adopted him. His tail was broken and someone had hit him in the face so hard that his right canine was broken halfway down. He flunked his ASPCA safety examination.

When we adopted him Otto would stare down, growl, stalk, and even attack any dog or person standing near or even looking at his food or water bowl. This morning he walked right past our other dogs as they ate and drank.

When we adopted him a stroll past our neighborhood dog run was a major physical challenge; Otto would attempt to force his broad muzzle through iron bars to tear open any dog who dared make eye contact with him, and would only relent from his attack after I dragged him out of sight. This morning a multitude of off-leash dogs ran to the fence, barking, daring him to retaliate and he pranced past them without even looking.

When we adopted him all toys belonged to him and any attempt to take them away or even move them was interpreted as a direct threat on his life. This morning he asked my permission to play with his toys and politely sat and did tricks to earn them.

He loved us. We loved him. Most of the time he was sweet and gentle. He loved to curl up on our laps, in our bed, or next to us on the couch.

He was always intense. The day I brought him home from the vet I tied him to a post while I went into a pet supply store. After shopping I went to the door to find him breathing hard against the glass door. He had broken the post in half.

Once we walked into a room to see him happily reclining in a pool of blood and we assumed he had killed and eaten our chihuahua. The truth was that Otto had chewed through a metal can to get at the food inside and was oblivious to all the cuts in his mouth.

We made tremendous strides in training his reactions and behavior and improving his obedience and attention. But there was a terrible impulse that evaded all of our hard work, and resisted all of his dedication to Being A Good Boy. Randomly, without provocation or trigger, Otto would go from sweet and relaxed to a frothy demented killer for a few seconds.

For a long time this kind of behavior was with only with other dogs, and only under the circumstances he had difficulty with : food and toys.

Our last dog, Moksi, hated children. So when, a couple months after adopting him, Kaarin and I looked out of the window of a store to see a group of five-year-olds petting Otto we nearly died from stress as we raced outside to, we hoped, narrowly rescue the children from certain death and ourselves from a lawsuit or jail time. Otto loved the attention, was calm and relaxed, and didn’t mind the all the kids and their nervous energy. The little ones took turns putting their hands in his mouth as he panted with delight.

Otto loved every stranger he met and leapt into their laps and licked their faces.

But after our first year and a half with him, something changed suddenly and sharply. He still wanted to meet people. He was excited about every person he encountered. But sometimes he would greet someone with his customary kiss or rub and then growl and snap at them. I would apologize profusely, saying how unusual his aggression was, scolding Otto and making him sit, which he did quickly and obediently.

After a few incidents, I couldn’t say “This is so unlike him!” anymore. We stopped people from interacting with him entirely.

He still had these outbursts, every once in a while, but safely away from any people or animals he might hurt because we kept a careful watch on him and anyone who might be around at all times. I couldn’t even pick up his poop without looking both ways carefully to make sure no one might walk near him while I was distracted by the stinky payload I was charged with collecting.

Three weeks ago Otto was sleeping in Kaarin’s lap. We were all in bed together. I was asleep, facing the wall. Otto was sleeping. In the instant that Otto’s eyes opened in panic, terror, and violence from a nightmare, he was on Kaarin’s face. I woke to a sound I have never heard before and never want to hear again; Kaarin was screaming for me, afraid to her very core that she was about to die. I was terrified by what I might see when I sat up to look and take action — a burglar pointing a gun at her? — but it was Otto, his jaws ferociously seeking the face of the most incredible person I have ever known. Kaarin was barely holding him back.

I managed to get him off of her, but not without damage. When I shouted his name he went very nearly limp. He looked around and recognized us, recognized the bedroom, and seemed to have no memory of what had just occurred. Kaarin was crying and shaking and Otto tried to console her, licking her tears away, confused about why she was upset.

We went to the doctor and got Kaarin medical attention.

As the doctor bandaged her face we talked.

Kaarin and I had worked hard to train him for two and a half years. We meticulously managed his potentially lethal interactions with every person and animal with whom Otto might come into brief contact. We suffered severe restrictions on our ability to take a vacation or trip of any kind together. Kaarin had just gone to see her family and to a conference in Las Vegas. I wanted to go with her but couldn’t; Otto was too dangerous to leave with a dog sitter or boarder.

And yet, even with all that work and all that vigilance, all the sacrifices we made, Kaarin had been wounded just shy of a hospital visit and nearly lost her left eye. A truth that we had resisted and worked against was now impossible to ignore : for the benefit of our friends, our community, ourselves, and even Otto himself, he had to be put down.

I’ve hid so much of this story in the last year from my friends and family because I didn’t want it to be true and I felt it to be a reflection of my own failings and inadequacies as a dog owner. I was ashamed of how violent my dog was. I hate breed discrimination and I didn’t want anyone to use our sad story as evidence to fuel the calls for a pit genocide. Tragically, I was confident that I could fix him and determined to do so. And I did, sort of. It was all for nothing; there was a violent tic, an impulse, a fury that even in his calmest moments lay just beneath the surface that no amount of obedience, attentiveness, or love could soothe or regulate away.

It was finally a problem too big to ignore or rehabilitate. Even one more incident, with all that we knew about his capacity for damage, would be a greater failing of ownership than all the ways I failed in rehabilitating Otto. Everyone I know and care about, and all the strangers that might’ve crossed paths with him, deserve better.

I regret having adopted him, having put myself and Kaarin and all our family and friends though the trouble, anxiety, and violence that ended with his death at only three years of age. But I love him and I miss him already. I wish he were here. I know that if he was alive right now he would be sitting next to my chair, leaning his head against my leg. I would pet him and he would sigh and push his head in to my leg. He would be perfectly safe and calm and sweet. I would love him and he would love me.

Until his next outburst, a brief eternity of unimaginable fury and violence, from which he would emerge confused and consoling.

With tears in my eyes and a hole in my heart, today Kaarin and I made sure it would never happen again.

Originally published at terriblemaster.tumblr.com.

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