As I began writing this little post, my RSS reader pinged and up came the headline: “A Dog Story With A Happy Ending.” This comes courtesy of Rebecca, it seems. The timing is somewhat ironic, since the dog story I’m writing today has quite an unhappy ending.
Almost eight years ago, shortly after we got married, Aileen and I decided to get a dog. I was working late nights and we were living in Brantford. If you lived in this area and heard the word “Brantford,” you’d nod your head knowingly. A woman who is home alone at night in Brantford needs a dog in the house. We visited the Humane Society and came home with an energetic little Black Lab/German Shepherd cross we decided to name Tiazzi. It was a strange name for a strange dog. I can’t count the number of times over the past few years that Aileen has wondered why she didn’t choose the sedate little puppy, Tiazzi’s sister, that looked like a German Shepherd. But instead she took the tiny one that looked like a Lab.
Tiazzi was a smart dog, though never really looked it because she had oversize ears, one of which stood straight and tall while the other constantly flopped forward. She always looked a little cock-eyed. She always had far more energy than we could deal with, though as she aged she finally lost some of the edge. She had an enduring hatred of cats, mailmen, firetrucks and doorbells. She never bit or harmed anyone, but she had a loud bark that would strike fear in any heart (just ask my pastor if you don’t believe me!). We never worried about break-ins when she was around.
We did all the things first-time dog owners do. We took her to obedience lessons and played with her constantly. Aileen spent hours training her to do silly but amusing tricks. I took some time to play with her, but she really was Aileen’s puppy. I tolerated the dog, but never loved her. She was a difficult dog, and a stubborn one. She was probably too smart for her own good. She knew how to heel but chose not to obey us as we tried to convince her to actually do it when we walked her. She would pull and strain against the leash and no amount of convincing or cajoling or even pain would make her stop. Pinch collars, choke chains and other special devices proved useless. She would also jump up on visitors when they arrived. And again, there was nothing we could do to get her to stop this obnoxious behavior. As time went on, and as she got older, she got more hardened in her areas of poor behavior, caring less about our attempts to curb her.
After a while a funny thing happened. Aileen gave birth to our first child and suddenly Tiazzi did not seem quite so important. We spent less time with her, both out of desire and necessity. Nevertheless, she adjusted quite well to the arrival of my son. She didn’t ever really like him or play with him, but she tolerated him and never tried to bite him, even when he helped himself to her kibble. My son was followed three years later by a daughter and when she was born the dog went on a short hunger strike. Tiazzi was, however, a dog and no dog (especially a Lab) can maintain a hunger strike for long. Eventually she gave in and began to tolerate a second child. That was three years ago.
A few months ago we moved to a new home and then, three weeks ago, Michaela was born. This time Tiazzi, now eight years old, seemed unable to adjust to the change. Her behavior changed. She began to bark at sights and sounds that seemed to exist only in her mind. She developed severe separation anxiety which led her to be destructive. When we put her in her kennel she would yelp and struggle until she shifted the kennel far enough along the floor that she could find something, anything, to destroy. Having torn a shirt or even her own bed to shreds, she would settle down and sleep. She soon confused the basement and her dog run, deciding that she no longer enjoyed being outside and would rather use the basement as her bathroom. She began to make a mess of the kid’s playroom.
Yesterday, nearing the end of our rope, we tried a new strategy, giving her the run of the whole laundry room (in the basement) while we went to my son’s ballgame. We came home to find she had chewed away a piece of the doorframe and had clawed under the gate to shred some of the basement carpet. This was the final straw. It was clear evidence of what we already knew–she was sick and was not going to get better.
There were not many options. The Humane Society would not take her. “If her anxiety is that bad now, it’s only going to get worse in the high-stress environment of the kennel. No one will ever adopt her here.” They suggested we put her on medication and take her to some form of pet counselling. The only other option, they said, was to contact our vet, who happens to be a great dog-lover, and have her euthanized. We do not have money for counselling (and probably not for medication either!), so we contacted the vet who said that, from the sound of things, her situation was sufficiently severe that even medication would not help. If we could not deal with her systematically destroying our house, we should consider putting her down. He has seen this before. After much consideration and many tears (from Aileen, at least), we decided that there was no option but to have her put down.
We felt better doing this based on the vet’s counsel, but it was still an awful option. This morning we had the children bid the dog farewell. They know only that Tiazzi has gone to the vet and that she won’t be back. I’m not sure how much more we should tell them. Perhaps ignorance is bliss. Perhaps this is a good moment to teach them a reality about life and death and sin and evil. We’ll worry about that later. Aileen gave Tiazzi a last hug and a last scratch behind the ears. I loaded the dog into the van and we drove to the vet’s office.
I arrived at the vet and, leaving the dog in the car, went inside. I filled out the paperwork, signed something I didn’t bother to read and gave them the ridiculous sum of $281.41 for their services. Having done that, I walked out to the car, fetched the dog, handed the leash to the receptionist and then turned my back and walked away. I didn’t exactly forget to say goodbye to the dog. I guess it’s more that I just couldn’t. I never loved the dog and really only barely tolerated her much of the time, but she was part of our lives for a long time and it was surprisingly hard to know she was going to die.
And then I dealt with this the way I deal with most difficult things. I turned on some really loud music and began to write.
It’s strange, really, that already I am writing in the past tense, even though the dog is probably still alive, at least for a few more minutes. I am reasonably comfortable with the decision we made, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I struggle in the dark hours of the night when I tend to lie awake and think. Aileen is less sure of what we did, but she also loved the dog more. In the end I console myself with the knowledge that Tiazzi was only an animal. She was a living being and was, in some way, precious in God’s eyes. She was certainly precious to Aileen. But she was a dog and had no soul. She will die sometime today and that will be all. Her heart will stop beating and she will be no more. She will not go to heaven and will not chase rabbits through the happy hunting grounds. She will simply stop being. She will be no more than a memory.
God is good to give us animals to serve and protect and comfort and cheer us. Tiazzi did plenty of all of that. But her time came to an end and I’m glad that she could go in peace. As much as I hate to say it, I am going to miss her. Despite the hardship she brought us, I am thankful that we were able to know her and have her live with us. I will choose to remember her fondly.