Text of story below, though I recommend this one be heard and not read.
He was a Christmas dog.
I had been without a dog for almost a year. The last Sharpei I fostered had died the previous year on New Year’s Eve as her heart gave out while pooping. True story.
She had begun my love affair with Sharpeis and I couldn’t get her goofy, silly personality out of my mind.
We were living in a new place though, one that didn’t allow dogs and, depending on what day of the week it was, my boyfriend was either gung-ho to adding a dog to the household, or completely against the idea.
Today it was the latter.
“We’d have to find a new place, we’d have to move again, I really like where we are, I don’t know that I want to.”
“But don’t you want a dog? You’ve told me time and time again how badly you want a dog.”
This circular argument would go on for ages.
Then I met a 5 week old puppy, who had been brought to the SPCA with a littermate by a woman who said they were placed on her porch by the mother dog, carried over in her mouth by the scruff. He came from a reserve, he was too young to be out of his mother’s care, so they held him for the required amount of days but no one claimed him.
He was the smallest thing I’d ever seen.
Placed into foster care with two other dogs, he was a small pudgy squishy faced pup. I couldn’t believe he was real. A sharpei mix.
I called my boyfriend and told him I’d look for a new place for us. I would move us. I would pay for the entire move, I didn’t care, I just wanted him to say yes to this puppy.
Burbear entered our lives on Feb 1st, 2008 (a month after we’d given our notice as per BC Tenant Law). In the month before we could take him we’d visit him in the foster home, we put the tiniest of collars around his little puppy neck, we’d take him out on walks, bring him downtown to meet new people and see new things. I was enamoured.
He was the most innocent thing I’d ever seen.
We did positive reinforcement puppy socialization classes, we worked on his recall so he could have super fun times running in the forest, on the beach, through rivers and oceans.
I remember one day as a dog approached him he panicked. He ran in the opposite direction, pushed himself up against my legs, and I thought, “….that’s odd”
I remember one night we tried to go out to a show and we came back to a note on our door “Your dog barked all night, I can hear him from my house.”
I remember the panic whenever we put him in an enclosed space, his inability to be crated.
I remember being woken up with him sprawled across my head with his nose inches from the wall. “What’s wrong” I mumbled as I pulled him away from me. Like a magnet he creeped back to the exact same spot and refused to move, pressed overtop my head with his nose right against the wall. Shaking. I tried to remove him again but he threw all his weight against me and that 50lb dog was a sack of cement. This would occur every few weeks.
He was the most fearful thing I’d ever seen.
What did I do wrong? Maybe he should’ve met more dogs, maybe we should’ve made more of an effort to socialize him into adolescence, maybe there was more we should’ve done, more training, more more more.
Those questions still haunt me.
The little Christmas dog was in terror of the world. My boyfriend & I split and I was left with a broken dog who couldn’t be out of my sight. I tried to do short departure exercises but every time, at 5 seconds, he would break down, panicking, barking, shaking, and we’d have to wait at least half an hour before I could start again. He would urinate with no warning while he was sleeping or standing. I couldn’t tell if he even knew he was doing it. We ran multiple urine tests, added every supplement under the sun to no change.
When I had the moment where I thought I was going to break, where I had no resources left – I put him on medication with the guidance of our vet.
They say it can take 4 – 6 weeks for the medication to take full effect. Within 4 days I looked into my little Christmas dog’s eyes and I saw him. I saw him there. He was present. He was focused. He was looking at me.
I had my dog back.
While life with him was still weird at times, it was much more manageable. He still had nightmares, he still randomly urinated. But I could leave him at home and he was able to be crated calmly.
The beginning of the end came when I moved back to Ontario. I knew in my mind that this change in environment could come at the cost of his life.
We stayed at my mother’s where he attacked a dog and was so fearful of a new person that he gestured to bite (a new behaviour). His separation anxiety returned, and I was terrified to leave the house.
I went online and searched for experienced, certified trainers. I found a CPDT certified trainer who was trustworthy and booked an appointment with her.
It’s funny when you live with behaviours so long you just accept them.
“Yes he crawls on top of my head at night his entire body shaking, but I’m used to it.”
“Yes I walk him outside with a calming cap over his eyes so he can’t see anything that might frighten him, but I’m used to it.”
The Christmas dog was broken. He was afraid of the world. And the training, the meds, nothing helped him understand that he was safe. Existence was terrifying.
With the support of the trainer I made the decision to euthanize him. To say it was painful is a joke. It tore me apart. I felt like a failure. I failed raising a puppy. I failed to help him feel safe.
He was the most innocent thing I had ever seen.
I carry his memory with me every day. He’s the reason I work with dogs, I see his face in every fearful dog I see, in every dog unable to cope with the stress of life, in every client who questions if they can help their dog. He is the reason I will suggest that people try medication for their dogs because that medication gave us the best year and a half together. He’s the reason I have empathy, he’s the reason I get it, he’s the reason for the season.
He was a Christmas dog, and it was in December of 2009 that we said goodbye.
Katie Hood, KPA CTP is an actor, writer, storyteller, and dog trainer. This is her story, and it was originally published on her website on November 11, 2015.