It’s not a call you want to get as a rescuer. I knew what was coming when I heard the vague message on the machine. “I adopted a dog from you several years ago. Could you call me as soon as possible?” I knew from her name which dog she’d adopted and he’d been a wonderful, well-behaved boy but I knew something bad had happened. Milo was, as best as we could figure, a german shepherd or collie mix that came from a cat shelter that only had outdoor kennels that he escaped from regularly. In a strange coincidence, the day we returned the family’s phone call happened to be the fifth anniversary of his adoption.
The news was what I had expected. Milo had bitten his adopted “dad”, an injury that required sutures, when he came toward the dog and demanded that he leave the room. It was not unprovoked, and it was the first time he’d aggressed with them and so they really felt they should give him another chance. However, they had recently had a baby- unquestionably a stressor that led to the situation- and were unsure what would happen if they kept him. After the bite, Milo was sent to the boarding kennel he stayed at sometimes, and they called us. They used wording like “he goes insane” when someone would come to the door, mentioned that he was “extremely protective” of the home and of the woman adopter, and we were worried that the aggression was an issue that had been building up for a while.
Taking this into consideration, I made an appointment at the vet’s office to euthanize Milo, and called the family to make arrangements to pick him up. I told them that I could not make promises and that it is not usually an option to rehome a dog that has bitten someone and sent them for stitches due to dangerous dog laws and liability issues. They said they did not want to know what would happen, they would rather keep the idea in mind that Milo would have a happy ending; they did not want to be informed if we were to make a final decision about him. It was their way also, I believe, of giving me a way to do what they understood I might need to do with less guilt and turmoil.
I drove to their home that Monday, depressed and miserable, setting out for what would have been one of the worst days I’ve had in rescue. I held my composure as Milo’s “dad” met me at the door with Milo on leash, pulling and struggling to get to me, his body language showing an excited but happy dog, not an aggressive or fearful dog. After an initial greeting, I knelt so he wouldn’t feel the need to jump on me, and he gave me kisses. After Milo’s dad signed the return form, he started to show some emotion but soldiered through it. We loaded Milo and some of his belongings- what had gone with him to the boarding kennel, anyway- into the back of my Forester, and as I drove away, I began to cry. After what happened with Murphy earlier in the year, I knew I needed to do more for Milo than give up on him for a mistake that was probably human error entirely. The dog in my vehicle was not giving signals that he was a crazy, dangerous beast. I took him home in order to give him a chance to mingle with the dogs and cats.
I know it was the right decision to make, though it comes with sacrifices- Milo is now a permanent part of our lives, at least for the duration of HIS life. I’ve struggled with the very human response of feeling that it is unfair to us AND Milo to have this dog join our family because of a situation that shouldn’t have happened, or because his adopters were unwilling to work with a behavior consultant or give Milo a chance to adjust to his new life with the newborn baby in the home. It is inconvenient, and it is stressful having eight dogs under our roof to take care of. Milo’s reactivity has gotten better already but as a sound-sensitive chronic migraine sufferer it has been incredibly difficult listening to him bark his head off at random things like neighbors in their own driveway and anything larger than a leaf moving down the road in front of the house. I’ll admit that I selfishly allowed myself to resent this dog for no reason other than we have become stuck together. In the last two weeks, I have really made an effort to spend one-on-one time with him, working on training with the reactivity (HUGE difference already) and basic manners and obedience to help develop a bond. It has been easier to accept that he’s a part of our lives and look forward to seeing what kind of potential he has. I feel guilty for allowing my own emotions to make me upset about having Milo in the house when really, I am relieved that he is doing so well. He has the opportunity that I couldn’t give Murphy because of his dog aggression. Though he is treated with the love and compassion that all dogs under our roof deserve and receive, I can’t bring myself to call him “my” dog yet, I simply refer to him as a sanctuary dog for the rescue for now. It will take some time for that to change, but we’ll get through this together.