From “I can’t live with this dog,” to “How am I going to live without this dog?”

I remember the first time I saw Monte on petfinder.  I nearly fell out of my desk chair (yes, I was snooping on petfinder when working at the publishing company) when I saw how handsome he was.  Flip-flop, flip-flop, went my heart, nearly as “twitterpated” (old Bambi definition, nothing to do with modern social networking sites) as I was when I met the most handsome human man I’d ever met, the man who was to become my husband.

I filled out an application for him immediately.  When I received the approval notification, I asked my friend Brenda if she would be willing to take a five hour road trip with me to get him.  It was Valentine’s Day, 2006.

The drive there seemed really long, because of the excitement and anticipation.

When we finally arrived, it was dark.  I was greeted by a very nice lady, who said she would go get “Beethoven” and bring him out to me.  Brenda and I waited together in the garage.

Not two minutes later, the door opened.  My heart leapt, and then fell.  Even from across the room, I could smell him.  When I saw him, my excitement quickly turned into apprehension, when then quickly turned to resignation as I saw his smile.  He bolted out of her hands, rushed over to me, and leaned his frail, skinny, dirty, smelly body into me as hard as he could.  He looked up at me, I down at him, and we both smiled.

“Let’s go home, boy.”

We stopped at McDonald’s and purchased some chicken McNuggets to teach him his new name on the ride home.  We rode with the windows down to dissipate the stench, despite the cold, upstate-New-York-in-February chill that quickly filled the car.  Because it was such a long trip, we stopped at a rest area on the way home, Brenda and I taking turns peeing and baby-sitting.

When we finally arrived home, Mokie and Jim rushed out to greet us.  Monte reacted with what seemed like astonishing ferocity.  Mokie, luckily, responded favorably and had him wrapped around her Chow-y paws within approximately five minutes.  They were fast and forever friends.

The next day, we gave him his first bath.  I had worried that perhaps he would hate it. Instead, he looked at us with relief in his eyes as the black, oily, water ran from his skin for what seemed like days.  It probably did feel good, since only days earlier he had enough ticks to fill a coffee mug pulled from his skin.  His back, from the base of his shoulders to the base of his tail, was one bald, open, oozing, smelly, weepy hot spot.

One of the most tangible emotional memories I have of the early weeks of bringing Monte home was the response I got from others in my community when I’d take him for walks.  Often, I got terribly dirty looks from people in the neighborhood.  “Look at that skinny dog.  He looks abused.”  They would shake their heads, rubbernecking, tongues clucking, slowing down their cars as they passed looking at me, disgusted, as though I had done all of this to him.  Walking him was very shameful for me.

Things got a lot worse before they got a little better.  Because he had been so malnourished, Monte’s body just didn’t know how to process good food.  For the first four to six weeks, he would have diarrhea about four times a day.

I was lucky enough to work at a publishing company which was within two miles of my home at the time.  I would leave for work at about ten of 8 each morning, returning home at 10 a.m. during my 15 minute break, again at about 12:30 for an hour lunch break, back at 3 for my second 15 minute break of the day, and then home again at five.

Each time I would unlock the door, my nostrils would be assaulted and my heart would drop.  Yet again, Monte had defecated all over himself.  His feces were practically liquid – they were mashed into his crate, the walls, the floor outside the crate, and all over his fur. His body didn’t know what to do with regular, quality nutrition, despite the fact that I tried to transition slowly and carefully.  Additionally, he’d never lived in a house before, so he didn’t know that toileting should ideally be an outdoor activity.

I would come home on lunch break with my friends, ready to watch an episode of Montel and relax for a bit.  I would apologize profusely through my tears and embarrassment as I tried to clean up the inevitable lunchtime mess.

It wasn’t until about three weeks after Monte had come home that he began exhibiting his true reactivity to other dogs. He dragged me into city traffic after another dog, leaving scars that will last for a lifetime.  He went after my scaredy cat Eartha Kitty, and my lip got sliced open, leaving another lovely scar in the process of trying to keep her safe.  He had my friend’s skull in his mouth.  He bit my brother-in-law.  Two other friends were also bitten.  I thought I was going to lose my house, my husband, and my mind.

He broke everything within paw or tails’ reach, and he could reach virtually anything I could reach.  He mounted and held on for dear life to the leg of anyone in my house with the audacity to hug someone.  He chewed up expensive chews.  He learned how to open the oven and steal home-made breakfast pastries.

This may not be politically correct, but blogging as much as I have I’m fairly used to and expect my share of irate reader emails from people who disapprove of my opinions or decisions.  While many may judge, honestly, the only way I can possibly describe life with Monte, in the first year, is how I would imagine it would be for a human raising a child that had severe physical and behavioral abnormalities.

It was a constant, full time job.  Literally, wake up at 6 a.m. and walk the dogs (so I could avoid running into other dog/handler teams).  Go to work at 8.  Home at 10 to clean up diarrhea from all over my dog and my house.  Back home at noonish for a repeat of diarrhea cleaning.  Again at three, then at five.  Then spend an hour with my husband discussing, “what the hell are we going to do with this dog?”  Wait until everyone within four counties had walked their dogs and go back out for another walk.  Sleep for about two hours, wake up for another potty break, repeat throughout the night.  I think it was probably six to nine months before Jim or I got more than two hours’ worth of sleep at a time.

He tore through shoes, 2 lb. bags of my beloved Twizzlers, purses that happened to have contain a pack of gum.  Left unattended for five minutes, I would return to the kitchen to find a five pound bag of apples missing from the counter top.  In its stead, on the floor, was a torn up bag and five lonely apply seeds.  Fantastic.  More diarrhea and now I can’t even console myself by eating too many Twizzlers.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been so tempted to give up on anything in my entire life.  It’s hard to admit this, but for the people that understand and have been there, perhaps knowing someone else felt the same way is cathartic.  Many, many times my husband and I sat down together and had a rather serious conversation.

“We’ve bitten off more than we could chew.”

“We’re in way over our heads here.”

“I just don’t know if I can live with this dog.”

“If we won’t work with him, who will?”

“Isn’t bringing him back to the shelter a death sentence?”

Many times it felt like a lose-lose situation.  Either I lose my sanity (and possibly my marriage) or give up on this dog.  Neither was a desirable result, but both seemed extremely probable.

It was a heavy weight on both of our collective consciences.  I am not the type of person to give up on a dog; but It had gotten to the point where I tried to make excuses to stay at work later and later, not wanting to come home, because I couldn’t handle another two hour bathing process combined with an hour of cleaning, then walking my very reactive dog and praying I didn’t wind up in the hospital or that I could somehow keep him from hurting himself, another dog, a cat, or another human. I dreaded coming home to him, Jim felt the same way. I didn’t want my friends to come over and see the havoc that had been wrought on my home and sanity.  It was hard physically, emotionally and socially.

I thought to myself, “I cannot live with this dog.”

Now, not five years later, I’m trying to figure out how exactly I’m going to live without him.   What a paradigm shift in four and a half too-short years.

I went from feeling like it was hell living with him, to heaven being with him, to my own Saint-mom purgatory trying to adjust to this awful loss.  Monte was many things – first, the Saint I had dreamed of since childhood, then, a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, then…

Only after wading through the mire of his rehabilitation did I realize he was in fact an angel to myself, my husband, my marriage, and yes, even many of my neighbors, friends, family, and colleagues; a blessing cloaked in slobber, diarrhea, aggression, frustration, desperation, and eventually, hope and joy.

He was my mentor, my best friend, my inspiration, my humility.  In true Saint fashion, he rescued me.

Now he is my guardian angel.  Billy Joel must have been thinking of my boy when he sang, “Only the good die young.”

Give me the strength, Monte, to travel that road again.  Give me the courage to rescue another dog like you someday and go through this same process all over again.

Thank you for the gift of patience, compassion, empathy, and inspiration.  I hope I may use all that you taught me to carry on your legacy through rehabilitating dogs like you, providing support to parents of special needs furry ones, and through sharing your story with anyone who will listen.

Momma loves you, boy.

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