Failure Hurts

Not long ago, I posted an entry to the Project Monte blog called Thanks for the gift, boy. When I was in the deepest throes of missing my angel, he sent me a Saint Bernard client so like him they could have been brothers. Physically and behaviorally a mess, rescued from a rope outside of someone’s house, bred by an irresponsible breeder and adopted out to an ill-prepared and inappropriate family who found out quickly that owning a Saint is an expensive and time-consuming enterprise and decided that instead of a pet, they would make their dog a lawn ornament and leave him tied to a tree and deprived of all basic companion animal care; veterinary, social, and behavioral.

His new family had Saint experience and a willingness to work through his issues with him.  That was all we needed, I thought, to ensure that they would be able to enjoy him in their home for a good many years to come.

My heart swelled at having the opportunity to help a dog so like Monte and an owner so like I was, desperate to find a way to save this dog and pessimistic that there was a way to make that happen.

We had one of the most wonderful Click to Calm lessons I’ve ever had together. His aggression was primarily directed toward the male owner in the household and two veterinarians who definitely mistreated him at his first appointment with them. The dog responded absolutely brilliantly to the clicker. We received enthusiastic and fantastic updates from the clients, thrilled with his progress. I met the client later that same week at the veterinarian’s office to help her work through his fear issues at the vet. Again, his response surpassed even my wildest expectations. We all left happy, optimistic, and very much looking forward to having him start classes in a few short weeks.

We received a wonderful email update (names changed for confidentiality):

I know if I had not found you I would have thought the only solution was to put Jake to sleep. Bob [the husband] took Jake for a walk last evening and he walked by people and dogs and he did great. Bob commented that he could not believe the transformation between him trying to eat him last week and now where he is happy to see him and listens to him. Jake and Meaty [the other resident Saint Bernard, who Jake had not previously played with] are best friends now too.

I cried when I received this email, I was so happy.

I kept his choke chain as a reminder and a souvenir.  He wouldn’t need it anymore, and now happily walked on a front clip harness. A twitter friend called the original story, “How a freight train lost his choke chain,” which was imminently appropriate.  I was so proud and knew that together, Monte and I celebrated this victory and a new leash on life for this beautiful animal and his owner.

Almost immediately upon returning from Oregon with Cuba, I received another, decidedly less pleasant email.  Apparently Jake had bitten Bob, and the owner decided to have him euthanized.  I do not know the context of the situation, nor did I ask.

I don’t know if the bite was a level one or five.  I do know this lady loved her dog and that this decision was anything but easy and have no desire to rub salt in her wounds.  I know from experience how much of a commitment is required to rehabilitate this type of dog – that all family members must be on board and consistent, that management protocols must be laid in place and must be solidly and reliably established, and that it takes time and patience to work through these issues.  Rehabilitating an aggressive dog is not for everyone, honestly, and can be a full-time and emotionally taxing job.

Never before in my career have I had a client’s dog euthanized for a behavior problem.  Obviously, I do not want this for any dog/handler team, but it especially broke my heart that it was this particular dog, the dog that could have been Monte’s twin in all but lineage.

I felt like I failed Jake and, indirectly, Monte as well.  I wished I had more notice, more resources, more money so that I could have brought Jake into our home and helped save him from this fate.  Truly, his reactivity was maybe 1/10th of what I’d seen from Monte in our early stages of training together, and I felt like his prognosis was so favorable, I hadn’t even imagined that Jake’s story would have such a tragic ending.

Knowing that Jake was euthanized brought all the hurt of losing Monte rushing back to me and only reaffirmed my belief that it is only a matter of time (and resources) before we bring another Saint like Monte into our home again.  A reactive, sick, balding from hot spots, covered in fleas and ticks, lunging, barking, growling, biting, unwanted, abused, left-for-garbage, lawn-ornament Saint Bernard.

Monte gave me gifts to help dogs like this.  I owe it to him to flex those training muscles he helped me build and pass them along to dogs so like him.  I hope that next time I have the opportunity to do so, the outcome will not be such a dismal failure.  I really felt like I let Monte and Jake down.  So much so, in fact, that it really discouraged me as a professional.  I know that you can’t save them all, but I really, really wish I had been able to save that particular one.

R.I.P., Jake.  Monte will show you the ropes at the Bridge.

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2 Responses to Failure Hurts

  1. Kim says:

    Casey, I love you dearly. I know this must hurt you, but understand that ALL our dogs come to us for a purpose. Monte came to you for a purpose and you embraced it. Don’t think that the lesson this dog had to teach both you and his owners was any less valuable just because it was not the lesson you wanted him to teach. Sometimes, they teach us that we are not perfect. Sometimes, they teach us to let go.

  2. fearfuldogs says:

    It is so difficult for people to realize, understand or accept that all the new positive behaviors they are seeing in their dogs do not mean that the inappropriate behaviors practiced for years are gone. They may lie buried and so long as no one digs too deeply, puts too much pressure on the dog, they can stay there, but given the perfect storm of triggers, they resurface, never forgotten. The glossy varnish of acceptable behavior can take years to harden into a sturdy emotional response.

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