The Most Impossible Decision

My heart is so broken.

Shattered. In pieces.

I don’t remember a hurt like this—it’s everywhere, in every thought, every breath.  My eyes are slits and my nose is raw and sore and the tears just keep coming and coming til it doesn’t seem possible I have more, and then I do.

I’m making myself move—fold the laundry, clean the counter, weigh the puppies and worm them, walk Thelma, pull a few weeds, put shoes in their cubbies, anything so that I don’t just sit and sob, which is all I’ve been doing for days. I can’t eat and I’ve had so much tea, I have the shakes. I can’t talk because it comes out a squeak and if anyone says anything nice to me I fall apart. If you’ve called or messaged me and I haven’t answered, I apologize.

I’ve canceled every puppy visit, moved the party we were supposed to host. I am hunkered down, doing only the things I can, which is nothing that requires my heart or my brain because my heart is in a million pieces and my brain is doing all it can to keep me upright.

I have had to make the most impossible decision. Maybe the most painful of my life. And, while some of you will argue with me, there truly wasn’t a choice.

On Thursday, Frankie attacked my daughter. She was entering our house and he went after her, chasing her outside and biting her twice before I could reach them. I drove her to Urgent Care and thanked God that it was not worse. That I was there. That I could stop him. I won’t allow myself to think what would have happened if I wasn’t there.

This dog of my heart hurt my daughter. This sweet dog that I spoon with sunk his teeth into my baby girl. This precious boy who snuggles with Flannery, this ace agility student, this best friend at the dog park, he attacked my child.

Addie will be okay. The wounds are deep punctures that hurt immensely but will heal. She is one tough cookie, incredibly cool in stressful situations, and probably way too forgiving. I don’t want her to forgive because it isn’t forgivable.

We went home from Urgent Care with bandages and a prescription for antibiotics and Addie postponed her move to New York City by a week so that we can care for her here as she heals.

Nick was in France on Thursday when this happened, but because I couldn’t speak, he talked to our vet, who said he would euthanize our dog if that’s what we wanted but suggested we talk to an animal behaviorist. The next morning I spoke with this kind, compassionate, knowledgeable woman. She asked me questions, I tried to explain. She wanted facts. And then she carefully, gently but clearly told me what I already knew.

Frankie is a dangerous dog. This is the third ‘attack’. The other two incidences haunt me now but were easy to justify at the time, as they were ‘strangers’ entering our home without me present. We were lucky that the people escaped without the serious injuries that Addie sustained. The behaviorist told me that the next time would likely be worse.

She asked about Frankie’s upbringing, our training practices. I told her that Frankie had been to manners classes, had passed his Canine Good Citizenship test, that he was in agility training now. I told her how good he is with foster dogs, how gentle with puppies, how much he loves other dogs. How friendly he is when we are out, how much he loves Ian and Nick and me.

So, why? Why? Why? I cried. I still cry.

The behaviorist, said many dogs are anxious, full of anxiety, just like so many humans. Frankie reacted out of fear. I think he loves people, but the behaviorist said she could prove to me that he doesn’t love people, only fears them; she could do that in only a few minutes if I wanted her to. I didn’t.

I asked her if he could be fixed. She said he couldn’t, we could learn to manage him to the best of our abilities, but he could never be trusted. Never. She could help me to train him to back away and lie down when people come to the door, but if he were her dog, she would never allow him to come near the door.

My home is a welcoming place. Intentionally so. I have worked to make it a place where people enjoy coming, where my kids’ friends always have a place at our table, where friends or neighbors can stop by for any reason. Our door is always open. That’s the kind of home I want and I have.

And so Nick and I cried on the phone as we came to a painful decision, the only option. The same one that is preventing me from eating or sleeping or speaking to anyone.

I would not rehome Frankie and take the chance that he would very likely hurt someone again.

I would not pay five to ten thousand dollars to place him in a sanctuary where he would basically be living in a boarding kennel the rest of his life. It would be only a half-life and I would rather use that money to save more dogs.

The only answer was to peacefully let him go.

And I could only do that knowing that we have given him a wonderful, happy, loving life. Yes, it was a short one. So much shorter than I can bear, but it has been a good one.

Nick would not return until Saturday night and I knew I couldn’t do this without him having the opportunity to say goodbye and to be by my side when I did. Ian sat with me on my bed late Friday night and we cried as Frankie rolled around looking for belly rubs and giving out kisses. We love this dog. With all our hearts. And he has had a wonderful life.

The least we could do was give him a compassionate, painless ending. So I spent his last day spoiling him rotten. On Saturday morning, we met his best pal Edith at the dog park to play. Nancy took a few pictures.

 

After that I took him home and cooked him an enormous plate of eggs with ham and his favorite treats piled on top. Then he watched birds and napped on the screened-in porch with Flannery and Gracie, while I sat and soaked him up, memorizing all of him. Next, we went for a long hike and I let him stop and sniff as long as he wanted to wherever he wanted to. It took us two hours to go just over a mile. He drank from the creek and got his paws muddy and pounced on a snake.

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On the way home, we stopped at the pet store and I let him steal as many treats as he wanted from the low shelves (and then paid for them while the clerks fed him even more treats). Late in the afternoon we took a walk in our woods and had an extra-long visit at the fox den.

Just before dinner, I let him play with the puppies. His tail was going like a windshield wiper as he snuffled and licked the puppies and let them gnaw on his face.

 

And later, after Nick finally came home. We snuggled him all night, neither of us sleeping, but Frankie snoring contentedly after such a good day and both him humans with him.

In the morning, we took him to our vet’s office, a place he loves, and I tried very hard to keep it together so Frankie wouldn’t think it was any different than any other time he’s been there for a shot. He passed peacefully, and we brought him home and buried him on our hill below the spot where he has chased so many squirrels into the woods.

Addie painted a stone to place on his grave. (Sadly, she did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to Frankie, as he continued to threaten her through the glass door that separated them.)

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I am devastated. Leveled. Beyond repair at the moment. When I close my eyes and try to sleep, I hear Addie’s happy greeting and then her scream in terror and Frankie’s bark and snarl and ferocious attack. On repeat. But then I open my eyes and I miss my boy. I miss his snuggles and his big pitbull smile, his happy energy, his eagerness to please, and how he loved all of our foster dogs.

I don’t know yet what I will learn from this, but the behaviorist told me that she gets ten calls like mine a day, so I know I am not the only person forced into this impossible place that hurts so very much and will haunt me all of my life.

But I won’t let this be the end. Something good will come of this.

I will share Frankie’s story. And in his name, I will save as many dogs as I can save. I will work until there is no need to save dogs like Frankie from shelters.

I don’t want anyone to take from this that pitbulls are dangerous. They aren’t, they’re just dogs and like any dog they can have issues – mental, physical, or the ones created by disrespectful or cruel humans. When our dogs shows signs of dangerous aggression we need to manage them and when we can’t manage them, we need to make hard choices, not pass them along to a shelter or another home unawares.

I loved Frankie more than I’ve ever loved a dog. This hurt will be with me forever, the guilt, the sadness, the everlasting ache for what could have been. It is not right or fair, but it was the only choice. I did not want Frankie to be a tragic headline someday and I could not bear to see him live out a life in a kennel. A compassionate death is much better than a live half-lived without someone to love you.

If you disagree with me, that is your right, but please do not compound my pain by sharing those thoughts with me. What’s done is done. And I will forever be scarred by this, the dog-shaped hole in my heart will never be filled.

Hug your dogs close. Don’t take a moment with them for granted.

Blessings,

Cara

 

Another Good Dog coverIf you’d like to know more about my blogs and books, visit CaraWrites.com.

Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster dogs was released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now

 

 

 

Published by

Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

96 thoughts on “The Most Impossible Decision”

  1. I am so sorry this happened. My opinion remains that some, not all, but some pitbulls, especially pitbull crosses have a brain switch and they are like a loaded gun ready to go off. The crosses are particularly dangerous because you can get the instant go response of a(for example) lab mixed with the instant attack mode of the pitball. It’s genetics pure and simple. Throughout the history of dogs with man we have culled the ones who don’t fit what we need. In the case of pitbulls irresponsible people bred for the genes that make for attack. This was not Frankie’s fault. It was the fault of some horrible human who bred for the wrong gene. It is not your fault. You gave Frankie every chance he could possibly have but in the end the genes he was born with came through. I have faced this decision myself and it is the hardest decision ever but it is in the only one that is the right one for Frankie and for you. Again, I am so sorry this happened. At least you found out about his fatal genetic flaw before someone was killed. Please take comfort from that and that while Frankie was alive, he had the best possible life with you it is possible for a dog to have. And he’ll be ready to greet you at the rainbow bridge, a happy good dog without that genetic flaw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right. It is the fault of a horrible human. I couldn’t quite articulate this without a lot of swearing and cursing that person to hell for all of eternity. But, I have the utmost faith that there is an especially hot place for these types of people.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh Cara. I have read all of your posts since welcoming Frankie into your life and I know how hard you loved him. I am so sorry you and your family are going through this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Cara. My heart aches for you, your family, and Frankie. Although you did the right thing. It does not make it any less painful. The only comfort is that he had a much better chance at life than he could have had without you. I am so sorry for Addie. I pray that her physical wounds will heal quickly and completely and that the emotional wounds will do the same.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Cara

    I am crying my head off as I read this. I am so sorry this happened. I saw one of Frankie’s littermates at the Vienna booksigning. It is so unfair that you’ve had to endure this. I’m just babbling but know I will be thinking of you daily. 💙

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  5. Cara

    I am crying my head off as I read this. I am so sorry this happened. I saw one of Frankie’s littermates at the Vienna booksigning. It is so unfair that you’ve had to endure this. I’m just babbling but know I will be thinking of you daily. 💙

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  6. My heart is breaking for you and for your family. Of course you did the right thing, the only thing you could reasonably do, but I feel your pain and heartache. Console yourself knowing that you gave Frankie the very best life he could have had given his genetics. Please know that many people, people you’ve never met, care about you, respect you, admire your hard work, and are praying for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t possibly say all the things that are running through my head right now but simply, I am so deeply sorry, Cara. Your love for that beautiful boy will carry him over the rainbow bridge and you will meet again someday. Thank you for loving him and for being brave.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You get only the utmost respect from me, and a virtual hug because this is so, so hard and awful. I left a rescue I fostered for because they could not make the very necessary decision you did and now foster for a rescue that would. You are brave, and smart and this was not your fault. Frankie understands too.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. My mere words and tears cannot express how sorry I am for you and your family’s loss, Cara. Yes, what the behaviorist said is true: Pit bulls, indeed, are not just like any other dog. (It’s not their fault — that, of course, lies with the bad people who have bred them to be aggressive — but, unfortunately, sometimes they can, for whatever reason, just snap.) Yes, you made the best decision. But these facts do not make that decision any easier or less heartbreaking or tragic. I hope you can take some solace in the fact that you gave Frankie not just a home and a family, but such a wonderful, loved life. It’s likely much more than he would have had if you had not come along at the right time. You are one of the best humans I have ever met and Frankie could not have asked for a better life. It’s awful that we are sometimes called upon to make such difficult decisions about those we love.

    I hope that you and Addie and the rest of your family heal as quickly as possible. Take extra good care of yourself and know you are in my thoughts.

    Steve

    Liked by 3 people

  10. What a beautiful description of the pain and heartbreak involved in deciding to let an animal go for behavioral reasons. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was sorry to read this post. I know how much you loved Frankie, and even to me, he sounded like quite the dog. I agree with your choice on how to handle things after his attack though. Life in a cage is hardly a life. I know that it was anything but easy, but I commend you for continuing to put safety at the top of your priority list above all else–both when it comes to your dogs and anyone who comes into your home or that you meet in public. There are pet owners here in my city who can’t understand the importance of doing that even after their dog attacked children much younger than your daughter. I’m sure that you’ll be able to find some meaningful way of remembering Frankie for years to come. Keep us posted, but only when you feel able to.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I wonder if there could be some type of fund or reward in his name that your organization could use to rescue pitbulls or give to volunteers who have done exceptional work, going above their call of duty for OPH. That could be a way to permanently memorialize him. I’m glad that you have lots of pictures and videos of him that you can look at to remember the good times with him. Take one day at a time. I know your work means a lot to you.

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  12. I’ve been there. I know that decision. I know the thoughts that may be running through your head. I know what you went through to get to the decision you made. The only decision you could make.

    I made the decision to PTS an 8 lb Boston terrier. A dangerous dog that we could not help. He did exactly what Frankie did. He was not a happy dog. He was loveable, playful, but not carefree. And he wasn’t fixable or adoptable.

    My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There are many ways we cope with the loss of our dogs, Cara. And none of ‘em work worth a damn. Know that by sharing Frankie’s story and your sadness with us, maybe we who sympathize can help shoulder that burden. You gave all you could. My condolences.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Cara, I am so sorry. You truly love Frankie and all dogs. We adopted a pit bull a little before you did and I always keep a little piece of worry in the back of my mind. Ours is such a loving, sweet, pup but you just never know when the protect mode will come on at the wrong time. I’m so sorry Addie was hurt but thankful she will be okay. You did what was best for all even though it was such a difficult decision. Prayers and hugs, Steph Kilgore

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I just read this post and my heart goes out to you. You definitely did the right thing for Frankie. For him to bite a person he knew and loved made it impossible to trust him around anyone any more. So sorry that you and your daughter had to go through this ordeal.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Cara, first of all, you are a wonderful, caring, loving person. I don’t think anyone should, or will, judge you regarding your decision. Addie is your priority concern here. Never is it easy to choose between the safety of a human family member (or anyone else), or a pet, who is also part of the family circle. It is rare that decisions come up like this, but unfortunately, one had to be made. I believe you went through all the proper hoops to prevent the worse from happening, so I hope you realize that some day, that you made the right decision, even though you’re questioning yourself. One will never know if anything worse could have happened in the future, but I feel your intelligent mind, along with guidance, made the proper decision. May your memories of Frankie make you smile each day, as those baby blues watch over you. He was one of many blessings in your life. Forever remembered. I’m so glad I met him when I was at your loving home. Major hugs. 😘

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I am so very sorry that you were faced with this decision but I think you did the only thing that you could do. John Katz, who writes so beautifully about the border collies that he has adopted, was faced with the same decision about one of his dogs. His thinking was very much like yours, taking into consideration the life that the dog would have to lead if it couldn’t be free to run and do the things it was born to do. He too was broken hearted but made the hard decision. My heart goes out to you and to anyone faced with this impossible choice. Thank you for writing about it so eloquently. You do wonderful work. Let the rescues heal your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. My heart aches for all of you. I am always fearful of the bigger breeds as I watched a known dog, a friend’s dog my brother had been around daily, be attacked as I helplessly watched. It is 20 plus years later and still haunts me. That fear I have any time my children are around dogs. I have 1 who is a fraid and another who wants to love them all up close as possible. I do not know what may happen in the future if we get a dog or if they are with someone else’s dog. I just pray my children do not end up in a situation like you witnessed.
    I’ll keep you all in my prayers. That everyday it gets a little easier to move on from what happened. You are a very brave woman with a strong soul, I believe you will get past this in time. Not that you will completely forget, but be emotionally ok as time passes on.I will also pray your daughters wounds heal fast, both physical and emotional.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Oh Cara, my heart goes out to you and your family. You have done so many amazing rescues with love and compassion. You have loved dear Frankie as much as your own child, and it is so unfortunate that this sadness has entered your life. I cannot imagine how difficult this decision was for you, and I only hope that you can feel the love and support of your friends and family.

    I’m sending you hugs, prayers, and especially thanks for all of the wonderful things that you do as a foster mom!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Cara,

    This post was heart-breaking. I read it aloud to Roger. We want to let you know that we are thinking of you and sending God’s peace to you. We feel similarly about our pup Chaz and can’t even imagine how painful this experience is.

    Holding you all in our hearts,

    Judy and Roger

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Oh, Cara I am so sorry for you to have to go through this. I know there are no words that can be said to make you feel better. Time, I hope, will help. You have so much love and caring for all dogs. I hope this makes some since, I really can’t see to type anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I loved your book and I told you. I thought you might be a person that I might have been friends with if we had met. I am drawn to the same things; our love for animals was a big one. We even had the horse thing in common. I started to read your explanation for putting the dog down; I have been where you are; I’ve done it and I thought I could understand, but I stopped when your “behaviorist” began citing explanations that are weak in today’s understanding of the pitbull breed. I know so much more now than I did when I was in my 30s. I know now that dogs can be rehabbed. Who doesn’t know who Cesar is? Would Cesar have made that choice? I had to stop reading. I couldn’t stomach anymore. Maybe it got better – maybe you redeemed yourself and took on the responsibility of what happened because you didn’t pay attention to the warnings that you got earlier. You failed that dog. You were probably angry with the dog when you scooped him up and dropped him off at the vet. I don’t know and I don’t care. You are sad and upset because you put your dog down and you have poured your feelings out and people feel sorry for your loss and your pain. I don’t. This choice that you made will hopefully haunt you forever, as it should. You are no longer worthy enough to save the dogs. And I will never recommend your book or you as an author again.

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    1. I know Cara is too mature and hurting too much to respond to you, but as someone who does know, respect, and love Cara, how dare you?! I promise you this wasn’t an easy or selfish decision by Cara or her family. She has been very open about her fostering and dog experiences. She was very brave and made herself very vulnerable by sharing this painful story. You do NOT get to judge her or make her feel worse than she already does.

      Cara, those who are fortunate enough to call you a friend and fellow rescuer know that you made the only decision that you could and we will do everything we can to help you through this painful time.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Christine

        I applaud your response. I am glad you are one of Cara’s friends. She needs great support like you. I was going to respond, but I decided not to spend any time on those who are hateful rotten individuals.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I am not sure which is more astonishing…your lack of knowledge or your lack of human compassion. You admit to not reading the post, mention a behaviorist who is considered outdated in his methods, and pass judgment as if you are a bastion of moral superiority. While I believe you are entitled to disagree with Cara’s decisions ( and I KNOW she expects some disagreement) it’s not ok to question her character. You are speaking to something you really know nothing about. You come across as nothing but a Troll and I think we need less of that .

      Liked by 3 people

  23. I am so sad about Frankie and have followed your blogs since you adopted him.
    I have always tried to give pits the benefit of doubt because I don’t believe they
    are really bad dogs; it’s just what people do to them. My heart aches for you and your family as I know the pain is so gut wrenching. You gave Frankie a great life. Unfortunately, it was a short life, but he will be a special memory in your life for
    many years.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Ahh God bless you Cara but I honestly believe you did the right thing without question. Frankie was (is) loved dearly that’s crystal clear and when the time comes in whatever situation, we have to do right by our best friends despite it ripping our hearts out.

    He never felt sad, sorry, anxiety or stress about why he was in a shelter or sanctuary and you had gone. He had no clue about what was to come that day he took another trip to vets and he literally just fell asleep. No pain, suffering, anxiety and distress he just went to sleep.

    I cannot begin to imagine how much that incident whirls round and round in your mind the description was enough but nobody was at fault and nothing more could be done.

    Realise words mean nothing at this point but you will heal, things will become clearer and I hope you will soon come to terms with everything and know you did right by your boy, your daughter, yourselves – everyone.

    Go easy on yourself and take care xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your kind words which do mean something even at this awful point. It will be a journey and we have only begun. Frankie will be a part of everything I do in dog rescue forever. That he had a peaceful death, unaware of what was happening, is what made it possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Oh, Cara, I’m so sorry! I know your heart is broken, but I applaud your honesty in telling this story. You absolutely did the right, and only, thing you could do in the situation, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. Just know that you gave Frankie your very best, ever single day he lived with you, and that he ALWAYS knew he was loved. That is no small thing. Hugs to you……and best wishes for healing for your whole family.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Hugs to you and Nick and your family. You did the hardest thing but the right thing. I agree with Steve above; that you gave Frankie the best chance and the best life he could have had. His destiny would have been the same, but could easily have been filled with anger, fear, desertion and pain. You and your family have endured what no dog lover should have to go through. Please treat yourselves gently.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Reading this made my heart hurt for you and your family, what an impossible decision. But it was the right choice to make. Your posts always give me hope, you don’t gloss things over the rough times and give me tips as a foster Mom and adoptive home. Frankie had such a wonderful life with you and your family and you will continue to save countless others. That gives me hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Cara, my heart is broken with you and for you 💔. Your choices were removed from you when this happened. You have done SO MUCH GOOD for the dogs you have rescued and they know it. Please know we grieve with you and feel your pain, even as we read your eloquent words in a terrible situation. May the love and care you gave Frankie heal the deep hurt in your heart…you are a good, good person.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Oh Cara, I am weeping. I feel your pain from your words. You are right, you will never get over this. You will have this hole forever. But at some point, it will become bearable. Just a little less pain each day so that you can look back and say I don’t hurt as much as last week. I had to put down one of my golden retriever pups in 1989. I still remember. Now it is with just a sad feeling when I happen to think about Cassie. She was born with some abnormalities that we thought were all physical. Maybe they were. We got her at 7 weeks old (the litter was too large for the mom to feed). At a little over one year of age, she started to attack the other dogs, randomly and out of the blue. We lived with this for months. We never got a definite diagnosis but the vet and I settled on Rage Syndrome. I guess it didn’t matter. We become afraid that she would attack my niece who was only 4 at the time. The behavior was always at random and we never saw a trigger. We would yell at her when the attack started and she seemed not to hear us and acted like she didn’t know what had happened when the episode was over. She seemed confused that we were all upset with her. I know this is not quite the same as your experience but it resulted in the death of my dog because of uncontrollable behavioral issues. I am sorry for your loss.

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  30. I never met Frankie, and I’ve never had to deal with a dog attacking someone, but my heart cracked and crumbled reading this. I may not stop crying in time to go to the office. xxoo

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  31. This is the first time I’ve read your blog, and I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss. As I read this I glanced down at my first rescue girl, as she grinned back at me, and I could not even imagine what you are going through. He left this world happy and loved. You made the only decision you could make. Again, I’m so sorry.

    Like

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