The Hard Stuff – Giving Up On A Dog

Today I feel awful.  A complete heel, a failure, a blight on the pet adoption community.  I am giving up on Bogart and taking him back to the shelter (as they require – I would try to re-home him myself if I hadn’t signed a contract that said I would take him back to the shelter if I couldn’t keep him.)

I’ve never given up on a dog before.  It sucks.  We gave it six months.  Would he be better integrated into our family in another six?  I can’t predict that, and the chance that one of the other animals is going to get seriously hurt in the meantime is too much to risk.

Bogart is way too interested in the cats, no matter how many times he has claws hooked into his nose he just won’t leave them alone and he has been getting progressively more aggressive about it.  This weekend he tried to palm a cat so it couldn’t get away, and he’s snapped at them though hasn’t bitten one yet.  My cats tend to hold their own, but I can’t risk them and since I’m intervening in most cases I don’t know what he would do if I wasn’t there on patrol all the time.  This means I can’t leave him in the house unsupervised, even overnight to sleep outside his kennel, in case he goes after a cat.

He and Waldo are not buddies.  They have had their moments, and I really thought they were beginning to bond, but Bogart is just too aggressive without taking the alpha role.  He picks and prods and pushes (everybody) constantly if he isn’t actively being petted, eating, anticipating eating, or chewing on a rawhide. Waldo bares his teeth and growls a very serious “I’m not playing jerk” growl and yet Bogart persists until Waldo attacks for real, only to pull himself short after 10 seconds realizing he’s not supposed to do that. Bogart never learns.  So far, no real blood has spilled though they’ve cut their tongues/lips on each other’s teeth once or twice.

Bogart whines. When he’s in his kennel because he’s made everyone in the house crazy, or at 5:00 am because he wants you to get up and feed him, or if you just kenneled him and are gathering your stuff to leave the house, he whines.  It’s high pitched and non-stop.  I hate the fact that he’s in the kennel so much, it’s not fair to the dog, but I also hate the whining.  It grates on your nerves until you want to scream, but you don’t want to give him what he wants and encourage the behavior even if you hate to endure it.

And yet, he’s a happy dog.  I’ve never seen a dog whose tail wags so much, so often.  He’s excited about everything and wants to be friends with everybody…even if maybe that means forcing friendship on a cat by pummeling her.  Food is his ecstasy even if he never actually tastes it because he wolfs it down so fast.  A game of fetch/keep away is always good for his spirits too.

He hasn’t bonded with me like my other dogs have – he’s happy to take attention and give a little affection, but he’s not looking for ways to please.  He wants his way and he will push past or through you to get it, or whine and bark if he can’t get it by brute force or sneakiness. Or if you tell him to do something he doesn’t want to do – give you the non-food item he has in his mouth, or go into his kennel, he will run away and make you chase him which he thinks is a game, but just makes me unreasonably furious.

I can’t give this dog the home he needs or deserves. Sure he has food, shelter, attention and toys, but who wants to live somewhere that the humans are constantly yelling “No!”, “Don’t do that!”, “Stop it!”, “Dammit Bogart!”, “Leave the cat alone!”, or “Stop biting your brother!” and you only get a rare (but effusive) “Good boy, good dog.”

I can’t continue to fight with this dog for the next 8-10 years. And I feel guilty that I do fight with him and put him in his kennel because I can’t handle his behavior.  There’s guilt that he doesn’t get as much attention as Waldo and that we will take Waldo out with us but not Bogart, because Bogart doesn’t seem to like to hike.
It has all built up these past few months so that I think the weight of that guilt versus the guilt of giving him up are nearly a wash.

I don’t know if obedience training would have helped.  I got advice from the shelter director that I have volunteered with and tried to implement it, but it didn’t work. I read books on obedience training and tried to implement the behaviors they identified for him and me. Timing and finances didn’t work out to enroll in training with a professional – maybe that would have made a difference, but I couldn’t make it happen and it’s not an option in the near future either.

So why write this confession?  I want to remember what happened and why so that I don’t question myself later. I’ve learned that the pain of giving up a dog is similar (but less intense) to the pain of putting down a dying dog.  It’s not an easy decision. It’s not a quick decision. I’ve gone back and forth on this for over a month as it’s become clearer that his behavior wasn’t getting better and I didn’t know what to do to improve it.

I also realized I was embarrassed to fail – I’ve been high and mighty about animals being a forever commitment to my family and now I need trip off my pedestal.  I still believe that they are a forever pet, but maybe sometimes they’re not your forever pet.  Sometimes the personality you saw in the malnourished, scared, pitiful dog who didn’t have the energy to do anything but look you hopefully in the eye from behind the wire of his shelter cage isn’t the same personality he’ll have when he’s healthy and vigorous with his own agenda.

So I’m sorry to Bogart, and I’m sorry to me.  This sucks. I’m going to be a mess in a few hours when I drop you off.  But living with us isn’t going to work and I need to do the right thing.  This time the right thing is give you the opportunity to be found by a family where you fit; where you’ll be loved for who you are; and where you can piddle on their hard wood floors when you think someone is trying to take your rawhide away from you.

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