About 2 years ago we had to say goodbye to our dog Paxton. The whole situation rocked me in a variety of ways. I wrote a piece about him as I have about many of our dogs after losing them. However, I could not bring myself to go back and edit this piece to make sure it conveyed the message I intended. I was too emotional to even re read the words I had wrote. It sat in the abyss waiting to see the light of day. A year after we lost Paxton I wanted to publish the piece I had wrote as a remembrance of him on his anniversary but I could not find the post anywhere. I couldn’t remember where I had stored the writing. It’s part of my curse. Complete lack of organization. I was devastated to not have that writing anymore. As his 2 year anniversary approached I once again began to search for my writing about him and some how I was able to find it. So now around his 2 year remembrance I am posting this unedited piece that I wrote after the incident that preceded us saying goodbye to Paxton.
I love dogs. Dogs pretty much run my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sure, having as many as 7 dogs (The number of dogs we have right now and the most we’ve ever had at one time.) all in one house, some ours and some fosters, can be challenging at times. It can be stressful and frustrating but it also has tremendous rewards.
It’s been a long time since my wife and I actually sat down and decided that we wanted to get another dog. Dogs just seem to find us. If you are a dog lover I bet you can relate. Dogs just spontaneously show up in your life and become family.
When you commit to having dogs its a lot like deciding to have children. You make changes to your lifestyle to make sure you can provide for your dogs and give them the life they deserve. This is the case each time you decide to add another dog. You evaluate what you will need to do differently to accommodate this new family member and you do it.
Sometimes a new family member may have some special needs. They may have some sort of physical impairment or some sort of psychological condition that requires more than just the normal amount of consideration in ones daily routine. We seem to have been “blessed” with many such dogs in our family.
Sometimes you don’t know you have a special needs dog on your hands when you first bring them into your home (Mojo our husky who we can’t really pet) but at other times you are fully aware of the issues you are taking on (Caspian who had behavior issues).
When we decided to go meet Paxton at the shelter I didn’t really know what to expect. I wasn’t necessarily looking for another dog, but he seemed to be a model citizen with us and our dog we brought along so we brought him home. Once we were home with Paxton we set about learning who he was.
We learned quickly that Paxton had some degree of separation anxiety as he broke out of multiple kennels and had some mild destructive tendencies while we were away. He was very tolerant with our dogs even our two that barked at him incessantly when we had him around. He became best friends with our dog Brynn. All Paxton wanted to do was love us and be loved by us.
We tried as hard as we could to show him how much we loved him and he was never short on affection for us. He was never short of kisses and snuggles. He slept with us every night we had him even on a camping trip.
As we worked with Paxton we learned more about his anxieties. He did not like small children, so we made sure to avoid them. He was OK being around large groups of people durring community events but he ddid not like having one or a few people suddenly approaching on a hiking path. Keeping him moving with a “Let’s go.” cue worked wonders for him.
We learned that putting collars on Paxton was something he did not enjoy. Using treats we could lure him into putting his head through a wide open collar and then let go. Then we could tighten it after it was on him. You could see in his body posture that he did not really like to have a person reach over his head or even reach out to his head to be petted. He has a momentary hesitation and tension displayed in his body. His tail stops it constant wriggle and he tenses and cowers down ever so slightly. So approaching him in other ways is always preferable. Occasionally something would spook Paxton and he would become very barky and defensive towards one of us, but he could always be called off and settled down in a short period of time.
It can be challenging to learn to treat one dog differnetly than all the other dogs in your home.
Being a dog lover is difficult. You want to help every dog. You try to help every dog you can. And sometimes that leads to mistakes.
We recently brought a new foster dog into our home and we adore her. However, she is an 8 month old puppy and has not yet learned to sleep quietly in her kennel throughout the night. This has resulted in some nights with less than ideal sleep. Our morning routine changed.
This combination of change and sleep deprivation probably contributed to me making a mistake. I fed Paxton as I always do. He knows to go to his kennel to eat and I give him a “wait” cue and he waits while I place his food dish and eats when I release him from his “wait”. He is a pretty fast eater so sometimes I am still in the room with him when he finishes eating and I will give him a quick scratch and pet before I leave the room and go on about the rest of my dog care and work prep morning routine.
For some reason this morning I did something different. I did something I have never done with Paxton. I pretty much broke all the rules of human to dog interaction, especially when interacting with an anxious dog.
Paxton finished eating and jumped up on the bed and sat, waiting to be petted. I walked over to him and stood directly in front of him, towering over him. I placed both my hands on his shoulders. I then proceeded to lean over him to try to give him a kiss on the head. And that last part was too much for Paxton to bear. I invaded his space too much. I put too much pressure on Paxton with my behavior. Paxton responded to `my intrusion into his personal space by biting me in the face.
It happened in a flash. Luckily my wife was right there in bed and responded immediately to put Paxton into his crate and then we left the room.
My wounds required me to see a plastic surgeon to stitch my lip back together in two places, as well as a few other wounds requireing sutures. Thankfully I was not critically injured.
My thoughts turned immediately to Paxton. Once I knew I would be OK Paxton was the only thing I could think about. I do not blame Paxton for what happened. The blame lies solely with the human. I still love Paxton. I did not know where to go from here.
With my stitches I could not allow Paxton to continue to sleep in our bed because he is pretty active and loves to like faces and I couldn’t risk the stitches being compromised or risk infection. Paxton had to be penned up in the furnished basement.
My wife and I debated what to do.
There seemed to be no good option.
Paxton’s behavior seemed normal after the incident. He wanted to interact with me and my wife the same as always. Paxton still trusted me despite there terrible situation I put him in.
Unfortuantely, my interactions with Paxton changed. I saw every tension in him. Every time he hesitated I hesitated. I couldn’t trust him. At least not right now.
The options for Paxton are limited:
1.) Surrender him to a shelter: At a shelter with his bite history and his size and unfortunately his breed, he would not likely be made available for adoption and would probably be euthanized. And maybe that would be the most responsible thing for a shelter to do. And I will not pass off my responsibility to make that decision to the shelter, which will do their job. It is my responsibility to make this decision and my responsibility to be there with Paxton when the time comes.
2.) Surrender him to a sanctuary: The biggest concern if this were an option would be what kind of quality of life would he have there. I am not willing to drop him someplace that I don’t know what their reputation is and how they interact with animals that are there for the long term. I don’t have the resources or contacts to know of any reliable sanctuaries that would be willing to take a dog knowing he is not going to be adopted and care for him for the next 10 years. I am only really familiar with one true sanctuary and that one is literally thousands of miles away.
3.) Keep Paxton and continue to manage his behaviors: While I am not completely opposed to this option it does not seem like the most responsible thing to do. If it were just me I would possibly do it and I am sure my wife would say the same thing, but considering we need to look out for each other’s safety and well being this doesn’t seem realistic. We also have to think about those around us. We do not have a fenced in yard. And while Paxton has never shown any indication that he would run off or run up to people it is always a possibility and people getting hurt trying to retrieve him would be my responsibility.
4.) Euthanize Paxton: I hate this option. I do not want to do this. It breaks my to even think about this. However, I think this may be the most responsible option. It protects the safety of my wife and the others in our community. It would ensure that Paxton does not end up somewhere that he may spend his life suffering.
Paxton biting me is like letting the genie out of the bottle and you just can’t put it back in.
Do I think Paxton is a danger to bite someone in general, No. Do I think he would bite me again if I did the exact same thing, yes.
Prior to this incident I was never worried about the possibility that Paxton might bite me or anyone for that matter. Now everything has changed. I don’t know if that is fair to me or fair to him but that is the reality.
This one incident just colors everything else that can possibly happen now. The specter of another bite will always be lingering in the back of my mind.
I can’t risk having that happen to someone else. If my dog bit my wife or someone else the way he did me I could never forgive myself.
I just don’t know that there is any other option that makes sense. There are no good options here. There is no happy ending.
Life can be so unfair. I am angry and distraught. The cost of loving a dog is that your heart can be ripped out of you and that can happen in the most unexpected ways.
I love this dog and I know he loves me. I made a stupid mistake and now it will cost him his life.
I know that no mater what we decide to do there will be people out there who see other options and have other opinions about what we should do and that is fine. This is a situation that has no clear cut answer. You just have to consider all the variables and do what you personally judge to be best. Then you have to live with it.
I think this is a decision one has to make with their head and not with their heart. I think that the only responsible thing to do for all involved is to euthanize Paxton. It tears my up inside to say that. It is NOT what I want for him. It is not what he deserves. The main factors that are leading me to make this decision are his general anxieties and anxiety with being handled in certain ways and his occasional defensive barking episodes directed at us. Perhaps the most influential aspect is how the bite itself happened. While I am sure there was postural body language indications that I should have noticed preceding the bite to indicate that I should stop, there was no obvious warning sign that a human no matter how inexperienced would recognize as a clear warning not to proceed with the behavior. There was no growl or bark preceding the bite to warn me. The bite itself was not just a quick defensive nip to stop me so he could escape either. It was something more serious than that which eludes description by me at this time. I think these circumstances are what must guide my decision.
I think to do anything else under these circumstances is to invite disaster.
Perhaps people in different circumstances with different resources, different connections, and different skills might come to a different decision but this is the only one that I can come to in my circumstances.
I will never know if this was the right decision, but it is the decision that I have made and it may haunt me for the rest of my life. My actions that caused this situation will serve as a lesson that I will carry with me forever.
It might be easy for some people reading this account to conclude euthanasia is the obvious answer, but when it is your dog that ends up in this situation it changes everything. You love your dog and your dog loves you and I feel like I have betrayed my dog by creating this situation where this now has to happen.
Paxton has been such a happy, exited, playful, and loving dog. When I think of dogs being euthanized because of a dog bite I think of aggressive, uncontrollable, and unmanageable dogs that pose an obvious and immediate danger to people. I do not see Paxton.
The wounds to my face caused by the bite were serious but they are already healed. They are not the most serious wounds I will carry with me from this. My heart has been wounded and I fear it will never heal.
If anyone else has had to wrestle with a terrible situation like this please feel free to share your story in the comments. I would appreciate the support and community of others.