I wrote this following the previous post about Paxton in 2016 and I am sharing it with you now, as I recovered this when I recovered the previous post.
I think one of the most important aspects of life in learning. If you have gone through life and haven’t learned anything you are missing out. Learning comes in many forms. I don’t just mean learning through formal education. There is plenty to be learned through life experiences.
Learning can be fun and exciting. We can learn new skills and learn about things that interest us. We can enjoy what we are doing when we learn. This is a good form of learning.
There is also learning that comes through our mistakes. Sometimes we mess up. It is inevitable. This is where it is critical to learn. No one wants to make the same mistakes over and over and never learn from them.
Learning from our mistakes is not usually fun. Screwing up can be psychologically devastating. It can feel like a real setback and maybe it is for a time. But if you learn from your mistake you can change the meaning of that mistake and while it was terrible at the time you can help it to become a strength for you personally.
I made a critical mistake with my dog Paxton, which caused him to bite me.
The actual physical act I committed that initiated the bite was a mistake in and of itself, but there was more to it than that. I made other mistakes along the way. I think one of those mistakes is taking on too much. I have a lot of passions and goals in life. There are things I care about and it is important to me to accomplish things that are related to my beliefs. However, everyone has limits. We cannot do everything that we would like to. We can’t be involved in every project or task or endeavor that we feel is important. When we do this we risk burnout and that is when mistakes are made.
I am now learning that I have been heaping more and more on my plate regardless of the consequences. Most of which are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But the consequences of my simple behavior towards Paxton were devastating.
I am a husband with a full time job, a part time photography business who has been writing his dissertation, while caring for 5 dogs and three cats of his own and also caring for 2 foster dogs. Perhaps it should be no surprise that something slipped. How does one balance all of those things without every dropping a plate?
So, one thing I have learned is there comes a point where there is just too much and we must learn to recognize that point so we can say no and stop heaping more tasks on our plates. We must choose the things that are MOST important and focus on those and leave some things for others to do. We cannot do it all ourselves and that does not make us bad people. It makes us human.
I have also relearned a lesson that I seem to be frequently reminded about. Having a dog that has any type of behavior issues and working with them to keep them safe and keep the humans safe requires constant attention. Take your eye off the ball for a split second and you will get hit in the face, metaphorically or in my case literally.
We have been working with Paxton for close to a year with very few incidents. We have been careful and taken precautions to protect ourselves, our other dogs, and to protect Paxton. We were managing his behaviors and working with him on his issues. We paid attention to Paxton and were aware of his issues. All it took was one second where I was not thinking, for whatever reason, to ruin all of the work we had done. This is the challenge with dogs with behavior/psychological issues. You can work with them and everything can be fine but if you make a mistake you will have a setback. Sometimes that setback has dire consequences.
Learning from our mistakes is important and hopefully I will learn all of these lessons and never forget so that I never have to repeat this ever again.
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.
Training for an ultra marathon has been a lot of work. The first race I’ve ever done any official training plan and I picked a doosey. The have been challenges along the way, but today was a big one.
Today was the closest I have come to not running at all on a day that my training plan has me scheduled for a run. I was mentally exhausted after a long day at work. I was hungry. I was tired. I just needed to eat and sit for a minute.
I nuked some rice and beans and ate it quickly. Then I just wanted to sit back and close my eyes for a minute. My eyes were burning and my brain was buzzing. Just closing my eyes would help everything settle down.
As soon as sat back my loving dogs swarmed me. Three of my dogs laid on anf around me. Theu snuggled up with me and nearly put me to sleep. After about an hour I was able to pry myself off the couch and change into running clothes.
I got in the treadmill and started running. I needed some motivation for running and REI Presents: How To Run 100 Miles https://youtu.be/iC7Lh4opLsc was spot on.
#1. It Helps To Have A Friend Along
#2. It’s Going To Be A Struggle At Times
#3. You Have To Put In The Work
#4. Eventually You Have To Start The Race
#6. You Have To Keep Moving
This might have been the perfect movie to watch durring a struggle of a training run.
Then I watched some Jam Jam and some Ginger Runner. They helped get me through.
Today was supposed to be speedwork but after 2 miles at 10 minute miles I tried to speed up to 8 minute mile pace for 1 mile but I just didn’t have it. I was too sore and tired from yesterday’s workout. At about 2.5 miles the combination of the big TV, the space heater, and the treadmill managed to blow a fuse. So I had to get off the treadmill and reset the breaker. It took every ounce of willpower to get back on the treadmill.
The next 4.5 miles were a mental challenge. Being on the treadmill where I can literally stop any time I want with no negative consequences is a real challenge to keep going when it gets tough. Boy did I want to stop. With one mile left I was literally chanting out loud to myself “One more mile.” Over and over until I was done. But I did get it done.
I love photographing dogs doing things they love. One of my favorite things to photograph dogs doing is agility. There are so many different angles and changes of direction when a dog is running an agility course that it can be difficult to follow and get good photos throughout the whole course. I am always really happy when I can capture a whole sequence of photos that show a dog moving through an obstacle or series of obstacles.
Check out this series of images of this Rottweiler clearing a hurdle.
When most people think of agility dogs they think of smaller dogs that are known more for their nimbleness and speed. What I really like is to see non-stereotypical dogs running agility. I love seeing a big dog not normally associated with agility moving through a course with grace and speed that you would never imagine.
This Rottweiler was so much fun to watch. Clearing hurdles with ease. Running through tunnels that it seems are too small to even fit through. Turning and banking and moving across the course in team with its handler. It is always amazing to watch dogs do what they do.
Kira came to be part of our family in a funny way. I had been volunteering my time at the Chemung County SPCA to photograph the dogs and cats there that are available for adoption. I love just about all the dogs that I have worked with there. But when I photographed Kira there was just a connection. I went home and posted her photos online and I half-jokingly commented with the photos that someone better go adopt her before I do. We were not looking for a dog at the time and despite the connection I felt with her I was not seriously thinking about adopting her. At this time my wife, Debby, was working at the Chemung County SPCA and shortly after I photographed Kira she said she thought she really liked Kira and maybe we should adopt her. And that was all it took. I was fully on board and Kira went home with us.
Kira might have been the perfect adoption for our family. She was just the right dog for us. We have always had multiple dogs in our home and adding another dog to the mix can be complicated. Kira was the perfect fit. She got along fine with all our other dogs. She didn’t need to be crated. She didn’t cause any problems when left alone in the house. She might have even been too well behaved for us. We love to sit with our dogs all snuggled up on the couch and we had to teach Kira that it was OK to get on the furniture at our house. One thing I did learn quickly is that Kira was not a dog to let off leash. One day shortly after she came home I unhooked her from her leash thinking we’d just walk the few steps to the door and into the house. Wrong. She bolted across the yard and down the road. Luckily she was a big dog and I caught her pretty quickly. And that is how our lives together began.
It’s really tough when you adopt an older dog. There is this ever present feeling of uncertainty. You never know what to expect. While nothing in life is certain, when you commit to an older dog you know that there is a god chance that their best days may be behind them and the life you experience with them might be short and limited. It is something that you try not to focus on but it is a consideration. We tried to make the best of things with Kira and for the most part she was healthy and loved to do all the things that any other dog would love to do and we tried to get her out there doing as much as possible.
She enjoyed walks, and hikes, and going to events with us. She loved us and loved being with us. We tried to give her the best life we could and she ave us everything she had until her last day. It’s hard not to feel like it was unfair that we had such a short time to spend with her. She was such a loving and comforting dog. She didn’t want to do anything but sit with you. The only thing on Kira’s agenda was sit with my humans. Be with my humans.
It’s funny now thinking back on our time with her, that there aren’t many crazy stories to tell about her because she was just that kind of dog that didn’t require much. She didn’t do crazy things. She was just mellow and melted into the background of the home. She was the calm one. The one that waited her turn and when all the other dogs were done she would approach to get her turn with you and be petted and loved on. When you lose a dog like that you have lost something special. A dog that didn’t require any extra work. A dog that was just there for you and accepted whatever you had to give. I think that my favorite memory of her is after finishing my first half marathon Debby and Kira were waiting for me at the finish line. She was there to cheer me on and support me just like family does.
It’s odd how much an impact it is or a void that can be left by the quiet and calm presence of one dog when they are no longer there. There isn’t this huge dog who quietly saunters down the all to my office and nudges my hand while I work so I will pet her and then lies down quietly on the floor while I work. I won’t have that warm heart just a few feet away as I type or edit photos anymore. There is more room in my office now, but I would give anything to be crowded again and have to type one handed.
I spent the last week we had with Kira wanting to get some photographs of her. But as a photographer I have this need for the photos to be perfect. Even if they are just personal photos that I might be the only person to see them. I still want them to be nice. I want the photos to be as good as they can be and I want my dogs to look good in the photos. So I kept putting off taking photos until I had time to get out my cameras and lashes and take some nice indoor portraits of Kira so that I would have really nice photos to remember her by. Then one night I decided to lie on the floor with her and just snuggle her. It was then I decided I needed to just take photos now and capture the moments as they were. The real moments that we had together. Because we never knew how much more we would have. I am so glad I made that decision. I took photos of her with my cell phone two nights in a row and then she was gone. If I hadn’t taken those photos I would not had any images to remember her in her last days by. So don’t wait for it to be perfect. Don’t wait for the best possible circumstances. If you have an opportunity to create memories do it now while you have the chance. You never know if you will have the opportunity again.
Coming home from work to find that Kira had passed was not how we wanted it to go and it might have been one of the hardest things I’ve experienced. But, Thankfully we have amazing family and friends that when we shared the news of Kira’s passing were so supportive and loving. There really are no words to express how grateful I am to have all these people in my life. I don’t know how we would get through the times like this without them. So many people shared words of compassion with us and told us exactly the right things that any dog lover needs to hear in these tough times. We also have the most amazing vet who took the time to talk to us and share her thoughts and kind words with us. Knowing that she didn’t believe that Kira suffered meant so much to us.
In the end Kira died at home the way she lived. Without fanfare and without drawing attention to herself. She died peacefully and in a way that we didn’t have to make that most terrible decision that any dog owner has to make. In hindsight I believe Kira was hanging on those last few days for us. She still got up and followed me to my office even though it was obvious she was laboring. And that was when we knew it was time. But she had other plans. For the last few nights once we knew the time was close, before I went to bed I got down on the floor with her and whispered in her ear. I told her I loved her and if it was time for her to go tonight that it was OK and that she didn’t have to hang on for us. And that is what she did. Once we were gone for the day and she didn’t have to be with us anymore she could leave us for the last time. The hardest part is just not being able to be there in the last moments and say goodbye.
For me there is not a whole lot better than an event with dogs. The only thing that can make that better is if it is an environment where I can take photographs of all the dogs. Last year we went to this event for rescue and shelter organizations at a local winery. It is so much fun to see all the shelter/rescue dogs out int he public getting attention.
The event is not designed for photography so it takes some creativity to capture the nice images that these shelter dogs deserve. Shelter dogs are such amazing animals. They deserve to get the best I can offer them. So I really strive to capture great images of them. It makes me so sad that I didn’t get around to sharing these photos until now.
I am sure that by now all these fine dogs have found warm loving forever homes. They were all at the event with great organizations that were taking great care of them. Getting to play with dogs and photograph them is pretty much a day in my own personal heaven. The only downside is when you meat adorable friendly dogs but you already have so many dogs at home that you can’t take one of these adorable shelter dogs home with you.
That is one reason I try to photograph the dogs and share their photographs. I would love to take them all home but we have already done our fair share of rescuing and adopting dogs so there is no room with us despite what our hearts might want. So I need to share their photos and help them find great new homes. This is something I have collaborated in with our local shelter and the more I think about it the more I need to find a way to get back to the shelter and photograph more dogs and share their stories so they can find a way home. If you want to help support me in that mission you can support me on Patreon so that I can spend more time working with the shelter pets. https://www.patreon.com/KRNaturalPhoto
If you are anything like me just seeing cute and friendly dogs out and about melts your heart and I just love the opportunity to capture nice images of dogs in general. But then there is a chance to help a shelter/rescue dog find a home it might not otherwise find I think my heart grows three sizes like the Grinch and I strive even harder to capture images that really capture the personality of these dogs and presents the best they have to offer so that potential adopters will get the best look at them that they can and maybe be persuaded in part by my photography to look into one of these dogs and maybe go meet them. And sometimes just one meeting with a shelter dogs is all it takes for them to steal your heart. Then off they go to a new home. I love the idea that I could be a part of making that happen in any small way. But it is really about the dedicated staff at the rescues and shelters. They make it happen.
I really need to focus on this part of my photography more and post photos in a timely manner so that they can have the most impact. If nothing else I hope that my photos help to give shelter/rescue dogs a better reputation. They are too often portrayed as broken scared dogs. Anyone who has been loved by a shelter dog knows that in most cases this is the furthest thing from the truth and if one person sees my photos and decides to check out their local shelter and falls in love with any dog then I have played my small part.
But also, cute puppies. I mean come on. How do you not love that. Look at that face. That tiny nose and those cute eyes. That is all it takes to get my attention.
After a long day at an event it is time for a puppy nap.
Even the older dogs need their beauty sleep. So if you ever hear that there is a rescue event going on nearby do check it out. You might just meet your next best friend.