About two years ago my wife and I did something I never dreamt we would do. Our affinity for shelter and rescue dogs grew over the years. We volunteered at the local shelter. We fostered dogs and cats. We began adopting dogs from our local shelter and volunteering there. We enjoyed helping our local animals. We also fell deeper and deeper in love with Bernese Mountain Dogs. Then our love of shelter dogs and our love of Bernese Mountain Dogs collided when we discovered a bonded pair of Bernese Mountain dogs looking for their furrever home and we fell in love. The only hiccup was these dogs were all the way out in Ohio. What is a person to do?
You do what your heart tells you to do. We drove at least 12 hours round trip to adopt a bonded pair of Bernese Mountain Dogs. I don’t know if it was fate or meant to be or what, but when the rescue tells you that these two dogs are very shy and probably will take time to warm up to you so be prepared for that and then you get there and these two adorable dogs run right up to you and want nothing more than to snuggle then if nothing else it is a good sign that you made the right decision. This is how Little Kira came into our lives.
When we take her places and she meets new people they of course want to know her name. When we tell people her name is Little Kira they always look a little in disbelief as if to say “You call this little”. But she became Little Kira because we had previously adopted and adult dog whose name was Kira and our new dog was also well into her adult years and her name was also Kira. We did not want to change either of their names as I’m sure they had become accustomed to responding to those names and the last thing I would want was to create something else for our newest family member to adjust to. So we devised a way to distinguish them from each other and our first and larger Kira became Big Kira and our newest addition became Little Kira despite not being so little herself, but she was little in comparison to big Kira. As Little Kira became more adjust to us and us to her she eventually became affectionately known just as Little and she responded to that as well. I think when you have an 80 to 90 pound dog and her name is little that just endears you to her even more.
I think Little Kira was one of the most affectionate and loving dogs we have had, other than our other Bernese Mountain Dog, Buck. She simply adored people. She loved attention. She wanted nothing more than a hand on her back to pet her. She would do whatever it took to get some time with a human. Anywhere we took her she tried to sidle up to strangers to solicit a few strokes on the head or back. She would lean in and just stay there as long as the person was willing to stay in contact with her. She didn’t care if it was me or my wife or a complete stranger. She wanted to make that human connection. There was no stronger an instinct for her than to seek out some human companionship. I don’t know if that comes from being a rescue dog who unfortunately spent too long with very little human contact or if it was just her natural affinity regardless, but it is one of the qualities that made her unforgettable.
Did a mention that she also had the most adorable eyes. The skin around Little Kira’s eyes was so droopy that her eys almost looked diamond shaped. I would never contend that Little would win any beauty pageants but she had the sweetest most soulful eyes. Her eyes looked like the eyes of a wise elder that had so much knowledge to impart. I’d like to believe that I was able to absorb some of that wisdom she had to share. I hope I currently embody the lessons she had to pass on to us.
When you adopt an older dog you know you inevitably will not have a long time with that dog. This is especially true with a breed like Bernese Mountain Dogs which do not have a long lifespan on average. Little Kira was around 6 years old when we adopted her. When you adopt an older dog you do it because they deserve to have the last few years they have left be happy and full of joy. One thing is for sure when you adopt a senior dog they give you their best. They know that you came for them. They know that you were their last best hope for the golden years to be bright and for them to have the life they deserve and they will shower you with so much love. You will never regret adopting a senior dog.
We were fortunate enough to have her for almost 2 years. Little spent the last few months of her life struggling through cancer. We did everything we thought we could to help her be comfortable. There is no manual for this. You navigate this minefield with your heart and your gut. You do what you feel is right and you do what you think your dog would want for themselves. You try to make decisions without regret and without too much second guessing. Nothing ever feels right but you do your best and in the end you make what you believe to be the most compassionate decision you can. When that life you cherish so much, the life of your faithful companion begins to dip more into suffering than joy, when there is more time spent in pain than in fun, when there is not enough energy to enjoy a day out getting petted by all the humans then you know you have made the decision that must be made. You say goodbye. You spill all the tears. You kiss the nose and say your goodbyes. You promise to never forget.
I’ll miss you sweet Kira but I will never forget you.
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.
Sometimes in life you get some bad news and your are not sure it can get any worse. But then to your dismay it gets even worse. Literally twice as bad as it was before. How do things like this happen?
Two weeks ago our gentle giant Big Kira was diagnosed with cancer. That hit us like a sucker punch. Totally unexpected. Now we had to take Little Kira to the vet for an ultrasound of her bladder. We had been treating her for what we were hoping was some type of bladder infection for several weeks. However, as the infection persisted despite treatment our vet recommended we take Little Kira to get an ultrasound to see if there was a mass or something else going on with her bladder.
Little is such a good girl. She was in and out of her ultrasound in no time. Unfortunately, that is where the good news ended. There was definitely a mass in her bladder. It is most likely cancer.
I called Debby and told her the bad news. She met me in Ithaca and we made a day of it for Little Kira. We had fun exploring Stewart Park. She is such an easy dog that loves everyone. As soon as we arrived at the parka gentleman approached and wanted to say high to Little Kira. She nuzzled him for some head scratches and the kind man remarked about how sweat a dog she was. Little played in the water and saw some new sights.
After that we headed over to the dog park, which is always an odd experience with her. She is a very good dog but doesn’t care to leave our side much. She doesn’t go play with dogs. She is good with them and says hi in the typical dog way if other dogs approach but she doesn’t seek them out. She will go over to other humans at the dog park to be petted but only if we are near by.
We sauntered around the park enjoying basically a nice casual off leash walk. Just appreciating the nice day and the time we have with our girl. We just want her to be happy in whatever time she has with us and she is a happy girl. She enjoys life and enjoys being with us.
After the dog park we went and explored a little more of Alan Treman park along the waterfront. Little whined and signaled it was time to go home. We pilled back into the car and headed for home. In spite of the terrible news we had a good day with our dog and I hope she had a good day with us. I only hope there are not too few of these days left for us.
Today was a day for the dogs. Up in Ithaca the Ithaca Dog Fest was going on. That means that the Reynolds clan is headed to Ithaca to enjoy some 4 legged companionship. The event did not disappoint.
We took Josie and Little Kira with us on this outing. We had such a good time. There were many dog related vendors there. There were also many different Shelters and Rescue groups there which is always great to see.
Best of all was all the dogs. So many dogs. And there were tons of people who wanted to love on Josie and Little Kira. They did not have any problem getting all of the loving they desired. Crowds of people just waiting to pet them. It is a dogs dream come true. After walking through he event we just went and sat in the shade under a tree. People continued to stop by and share their time with Josie and Kira. They can never get enough. There is always more love to go around.They are such good dogs. The make it easy.
Then after the Dog Fest broke up we headed over to the Ithaca Dog Park to get some off leash time. Dog park for Josie and Kira means time to lounge around. They are so funny. They rarely go much more than 10 feet from us. They just wanted to sprawl out and relax. They aren’t phased by the other dogs. They did actually try to play once, but couldn’t really seem to figure out how that worked. They did love the pools. And apparently they also love picnic tables.
There were also many other cute dogs there. No question about it it was a good day.
I was able to get outside and take a few photographs of our new foster dog Sammy.
I also found the below about why we rescue dogs. I didn’t write it and there was no citation to it.
The Reason (to you from all your rescue dogs)
I would’ve died that day if not for you.
I would’ve given up on life if not for your kind eyes.
I would’ve used my teeth in fear if not for your gentle hands.
I would have left this life believing that all humans don’t care
Believing there is no such thing as fur that isn’t matted
skin that isn’t flea bitten
good food and enough of it
beds to sleep on
someone to love me
to show me I deserve love just because I exist.
Your kind eyes, your loving smile, your gentle hands
Your big heart saved me…
You saved me from the terror of the pound,
Soothing away the memories of my old life.
You have taught me what it means to be loved.
I have seen you do the same for other dogs like me.
I have heard you ask yourself in times of despair
Why you do it
When there is no more money, no more room, no more homes
You open your heart a little bigger, stretch the money a little tighter
Make just a little more room…to save one more like me.
I tell you with the gratitude and love that shines in my eyes
In the best way I know how
Reminding you why you go on trying.
I am the reason
The dogs before me are the reason
As are the ones who come after.
Our lives would’ve been wasted, our love never given
We would die if not for you ❤
Josie decided to photobomb the mini portrait photo shoot I was having with Little Kira in our yard. I called Kira towards me because I wanted to get some photos of her in motion and Josie decided she would join in on the fun.