Euthanasia for behavior: O's story

This post is part of a series discussing euthanasia for behavior. Find the first post here and all of the posts here.

Making the decision to euthanize your dog for behavior is incredibly difficult. It's a decision that only you can make - but you don't have to make it alone. In this post, we're sharing O and his human's story. O and his human are very dear to us, and their story is an important one. We hope that it will provide some comfort to anyone who feels isolated or guilty as they make a decision about euthanasia.

It’s taken over three years to be able to sit down and actually let myself feel all these emotions. The story is long, but necessary to understand the decision. I hope you can find something you need by reading on, as I have from so many others before me.

“O” was my first foster dog. I always wanted to foster and rescue. I had dogs growing up, but they were little Yorkies whom I loved nonetheless, but I knew a rescue dog was what my heart always needed.

When I first moved out on my own into a small condo, I began following the photography of a girl who worked for a rescue in my area. That quickly turned into following that rescue organization and searching for a dog that would be perfect for me to foster and hopefully adopt.

One night, scrolling through the rescue organization’s Facebook page, I saw him. “O” was this skinny, malnourished, yet happy puppy who was around 6 months old and my heart melted into a puddle of mush. This was it.

His background wasn’t great. He had been found by local police in a “not so great” area, tied to a doorknob by a leash, and sitting next to two dogs who had already passed away. He was skin and bones, and his owner was reportedly mentally unstable and constantly on the police’s radar for various reasons. I reached out to the rescue the very next day.

The first week was a dream.

Four days later, I was told that he needed to be taken to the vet to be neutered. No problem; that’s necessary. I dropped “O” off that morning and my mom picked him up for me in the afternoon because I was still at work. She stayed with him until I got home and I expected to see a groggy puppy. Nope! “O” was charging around, jumping when he wasn’t supposed to be, ripping and roaring through the condo.

After that day, “O” never really seemed to be able to settle down again. Everything changed. I remember incessantly googling things like “can neutering change my dog,” and “will my dog act crazy if he’s in pain?” I called the vet’s office and told them that “O” was acting quite differently. By then he had started nipping at my hands every time I was sitting on my couch or if I was sitting on the floor with him. He started chasing my cats with what seemed like an increased need to actually harm them; very different than his previously playful demeanor.

The vet’s office prescribed a pain killer and said the behaviors might be from pain, but no matter what, he should settle down in a few days.

A few days came and went and “O” never settled down. I would later learn that this experience was likely just scary enough to set off all the genetic things that weren’t quite right in “O.” Over the next month or so, things only got worse. “O” was actively seeking out my hands to nip at them and the nipping got harder and harder. I had scratches up and down each arm. I was afraid to sit down on my couch. “O” began lunging at my face, especially if I was crying from all the stress. He never laid down anymore. I had to begin locking my cats in a room whenever he was out of his crate. He constantly wanted to be outside, and I was no longer able to control him during walks because he was barking and lunging at everything that moved.

I was at a complete loss.

The only thing that I knew to do was contact a trainer. A friend referred me to someone she knew, and I set up an appointment for as soon as possible.

The trainer began the session, and within 5 minutes “O” had a choke collar around his neck. He taught me that “it’s just the sound” that makes dogs listen and behave properly. He had me practice walking him around my neighborhood, pushing his hind legs down to force him into a sitting position, and “correcting” my foster dog with nearly every movement.

It was going well.

Then, a dog. “O” took a particular liking to this dog. The trainer wasn’t having that. He promptly “alpha rolled” my boy and held his muzzle shut right there on the pavement until the dog was out of sight. I remember the fear. I could tell. Even if I didn’t know any of the other signs at that time, I could tell by the look in “O’s” eyes, he was terrified. We only had 2 more sessions with this trainer, during which he instructed me on how to alpha roll my dog and wave my hand over his face until he didn’t nip at me anymore, as well as when to force him into his crate and “lock the door tightly” whenever he nipped me.

Needless to say, none of that worked and it wasn’t anything I liked doing. Again, things got worse. Nipping and lunging got more intense. Nipping eventually broke the skin and left my hands a bloody mess. We were both so broken, and that trainer still had 5-star reviews everywhere.

6 months passed and we continued to struggle.

After a particularly rough evening, I began googling “behavioral training for dogs.” There we go. That’s what I should’ve done the first time. Katelin Thomas to the rescue.

I think it was something like 64 times that “O” lunged at me during our initial consult with Katelin. He hated me, but I still had to try. I had asked the rescue to find another foster for him at least 10 times by now. The answer was always “we’ll post his picture on the page” and then silence. So, this training had to work. I was invested.

Katelin worked up an entire treatment plan. We could do this.

“O,” Katelin, my mom, and myself worked tirelessly for 2 years. Hours upon hours of training and educating. Late night enrichment walks in the woods away from other people. Swimming classes with behavior specialists. Frozen Kongs, treat boxes, puzzles, mats, agility equipment; anything to work his body and mind. So. Much. Liverwurst. Trips to the Michigan State Vet Clinic to meet with a behavioral veterinarian. Medication change after medication change until we were up to 3 medications 3-4 times per day and then dealing with reactivity around taking that medication. Learning every helpful command and mastering it. Endless complaints from neighbors about barking and running they could hear in the condo. Having to walk through the back door of every building so that we didn’t, by chance, run into any other animals. Muzzle training that I wish would’ve worked. You name it, we did it to keep that boy as happy and safe as possible.

Until one day when the elevator door at the condo opened and there was a strange man standing there. We had never had a problem with this before and we always kept him on a very short leash. “O” lunged and broke skin on his hand. After that, “O” was officially asked to be removed from the condo, so he went to stay with my parents. That was 15 months after he entered my life.

I began tirelessly searching for homes. Putting offer after offer in and all were turned down. I was so stuck. My mom worked with “O,” but I still went over after work every night to help him run out some energy and put him in his crate for the night. You see, when I said “O” never really settled down after his neutering, he truly never did. He never laid down for more than 5-10 minutes at a time unless he was in his crate. He would constantly pace around the house, want to go outside and come back in at least 20-30 times per day, and follow whoever he felt ‘safe’ with. It was a full-time job, but it was worth it to us.

“O” stayed with my parents for 7 months. Every day was hard. Things got better before they got worse. We had days where “O” seemed like he was on the road to recovery, and then days where he bit the neighbor and he snapped at everyone in the family. No one except the 3 people who lived there and me were allowed in the house. ‘Beware of Dog’ signs had to go up all around the property to try and avoid a lawsuit if “O” bit anyone. The doorbell sent waves of panic through the house.