Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Yes, Dogs are Animals

So this might be an odd way to return to my blog...this post will probably be long, wordy, and more than a little uncomfortable to read.  I don't blame you for turning away before it ends.  It's okay.  But I need, desperately, to get this off my chest. 

On facebook this afternoon, I shared a youtube video of a tiny 4-year-old girl standing in a kitchen giving commands to 6 adult, male pitbulls who are sitting approximately 3 feet away from this child's face.  She orders them all to sit....then dumps a large pile of food on the floor....counts to 3 and orders them to eat.  The purpose of the video appears to be "look at how amazing these pitbulls are and how well behaved and how they're not vicious at all and my 4-year-old niece can control them and isn't that just YAY YAY YAY!"

(If I were being a good person right now, I'd look up the video and share it here.  But I'm guessing most of you have seen it and I'm feeling a bit tech-lazy at the moment.)

Anywho.  I ranted a bit.  My point was.....I don't care how amazingly well-behaved these dogs are and I don't care what breed they are....THEY ARE STILL ANIMALS.  And absolutely anything can happen.  Believe me.  I found out the hard way.

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In the summer of 2011, we adopted a beautiful golden retriever who we named Molly.  She was roughly 5 years old and needed a new family....her family was in a messy divorce and neither spouse could keep her.  We told the kids we were babysitting a friend's dog for the weekend so as to not get their hopes up about a new dog.  She came to us on a Saturday for a test run.  She walked around the house and ran through the yard like she had been born here.  She and Charlie, our beagle, seemed to get along immediately....Charlie didn't seem threatened by this giant, hairy intruder.  Probably because he was still very young and she was so very big compared to him!  By Sunday afternoon, we knew she was never leaving us.  We told the kids....they were over the moon.

The very first thing she did was shed the equivalent of another entire pet.  I have never witnessed that much shedding....we've only had short-haired dogs.  Her previous family, in their turmoil, probably hadn't put much time into grooming her.  I bought a brush.  She and I bonded over beauty treatments.  I sat on the floor with my legs in a V.....she draped her body over my legs....I brushed and trimmed her hair while she slipped in and out of a blissful nap.  She only moved when my legs were screaming with pins-and-needles and I nudged her off my lap.

Molly followed me everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  When I closed the bathroom door, she waited right there for me.  If I moved from the kitchen to the living room, she came along.  If I went to do laundry in the basement, she had to keep me company. 

My favorite thing was the foot massage.  Whenever I sat down at the table, she went under and sat by my feet.  I kicked off my slippers, she flopped down onto her side, and I rubbed her tummy with my bare feet.  How it started, I don't know.....and it wasn't a conscious thing.  It was just a habit.  A comforting habit. 

Molly was as gentle as any dog could ever be and listened to our commands without hesitation.  When the kids watched TV, they used her tummy as a pillow.  She slept....they watched.  They hugged her....kissed her.....dressed her in silly outfits....snuggled with her in their bedrooms....snuck her onto the couch when I wasn't looking....fed her pieces of cheese....played catch with her in the yard.  We trusted her.  She was a good girl.

Friday, November 16, 2012:  I picked up the kids from school and the girls (kindergarten and 1st grade) asked for a playdate.  We brought 2 more squealing first graders back to the house.  As is typical, the playdate was a boisterous, noisy, silly affair.  The 2 friends left around 5:00.  My husband took the boys to their roller hockey game.  I went into the kitchen to start supper.  Alexa was upstairs...Rachel was in the living room with Molly.

Slow motion yet split second.  Is that possible?  It has to be.  That's how the next moment played out.

I looked over my shoulder to see Molly sitting next to the couch and Rachel coming up behind her.  Probably trying to give her a hug....as she had a million times before.  I saw Molly's face and thought, "She looks a little odd.  Maybe I should tell Rachel to leave her alone."  But I didn't.  I brushed it aside.  I looked down at the meal I was preparing and heard a scream.  A soul-piercing scream.  "MY FACE!  MOMMY, MY FACE!!!!"

The blood was pouring down her cheek from the moment I scooped her off the floor.  Somewhere in my brain the words STAY CALM were running over and over while I stared in horror at the gaping hole in my daughter's forehead.  There was so much blood I couldn't tell if there was more than one wound.  I gently cleaned her face a bit and realized her eyelid was also split open.  Her eyelid. 

Called my husband so he could come home.....he took Alexa to a friend's house....went back to roller hockey to pick up the boys....I picked up a surprisingly calm Rachel and took her to the ER.

50-60 stitches.  On her forehead and eyelid.  I didn't even know you could stitch an eyelid.  We had an excellent plastic surgeon.  He performed nothing short of a miracle to put her little face back together.

As soon as we got home and settled, Nick looked at me and said, "She has to go.  I cannot have her here after this."  I nodded....I knew he was right.  There were too many could-haves.  Rachel could have lost her eye.  Molly could have bitten one of the other little girls.  And worse yet....it could easily happen again.  With a heavy heart, I picked up my phone and sent out a desperate plea via text to anyone and everyone I could think of......I explained what had happened and asked for suggestions about who I could call.  We looked up rescue groups, shelters, vets....we made phone calls, left messages, sent e-mails late into the night. 

On Saturday, Nick took Molly to the vet.  We knew she needed a full checkup to see if anything was wrong which may have led to the bite.  We needed that information in order to find her a new home.  Upon exam, the vet told us she had a severe double ear infection.  We had no idea.  We had no experience with this and no idea what the signs were. 

Have you ever had an ear infection?  They are incredibly painful.  Now imagine you have no way of telling anyone this....therefore the infection goes untreated....and it's in both ears.

She was in pain.  Excruciating pain.  And she was an animal....so she did what animals do....she lashed out.  Rachel happened to be the one who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

*****

Oh by the way.....let me backtrack a bit.  Saturday morning, Rachel woke up with a puffy face full of stitches...dried blood at the hairline....one eye unable to open fully......came downstairs with a smile and said, "Good morning, Molly.  I love you."  As if nothing had ever happened.  Because even at the age of just 5 1/2, she knew it wasn't Molly's fault.

*****

Armed with medication and this crucial piece of information, we thought it would be a little easier to find her a new home.  Time and again, we explained that she bit out of pain....she's not dangerous or viscious.  Time and again, we we were told to put her down.  "We don't take biters."   Days ticked by.  We successfully treated the ear infection and spent hours making phone call after phone call.  We used a baby gate to keep Molly in the kitchen, separate from the kids.

I remember sitting at the table with Molly next to me.  I ran my hand over the silky hair on her head while I cried and said, "I'm so sorry.  I love you.  And I'm so sorry.  This is all my fault.  I'm so sorry."  And it might not make sense to anyone but me....but to this day, I take all of the blame on myself.  Dogs with ear infections shake their heads a lot.  Was she doing that?  Why didn't I notice?  Was I ignoring her pain?  She was my sidekick.....how could I miss her discomfort?  And I noticed she looked a little odd that night.  Why didn't I make Rachel move away?  Why did I let it happen?  It was my idea to adopt a second dog.  I am the one who brought Molly here.  Why did I have to bring another dog into the house?

HOW could I have let this happen???

My punishment, as I see it, was seeing my daughter's blood pour down her face.  And having to hold her legs while she screamed in pain in the ER.  And fighting the urge to faint.  And seeing her wounds change color day by day.  And having to explain to her, over and over again, that Molly couldn't stay with us.  And watching her say goodbye to this dog who had become her best friend.

We found Molly a new home....just in time.  I had started to believe that putting her down would be our only option....but my husband found someone who was willing to hear the whole story and able to find a family that would love her like we did (and still do).  The day I surrendered her, I cooked a large batch of homemade dog food to send with her, along with her dry food.  I sent a list of her feeding schedule, her habits, favorite things to do, quirks, etc.  I packed a bag with her favorite toys and blanket.  The woman who took her was stunned.

It's been more than 2 years now....we are currently a family with three dogs, so there's no shortage of sloppy kisses and tummy scratches.  But I still miss my girl.  Every so often I see or hear something that reminds me of her.  Her collar hangs next to my bed.  I still miss her....my little shadow.  My pretty Molly-girl.  Thanks to her, I'm a better doggy mom now.   

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