Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Dog Thing, part II

Satchel, the "35 pound terrier/ACD mix," turned out not to be. Emaciated at 55 pounds and obviously a pittie mix (with pointer?), he sat in his cage with quiet dignity in the urban shelter full of cringing and yapping inmates. He gazed into my eyes with his own leonine orbs and I was swept up. His story clinched the deal.

Satchel, housed at the shelter for over four months after having been picked up as a stray, had been long scheduled for euthanasia. The night staff at the overcrowded facility, however, favored him, and he'd passed his nights snoozing under the office desk while darker things happened in other rooms. He'd survived, adapted, and endeared himself to some. Still, the stress had worn at him. He was thin, his coat was rough, and an infected wound on his paw pad had erupted in a pink mountain of granulated flesh. The clock, the shelter staff admitted, was ticking. 

With my infant slung across my chest and my all-loving Aussie at my side, I met with Satchel in the off-leash yard. I ignored his stiff, posturing greeting. I quieted my inner critic, who saw body language that would have triggered a fight with any dog but Paisley. I forgave him his clamped-tail denial of the usual sniffs. Against my husband's wishes and my better sense, I took him home. 

Here, let me take a moment to state my position on pit bulls, or rather dogs from the family of bully breeds who are usually labeled as such. They are frequently maligned, rarely criminal, and never evil. True, they have been overbred and poorly handled and badly abused, in many cases, by their human keepers. They are not, however, baby killers. They should not be banned, or euthanized on policy, or kenneled, muzzled and chained. 

There is a good reason that the Staffordshire bull terrier, a close relative of the American Pit Bull Terrier, is called the nanny dog. These breeds have been bred and selected for generations upon generations for their devotion, kindness, and gentleness to humans. I would trust a pit bull with my child before I'd trust a cocker spaniel, and I think that the negative media attention that pit bulls receive should be solely directed at their irresponsible owners. 

That said, pitties tend, for reasons of heritage and instinct, towards being dog aggressive. It's a fact, and it leads me to say that they are not a breed for the inexperienced handler. They are a smart dog, a strong dog, a SWEET dog, but a dog that must be managed carefully. 

We, unfortunately, invited more than just typical behavior issues into our home when we adopted Satchel, and it turned out that his behavior was beyond our management ability. While he was with us, though, we loved him. Our Bonesy, as we called him, was a good dog. 

Here is an excerpt I posted on Dogster when he had been with us for seven months: 

"Satchel had been picked up by animal control in his city of origin as an emaciated stray. Since he has been with us these past seven months, he has become happy, confident, healthy and glossy. We struggled for a while with his seemingly random "aggressive episodes" towards our Aussie, Paisley. They were the best of friends on minute, and the next, Satchel would violently bite Paisley, then fall down to the floor cringing and smacking his lips in the strangest way. This happened about once every three weeks, like clockwork, until we started crating and separating the boys. When we started to see other odd behaviors, like "fly biting," we talked to the vet and figured out that Satchel is, most likely, epileptic. His attacks may have just been psychomotor siezures, which can take the form of an occasional, repetative, brief and unprovoked attack against a particular family member. He has been tentatively diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy and is on phenobarbitol, as well as a low carb/high protien food (by Innova) that some say can help. So far, so good! We are SOooooo glad to have his criminal record cleared, as we NEVER understood his strange hot/cold behavior towards Paisley and we so very much wanted to keep these two dogs living together safely."

Here was the next update, posted after he exhibited severe unprovoked aggression against our aged neighbor. My theory is that her posture, hunched from old age and advanced osteoporosis, frightened Satchel and led to his misidentifying her as a threat.

"It is with great sadness that I report the following. Satchel was euthanized in 12/07 at the age of 5 due to unmanageable intermittent, random aggression. After a year plus of managing his epilepsy and unexplained dog aggression through medication, training, exercise, and careful supervision, we chose to euthanize Satchel. His judgement appeared impaired at the end of his life and he had become fearful of and defensive near several humans, so we chose to take his life while he was still a loved, trusted, healthy friend rather than risk having him hurt someone and be labeled a criminal. He died happy, in my arms, and will be forever beloved."

Compared with Mirri's 13 years by my side, Satchel spent three. I loved him differently, and his loss affected me less, but I cannot say I don't have regrets about the way things ended with him. Strangely, I felt no guilt at his passing. Where Mirri died emaciated, paralyzed, ancient, incontinent, cancer-riddled, and covered in bleeding hematomas, I chose to euthanize Satchel in the prime of life—a glistening athlete and vibrant companion. It's strange that it's her death I still question. 

. . . . to be continued . . . . 

1 comment:

  1. It's never easy. Dealing with their deaths is the price we pay for loving our animals, although I don't regret a grain of that affection (and I know you don't either, Marnie).


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