The hardest decision

Tonight’s quiet is so much louder than normal.  The night insects are chirping, there’s an occasional truck or car acceleration in the far distance that travels through the dark from the highway about a mile and a half away, tired old Jackie rhymically nurses her sore paw and every-playful Cricket is flat out on the love seat in the other room.  Every cat in the house is taking up two or three cushions, furry bods stretched, tails flopped idly.

Nessie, the 5 month old Border Collie is still off on a playdate with her 5 month old pup-friend and I wait for the call that says she’s on her way back to town so I can go meet up to collect her.  Yes, it’s especially quiet without that bright little nipper.

Occasional sheep and goat bleats from the pastures interrupt the heavy late summer dark, lending the night an even deeper stillness.

In reality, we’re all a bit shell-shocked.  A cruel, hard lesson about human failings has us all depleted.  And by us, I mean me, the cats, and the dogs of the house.

For two days, we shared our home with a beautiful 9-year old Springer Spaniel named “Chase.”  For just two days.

About a month ago I was at our local veterinary clinic and a woman escorted in this loving dog and her small daughter, sharing that he showed up on their porch stoop the evening before and was still there in the morning.  They’d brought him to the clinic to have him checked for a microchip that might give a clue as to his home.  I was there with my 4-month old pup, Nessie, and instantly volunteered my name and number should they need a foster home for him.

When I got the call the Tuesday night, my biggest concern about picking Chase up the next morning was that if there were any unknown aggression issues, it might not be safe to bring him into a home with so many other pets already.  But it broke my heart to think of him in a kennel, alone, barking and scared.  I thought of my own dogs and what a wreck they’d be if they had been deserted and in a strange place for a month.  I wanted to go and get him as soon as I could to reassure him, help him to live the life that he was due.

I picked him up Wednesday morning.

When Chase was not pacing and barking, he was panting and whimpering.  I leash-walked him everywhere the first day, in case he was disoriented and chose to run.  I didn’t want him to end up hit by a car out on the main road or lost on someone else’s doorstoop.  Also, he was intent on chasing my poultry that were not in their fenced in yard and I didn’t want to risk the peafowl flying off.  I brought him in the barn while I tended to my goats and horses, and my pony that was recuperating from colic.  I couldn’t bring him into the stalls with me but I kept he & my other dogs in the aisleway of the barn with the aisle doors closed so that they would have each other’s company while I mucked and fed the animals.

Chase was frantic about being separated from me and though I spoke to him reassuringly, as long as I was out of his sight, he would bark.  I was unable to get chores done with him on a leash if it meant going in and out of the stalls and chicken coops and pasture, but if I put him in the house or in the barn, he would bark nonstop.

On the second day I allowed him to run without the leash and he stayed local.  Before I set him free, I made sure the poultry were all in their fenced-in yard to avoid casualties.  He flushed them along the fence-line, but at least I knew they were safe.  He ran on his own, exploring, but barking, and circled back to me if ever he got too far away.  Much like my own dogs who always liked to be within sight, I felt secure that he wasn’t going to take off.

On the evening of the first day, I suspected that Chase would rest better if his nerves were steadier and asked my vet for an anti-anxiety medication.  I dosed him accordingly but he still panted and paced the whole evening and into the wee hours, only sleeping a couple of hours in my bed, practically on top of me.  The next day/evening, I knew that I couldn’t sustain the energy to care for him and my farm without trying to help him find a calm and so I continued dosing him according to the directions.  I even got an additional prescription for him from our pharmacy that we felt sure would help him to rest.  But he only barked more and whined and panted more intensely.  I’d hazard to guess he was suffering from fatigue from his ordeal of the past month and the stimulation of my home/farm which he couldn’t cope with.  His previous owner said that he’d not had exposure to cats before, and I have 5 house cats.  Every time he saw one of the cats during his stay, he would become frantic and I became concerned that our cats would disappear from fear.

It is the first time I’ve mentioned his owner, and you may be wondering what he was doing with me if his owner had been located.  Chase’s owner discovered my comment on a social media post when a friend of a friend shared his photo and information the month prior, trying to locate his people.  My comment had been that I’d met him and he seemed such a sweetheart, and I’d hoped that his people would be able to reunite with him.  Chase’s owner wrote her phone number down in response and asked that I contact her.

When I contacted the owner, she explained that she’d given him away to a friend because she was going through some tough transitions in her life.  The friend had obviously lost Chase but what she was so disappointed in was that the friend had not pursued to find him.  So this was how she found out that her dog had become lost.  She asked me if I would take him, but I told her that I had 3 other dogs and 7 cats and a farm.  Though, I said, I would love to take him, or foster him if they couldn’t find him a home, it would have to be on a ‘trying out’ basis because of my other animals.  She’d said he could be o.k. with dogs and that he’d never been with cats before.  She said he was her baby.  She said she would not take him back.

When, on the second day, I tried to imagine long term care for this sick dog, I made an appointment for him to be neutered the next morning.  I thought an intact dog, at 9 years old, and extreme anxiety, were not a good combination.  One thing that I hoped would help him if he were to have a settled home was to be neutered.  Plus, I have an unspayed female pup who is a bit young to have a spay-operation yet.  So I didn’t want any accidental pregnancies at any point.  Also, he was trying to mate with me the entire time he was here.  Sometimes this is comical in a lewd way, and we’ve all see this happen with dogs.  But as a persistent behavior in a pet, it’s not funny, it’s not anything but annoying and intolerable.

The more of Chase’s behavioral issues piled up, the more frustrated I became with the poor choices that mature adults make.  I thought that there was a chance at providing him with a good home given his dear qualities, I even called his owner back to find out if she would consider taking him while we found a good home.  She said she wouldn’t.  I tried to explain that my own home wouldn’t work because he wouldn’t stop barking at the cats, that my cats have been here for 10 years and it wasn’t fair for them to have to be re-homed.  I couldn’t do that and feel it was a responsible decision.

Chase barely slept last night, and that was after giving him all of the medication that I could for his anxiety.  None of it touched his symptoms.  I woke up early after barely sleeping, packed the car with the pies I was to deliver after I brought him in, packed Nessie’s day-kit for her puppy-visit, filled all of the cats’ bowls hoping that in our absence they would reappear, and I drove to the clinic for the neutering appointment.

I know some about mental illness. I spoke with professionals to discuss Chase’s cortisol levels and long term treatment for such extreme anxiety. The very unsettling fact was that if we placed him in another home, it would likely begin a pattern of placement for him which would only increase his anxiety.  The medical caregivers and staff at the local animal care facility were trying to be honest with me, but not insensitive, and said that if I wasn’t able to help him, they did not have faith that we would be able to find him a home that would provide as good of a chance as I was able to offer.

I thought about how if Chase had a cancerous tumor and related pain that was the size of his anxiety, we would have an easier time saying it was time for him to go.  These were the thoughts that helped me to find some reasoning in making the decision, instead of neutering him this morning, to have him euthanized.

I choked a bit when I was talking with the staff and cried because I hadn’t even given him breakfast.  He was to have the neutering procedure on an empty stomach.  The treat-coffers were opened up to me and before we sedated him, I hand-fed him as many doggy treats as he was interested to gobble.

I crooned and stroked Chase while he drifted off on a soft blanket on the floor of the clinic office. He’d had a good roll in something smelly before we’d set out this morning, and I know that had been a jolly moment.  His soaked ears, from all of his panting, were dreadlocks of manure. I repeated to him that he was a good dog, he was a good dog and it wasn’t his fault.  He was just a good dog and his peace was coming.

I want for Chase’s story to be a lesson if it can’t end happily ever after.  I want for us to be more mindful of the pets we take into our homes, our lives, and impress on our friends, family and neighbors the importance of spaying and neutering, of proper training of young pets, of the responsibilities that go with the decision to have animal companions.

If you’re already that kind of person, you’re nodding your head.  If you’re not or if you’ve heard it before and you think it’s just noise, then you won’t find any use for reading this.

Wherever your community, you will find pets that need a foster home.  Chase’s story is tragic for me to have experienced, tragic for me to share.  But maybe by reading this you will reach out in some way to see how you can help more pets to have a loving chance.

I hope that Chase’s two days with me were something special in his life.  I had his body cremated for a few reasons.  I knew, though, that I would plant a tree for him like I did for our old Abe, 12 years as a faithful companion, because, like all good dogs, it is the least that we can do to honor all of the pets that selflessly watch over us even when we, selfishly, don’t watch over them.

“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.”  – “Dogs are People, Too”, NYTimes, October 2013 – Gregory Berns , professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, the author of “How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain”

You cannot share your life with a dog, as I had done in Bournemouth, or a cat, and not know perfectly well that animals have personalities and minds and feelings. -Jane Goodall

You cannot share your life with a dog, as I had done in Bournemouth, or a cat, and not know perfectly well that animals have personalities and minds and feelings.
-Jane Goodall


21 responses to “The hardest decision

    • Ahh, Kate, I’m not feeling worthy of a star, but what a beautiful image. I’m going to plant an apple tree for Chase. I think that every year when the apples are ready to be picked, I’ll be able to think of him. Thank you so much, dear, for such kind words. Hugs to you, through the e-waves, -Tammy

  1. You made exactly the best decision. You have such a big heart and if anyone could have helped him, it was you. Sometimes the best thing to do is also the hardest. I like the think he is happy now, with no anxiety, running and playing. Big hugs to you.

    • Thank you Judy. Awful and awful and awful. I’ll never not be sorry that he didn’t have a better life. But I have to do my best in his wake, and that is why I wrote about it. I felt like I always share the fun stuff on the farm and this was something that would maybe create a negative reaction, but needed to be told. I did get a little online-heat, as I had braced myself for. It’s o.k.. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and they’re all sharing from something, some experience, and I’m pretty sure no one intends to actually hurt me. I’ll not try to change them and I’m respectful of their passions. But this singular decision, for me, was a hard, hard lesson. I’m just going to try to do what I can to be helpful from here on out, try to help other animals avoid that situation altogether if I can. That’s why I shared.
      I’m grateful to you – you’ve been so supportive.

  2. Tammy I am so sorry
    being an animal control officer for a good portion of my life I have had to make many of these decisions. For me, every one of those decisions took a small part away from me, a little spot in my heart if you will.
    find comfort knowing that sometimes these decisions are for the best. Not for us but for them.
    there is no doubt in my mind, that the last couple of days that you had chase were some of the best days that he had filled with love compassion and understanding

    • Pete, I was so touched to read your comment. I didn’t know that you’d been an animal control officer and so I can only imagine how real this has been for you. I don’t know how you did it. If I hadn’t had the support of professionals to make the best decision(that we collectively agreed upon), I couldn’t have done it alone. Any of it. But I’ll always have a soft spot for animals like Chase, and my best hope is that we can prevent animals from going to the wrong homes to begin with. Oh life!
      It sure is good to hear from you. Thank you so much for taking time to comment. I recollect days of hanging out on South St. with your crew, how free we all were! I think of Patty a lot. Hugs,

  3. It’s so sad to read this. But with how you open your heart to everyone (human, animal or otherwise) I know it must’ve been a difficult decision and one that you made because it was the best for Chase.

    • Thank you, Hazel. Gut wrenching past week, and if the weather wasn’t so gorgeous and I didn’t have so many other things to tend, it would be a pretty awful spiral. But staying busy, trying to talk about it, accepting many gracious friends’ support are helpful. I’m so appreciative to you for putting extra effort into sharing this past weekend – you posted about the adopt-athon in NYC and some other adoption-postings and it did not go unnoticed by me. I think we can’t help enough in that situation. You never know when you’ll find a home for some furry companion. Not everyone has to become a “cat-lady” as the expression goes, but owning pets can be so therapeutic. I love that my mom finally got a cat after a lifetime of saying she “hated cats.” And now, you’d think he was her baby – the pictures! The stories! And it gives her so much support. There is hope that we can help, but there’ll definitely be risks when we stick our necks out there. And I’m pretty sure it will happen again to me, someway, because I can’t resist to help if I can. But I’d rather be sorry for trying than for not trying.
      Thanks again, so much.

  4. Tammy, my heart goes out to you. You’re such a generous soul – to have taken Chase in, but also to have had the courage and love to end his torment. It’s not work that just anyone can do, but clearly you’ve been chosen. Blessings and love to you as you work through the rawness these next days.

    • Thank you George. I’m not so sure I want to be “chosen” again, but we all know that it’s not always our call. I just feel like I’m the type that will always step into the way of making tough decisions or working hard on an animal’s behalf, but then, we all have our passions. I appreciate that I happen to be one of those that has unending energy where animals are concerned, but there are some awesome people in my life that have the same boundless energy/know-how/passion for helping people. So we all just do our best, I guess.

      I’m grateful to you, it is indeed raw these days. The support of my online & real-time friends and family have been key. I’m sure I couldn’t do it alone.

      And then, there is the busy-ness of the days that keeps me going, too. By the way, Fabio is sitting pretty with the turkeys and two hens these days. He really likes his odd-ball friends. He is the most demure roo I have ever had, I think I told you that!

  5. Oh Tammy my heart breaks for you. Sometimes we have to make decisions that are so hard to accept but know they are for the best. Chase was a good dog at heart and I am sure those two days were his best! Love you my friend for your amazing strength.

    • Thank you so much, Julie. You know how hard it was, you are a dog lover. I am one to preserve as idyllic a life as I can for my animals. I always feel like it is our privilege to have them in our lives, and they don’t owe us a thing. So to make such a difficult decision on Chase’s behalf, I’ll never not hurt that I failed him. But I did keep going to the thought that if his “mental” illness were manifesting in a physical way like a tumor or injury, we’d try to take away his misery as well as we could. I do wish his owner would’ve stepped forward when I told her I needed help. It would’ve taken away the burden for me. Right? But then, I think about it, and if his owner had stepped forward, I might always worry that I could’ve helped him more. As my son put it, “Mom, I think you had the misfortune of being dealt a bad hand.”

      Thank you so much for your support. Lots of love to you, my dog & kid-loving friend!

  6. Thank you for writing about this. I have watched several dogs be spoiled, and not in a good way, without any real idea of how to stop it from happening. These were good, sweet puppies that were never spayed or neutered and grew up to become uncontrolled, aggressive and fearful dogs. Some have died – lost, or hit by a car – not in the arms of a friend.

    And, thank you for helping. Chase was just the latest beneficiary of your incredible, generous and wise spirit. While there was nothing good about having to make that decision, the decision was a good one, and I am sure that he was grateful to you for your care and love.

    Sorry if my tears blur the screen.

    • oh Patty, I am sorry I made you cry. It was such a sad, horrible experience. I’ll be stinging from this for a long time. I just thought if I shared, maybe it would help one dog or one pet not have to go through the same in it’s life. I wanted to take my anger and sadness and hope that it could fuel some sort of productivity. A lesson to share. Not a good one, though. So I am grateful to you for reading, for composing your thoughts and sharing with me. I definitely can use the support. You know how busy I stay around here with everything else, but there won’t be a day that goes by that I won’t feel for Chase and how differently I wished his story would’ve ended. I do want to believe that the two days we had together were rich. I even roasted a chicken to feed the dogs on the second day – it’s what I’d done for Abe when he was starting to go on us….when all else fails, I roast a chicken for the dogs. It makes them SO happy! We hold court in the kitchen and they sit all around, in their choses spots, and I carve and toss them pieces. They love it! I think Chase had never been fed a fresh-roasted chicken before. I didn’t realize I was making him a “last supper”, so to speak, but I think back on it and I’m so glad I did.
      Thank you.
      Hugs (also, I think of you every time I use Izzy’s saddle!)

  7. So sorry for the loss and what you must have endured to make this heart wrenching decision.Let your evident caring and love for animals carry you through this difficult times. An animal lover myself, I enjoy following your blog and postings.

    • Dear Pat: Thank you so much for taking time to share. It is/was a horrible feeling for me. Trying to give everyone a litle extra loving this week. You have no idea how much it means to hear support such as yours.

  8. I am heart sick after reading this. what sort of a dog owner gives up a dog – and then refuses to take it back??????! our first springer, aspen, belonged to our landlords that shared 65 acres with our rental house. they had three dogs, yet never ever spent any time with them. jack, a black lab, continually ran through the invisible fence (understandably!) and the last time, when the owners were out of town, they refused to search for him when they returned. the second, a shiatsu, was run over in their gravel drive by fast wheeling teenagers. the third? wonderful two year old springer spaniel aspen, who took up with us – and when we moved, they said we were more than welcome to take him. aspen was with us for another fourteen wonderful years. I canNOT fathom why so many people become pet owners and then hugely fail as pup parents.
    you did the right thing. it is done. he is in a peaceful place now and knows without a doubt that you did all you possibly could.
    sending love xox Nina

    • Gosh that’s just hard to imagine. I actually had a conversation this weekend with a friend about a mutual acquaintance that long-distance cares for her farm. Neither of us could imagine how on earth you leave animals unattended…thinking they won’t notice? There are so many ways of abuse, all of them very sad and pathetic.
      Thank you, Nina, for your pause to send me some kind words and to share. It means so much to me when people reach out. I am heart-sick, too, and so I’d not wanted to share the sick and spread negativity, more like hoping to impress and put in the forefront of our agendas to see how we can help care for animals that need us. Knowing full well that most of those that read the post are already the type that do that anyway…


  9. How wonderful that you tried to help that poor troubled soul and how courageous of you to do what needed to be done for he is finally at peace.

    My heart hurts for you but rest assured that when that sweet angel is assigned a farm to watch over from in heaven, he will pick yours ; )

    • Fran, what a beautiful thought. I do imagine Chase, from time to time, and he is not whining or pacing or panting or barking, he is still and happy, and I love the thought of him in heaven watching over us. Thank you. Every time I think about this I get awfully choked up. It’s hard just to see it in my blog-feed. But I’m glad I shared, just even if it might help one other dog or cat to not get placed in the wrong home, or to have someone spay or neuter an animal to prevent things like this from happening, or hopefully someone will tell someone Chase’s story and it will help someone else to make a choice on behalf of an animal that is difficult, but important. And I don’t mean to euthanize, either, but maybe a choice for life so that it can have a chance.

      Grateful to you for the time you took to comment, to read the post at all. Thank you so much.

  10. Tammy- I just stumbled upon your blog while looking for info on Shetland Sheep. What you did for Chase was nothing short of the kindest thing you could have done.

    We adopted our Basset X 2 years ago and had no idea if he had ever even met a cat before. Never mind chickens and horses! But luckily someone had spent time with him prior to his ending up on the streets and then in a high kill shelter. While he hadnt been neutered, which he is now, he had been trained and socialized. He is still afraid of the chickens. And wont get out of the truck a the horse barn. Despite the other dogs wanting to play with him.

    His former family had done right by him. And I can only imagine the circumstance surrounding his being on the streets. But so many others arent so lucky.
    So I thank you, from the very bottom of my heart for taking care of Chase. And giving him the love that was needed to let him go and be in peace. He is truly a very lucky dog to have had you in his life. Even if it was for such a short time.

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