Where to begin…This is going to be a long one, and it’s not a happy story.
It started shortly after I got her when she was 9 weeks old. A tiny, fluffy, new puppy. She’d look at you fiercely with her dark, doe eyes, indescribably intense. She’d hold your gaze and you hers, and then she’d bite at the center of your face.
Puppies have to be taught how to interact with humans. They have to learn bite inhibition. I have to make sure she knows this hurts people and she won’t do it again. This is normal. This is a phase.
I repeated these things to myself every time it happened, confused and upset with countless Google searches on variations of ‘puppy’ ‘aggressive’ ‘biting’. This is normal. It is. But it wasn’t.
Roo was my first puppy. Lobster was 1 when we got him and is so good he practically does the laundry. An agreeable, ‘no problem’ kind of guy. He has a weird thing against homeless people (which we have dubbed ‘hobo-phobic’) but is otherwise cucumber cool. I had interacted with puppies though, and having raised horses and litters of kittens I have a general idea of how young animal play goes. Only this wasn’t play fighting, because she did that too and the difference was blatant. This was something else.
I took a risk with her in favor of socialization and carried her out into the world before all her shots were done. Subways, beaches, crowds, elevators, I wanted her to be exposed to everything I could think of. Aussies are described as being ‘reserved with strangers’ and ‘socialization is key’, so I made it a priority to show her as many situations as possible.
And It worked very well with everything else; that dog was bullet proof with subways. Training worked well with everything else too, she would sit on a dime, didn’t pull on the leash, would wait, and down stay for impressive periods of time. People, however, were a different story; a lack of them brought separation anxiety and the presence of them, aggression. Despite having been exposed to every type of person the city of San Francisco has to offer, she never took to anyone outside her small circle. I can’t think of a single person she she met after 14 weeks that was accepted.
I am aware not all dogs are bounding, wagging, stranger-greeters and I was fully prepared for that. Reserved I was prepared for. Shy I was prepared for. Barking, snarling, lunging, growling, snapping,…I was not.
She didn’t do it every day, or every time. If we were out and about and people were a distance enough away she was great. Sometimes she would let someone greet her and be totally ok, regularly shy and aggression-less. Sometimes she’d be fine with a little kid, then growl and bark with raised hackles just at the sight of another. Sometimes she’d seem alright with someone and then go for their face. It was the back and forth that was the most frustrating.
She never did real harm, and being cute and small as she was it was actually disturbing to me how blasé people were about her obvious displays of aggression. I can’t help but think how she would have been perceived if she looked like a pit bull.
Between 5 and 11 months old, I focused my entire being towards working with her to become reasonably indifferent to strangers. She’d get just better enough with each new training/desensitizing technique I employed that I would think for sure she was getting past it until she didn’t. As her 10th month ended and the holidays drew closer, her improvement was so inconsistent that I finally had to face the reality of my situation.
The companion I had committed to love and care for was slowly destroying my life. None of the exhaustive list of training methods made any lasting difference and I found myself with a dog of 11 months old that hated almost everyone new, wailed like a banshee for the full amount of time she was left alone, and had bitten 9 people in the face, including a child. I had what appeared to be the classic case of an under socialized, under exercised, untrained dog that lacked leadership and structure in her life despite my every action to the contrary.
My relationships started to suffer, I made excuses to keep people from visiting and I dreaded leaving her alone out of fear someone would report my house for the noise. Taking her anywhere and repeating ‘no, she was not abused’, and ‘yes I have tried that’ wore on my resolve and I became a depressive, miserable mess who would burst into tears at the slightest suggestion.
The last day I had her, she bit a man in the face at the beach where we went every day. He walked over for conversation and she had her usual freak out, then calmed long enough for him to give her a brief pat on the head. When he left, he bent to say goodbye to her and she lunged. He reacted and she left only an indentation on his cheek, but I was done. The Aussie rescue wouldn’t take a dog that bad with people so Zac brought her to the humane society. They took pity on her sweet, muzzled face and kept her for evaluation. A week or so later they called to say she was in foster care and I don’t know what happened to her after that.
It was the very worst and most difficult thing I have ever done.
That was November 12. I have been varying degrees of a piece of shit since then, although it has kicked and shoved me unceremoniously into some new section of my life that I have to believe will bring some good. A time of change whether I am ready for it or not; after 3 wonderful years, I left Tumbleweed last month to focus on music and art on the coast in 2016. The future seems unstable but exciting. Unstable, exciting but Roo-less.
Many things have happened since I wrote last but I can’t stand to bring them into this post, which shall be dedicated to my beautiful little heartbreak. My darling wee girl who never quite fit. The hardest thing about having my story online is that I can’t hide from the sad, deeply personal things that I wish I could bury within me. The story must go on, so I bare my soul as every written word reopens the wound. Please hold your judgement if you can, I assure you that all the things you’d like to say have beaten and battered through my head 1000 times over.
The part of me that wonders the ‘what if’s’ will never silence. What if, what if, what if. My mind continuously switches and seconds guesses itself. But the ‘what if I get sued’, ‘what if she really hurts someone’ is quiet.
No one won, it won’t be ok, it will just be. Rionnag, mo ghràidh.