Heartbreak and letting go…


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. FullSizeRenderRionnag, mo ghràidh.


40 responses »

  1. I feel your pain and I am so sorry. I pray that Divine Order paired her with someone who unlocks the key to her aggression. Sometimes, love is not enough. You have given her all that you knew and all that you had and she knows that. By taking her in, you have also given her another chance – others might have taken a different route. Be kind to yourself…it time to let Someone Else take over now, He will make sure she is okaye.

  2. Elle…my heart goes out to you. It sounds like your little pup had “canine rage syndrome”….also known as idiopathic rage syndrome. I had a 3 y/o golden retriever that went to heaven in April because of it. The older that the dog gets, the more aggressive they become.
    For awhile I somewhat controlled it with 5htp but after a while it did not work anymore. He became too aggressive and bit.
    There is nothing that you can do. Please look up Canine Rage Syndrome on line. The Whole Dig Journal has an excellent article.

  3. I’m sorry for your situation but the expression or your feelings here indicated you did the best in your control.

    Try not to beat yourself up over it. You will be less effective in The world if you continue…..

    And I believe the world is a better place because you’re in it.

    Be well my TH friend.

  4. No no no. You did the right thing. As hard as it may be to believe you did what was best for your pup. There may be someone who can work with her to get over this, I don’t know. It does seem as if you gave it your all and that’s all you can expect to do. It’s no good saying “don’t beat yourself up about this” because you will since you are a decent person. Please know you did the right thing. You tried your hardest but that doesn’t always mean things work out. I am so very sorry. I hope only good things for you in your future.

  5. I’m so sorry. What a heartbreak. I’m a grief counselor and would suggest that if this continues to hurt and you are not feeling well to seek out someone who can help you “complete” this relationship you had with her. Even though most people think that grief is only about humans that have passed away, it can also be 40 other different and documented scenarios. I wish you peace and healing for your heart. ❤ All The Best, Debra

  6. I’m so sorry . An extra heartbreaking event on top of normal life. Hugs to you for putting forth so much love and effort into trying to help your baby.

  7. Elle – I am so sorry you have been going thru this. I have had to let a dog go that had aggression problems awhile back, as I had a young son around at the time. Hard to do, but the right thing to do – I feel like this is true for you too. Praying for peace. I was also sad to see you had left Tumbleweed, but having your own life with your music & such is important. Hope you are still enjoying your tiny house – I think of your beginning with yours, as you were learning, building, and enjoying it – every time I see the Tiny House show on TV. I wish for peace, joy, love and happiness for you. Faith M

  8. My sister had a Schnauzer who was like that. Nothing worked. Sometimes it’s just a breeding thing. At least that’s what the vet told them. I was never so happy as when that dog passed away—-seriously. It had so many genetic flaws, physical issues as well as the ‘craziness’—-as much as you love dogs, people come first. Period. You did the right thing.

  9. Hi Ella
    You have to be kind to yourself now and realise you did everything you could. I always read your posts and you’ve never been so hard on yourself even while building the house. Don’t blame yourself. X

  10. Dear Ella, I’m so sorry you’ve had such distress. You did everything right and no-one could have done more. You sound like a sensitive, sensible and lovely person and I hope you will get over this in time. Sending love x

  11. Hi Ella! You definitely did the right thing. There is a new chapter coming and maybe even a new companion in the future. Stay positive and hang in there.

    Also, I would love to feature you + your little yellow door on my blog but can’t find an email address for you. Can you shoot me an email and I’ll tell you a little bit about my blog and getting featured?

    Sending good vibes,

  12. Thank You! Ella.
    You have share your story with honesty, humility and grace. In doing that- have given us a great gift.
    I attended a Tumbleweed conference you led- and knew then that
    Ella is a Rock Star!
    Keep writing! Have Courage- Believe!

  13. My heart breaks for you Ella. I had to re-home a dog that I adopted from the humane society and that was part of my family for 2 1/2 years. A dog I loved dearly, who despite all of my best efforts, was not a dog that I could help. Your litany of training sessions sounds eerily familiar, and I struggled with the fact that I couldn’t tell when her fear & aggression would strike.
    Good luck with your new endeavours and I hope that 2016 brings you much peace, joy and happiness.

  14. We’re sending lots of love to you! I know you did all you could for Roo, and maybe it was best for her to move on to another situation as well! Wishing you the best with your transitions, please let us know if you are near Vegas again!

  15. Every life situation with which you must contend comes along for a purpose. The purpose is life learning. There was great purpose in your relationship with Roo. It served its purpose…to teach you very important life lessons. Only you can discern what the lessons are. Breathe and be.

  16. O Ella, how terrible for you 😦 I took a while to work out why you were talking about ‘Aussies’ but: Australian Shepard, I think…
    Many of us have stories like this, of the dog who was so good in so many ways but who had a fatal flaw that we couldn’t fix reliably. It is heart-breaking, but you did what you could, and when you couldn’t do it anymore, you gave her her best chance. That’s all we can do. Time and Lobster-cuddles will help heal your heart.
    Enjoy you new freedom– and don’t feel bad about being relieved that chapter is over. I know what that’s like!!

  17. Hey Warrior Princess! Yes, some lessons are more heartfelt than others, and that’s okay. You experienced this for a reason. You did not do anything wrong. Everything is going to be okay. These are growing pains, each if us have our own. You are loved,always, and protected! You did your best, that’s all you could do! Sad, yes, disturbing ,yes, heartbreaking yes. Fatal? Thank god! No! Sending you blessings and a heartfelt hug!

  18. Honey – you did your best and that is all any one can do. You have to believe in Divine goodness and release her and yourself to that goodness. You did all you can and the universe knows it. Most of us animal rescuers/lovers have that one ( or more) cats or dogs, etc that we had to rehome or release through no fault of our (or their) own. It stays with you but please remember you did everything you could and knew how. Blessings to you.

  19. You worked hard on teaching the dog until you accepted that you would not be successful. You then took appropriate measures so that professionals could ascertain if someone else should try. Sounds like Roo was lucky that you were such a responsible adult.

  20. I brought a young cat home from the vet as they always have a couple in need of a home. My previous cat had died a couple months before. She needed a new home as she was getting snippy with the other cats and their owners. She was a bit grumpy and hid for a couple days but that is nothing surprising for a cat in a new home. Then she started to hiss and then strike when I would extract her for some physical contact time. She would calm down, maybe sleep a bit, purr and give a few licks. Then to soon she would got back to hiding. After a few more days I could not get near her with out getting bitten and scratched. She started to make this horrible hissing growl. Finally after bites on both hands and scratches on my arms and face I took her back to the vet. I took more wounds catching her and getting her into the carrier. I sat defeated in the vets office while I waited for them to return my carrier. How could I tell anyone that this little adorable had spent the last 10 days trying to kill me every time I came near her? I, now though, have some small inkling of what an abused partner must feel like. They said she was off to be a barn cat and I hope so. Barn cats move silently and Ghost could get from one side of an open room to the other without being seen.

    It still hurts.

  21. How wrenching. But it sounds like you listened to your gut at the right moment. And the news about concentrating on music and art sounds very exciting – I hope it will really blossom for you.

  22. So sorry to hear this story. I’m sure this was heartbreaking. Your judgement is the highest most valuable, and hardest to face. Sometimes we can’t make somethings work, or fix them and have to make difficult choices.

  23. Sometimes we have to step out the conventional box to find the right solutions for us. I can truly feel your pain that’s why I must write this. If you should ever need assistance in animal training again try a “pet communicator”. They will go above and beyond what you need to hear. Not an animal whisperer i.e. Cesare Milan but a true “animal communicator”. You being a musician, I know you can be creative to find the answers, the solutions you need towards trying situations. You will be pleasantly surprised once you do. If you have any other questions, Ella, feel free to ask away! I’ll be happy to answer! Peace and Joy be with you!

  24. I’m sorry about Roo 😦

    PS – where did you find land for your tiny house? I attended one of your workshops and I remember you saying that land can be found fairly inexpensively if you look correctly. I’ve had little luck on Zillow – where are good places to find inexpensive land?

    Thanks so much!

  25. Hello Ella,
    I have been interested in tiny homes for some time and live in Half Moon Bay as of a few months ago. I would love to get together and chat some time about your experience. I am building a 21ft sailboat right now and could share how that is going for me! I teach woodshop at the local middle school.

  26. Ella,
    I met you at the Tumbleweed workshop in Phoenix last August (?). Anyway, I am in the process of building my tiny house. I have enlisted the help of a high school friend who was previously a building contractor who built custom houses and is now an organic farmer. I moved back to the border of northern Iowa/southern Minnesota and am living with my mom while we do the build.

    I just read your blog post from January. I am so sorry you had to go through such a difficult time, devoting yourself to a beloved pet and struggling to make the decision you had to make. I send you love and healing energy.

    Next, congratulations on your decision to move on from Tumbleweed.(Though you were GREAT at those presentations. I so appreciated your honesty.) It sounds as though you are not exactly sure where that will lead. But, you have taken a courageous step. It took me more than 50 years to learn to step out like that. So, glad I am doing it now. You are part of my inspiration.

    Question: Do you recall the wool insulation company that you mentioned at the workshop from which I could get clean wool. I think you said it was from New Zealand. I have been looking at the OregonShepard wool. I think that is what you used, that you really like – but said was pretty dirty to install.

    Next, Have you ever heard of The Thomas Jefferson Hour? It is a weekly radio show broadcast on many public radio stations and is also a podcast. A brilliant scholar by the name of Clay Jenkinson enacts Thomas Jefferson. You may find this interesting. If so . . . . He is looking for millennials to interview for the show who are living or embracing a Jeffersonian lifestyle, “whether or not they know they are Jeffersonians.” I would like you to consider talking with Clay. I think of you because you love the arts, are well educated and value education. You embrace an “agrarian” type lifestyle much promoted by Jefferson. Today’s agrarian is different than in the day of Jefferson, but I think you fit that definition in that you champion living close to the land, a small foot print (Jefferson may not have had a small foot print for his time, but might today – a good question for Clay) and self-sufficiency which in todays terms includes community.
    I hope you will consider this. I would really like to introduce you to Clay. But, if not, I hope you will take a listen to his podcast.

    Thank you for your inspiration.

    Hug and appreciation,

    • Brenda!!! I’m so sorry it’s taken me so darn long to respond, I’ve been on a blogging hiatus, just needed some space from tiny houses and memories I guess… I’ve been doing really well though 🙂 First, the wool company is called Havelock Wool and I highly recommend them from what I’ve seen of their product. Second, that sounds awesome and I would love to be connected with your Jeffersonian friend if I’m not too late responding. Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate it!

  27. Well you slipped in leaving tiny houses there! What a tough time all round. Moving on is what life is all about, learning what we can from what has happened, seriously shit as it is at times. I am glad you have gone back to your music and I hope a non-regular income will be manageable for you. I have two daughters and one is in a regular job and the other not. Its tough for them both but they are both following their hearts. I must admit I thought you and Zac had split up when I read the title of the post. I also dont work for an income but have an amazing partner who owns the farm we live on who has insisted on trying to die several times over the last few months after a horse riding accident. It seems like he may have got his insides sorted out now and managed to avoid infections and we are reclaiming our independence which is fantastic as I can appreciate him once again for the fab person he is and not feel trapped into caring for him because I care for him, if you get me! I mention it as it might echo some of what you were feeling about Roo.

  28. I’m so sorry! I can relate exactly. We got an aussie-poodle mix as a tiny puppy and, like you, I tried to do everything by the books, but the dog ended up being aggressive and bit members of the family. It never got as far as what you experienced, but I ended up selling him when he was about 6 months old. The new owners told me he was fine and they loved him, but it was heartbreaking and made me feel like a failure. On a positive note, we got a 1 year old 100% poodle this year and he is completely different. Not a mean bone in his body. He loves people, our kittens, cats, adult dog, and goats. I’m in love!

    • Thanks for sharing, it hurts to hear someone else go through the same sort of thing, but it helps to know I’m not the only one. The one thing that’s bothered me so much about all this is that I worry and wonder that maybe she’s perfect with her new family, maybe it was just me and she’s fine now….sigh. Glad to hear your new one is friendly!

      • I know what you mean! When they told me he was fine with them, I felt the same way. Then again, I am not the only one in this household, so maybe it isn’t just me??? Fun to read your blog about your tiny house! I just purchased a vintage camper and hope to get my “Tiny House Fix” remodeling it =)

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