The story of how we came to the painful decision to euthanize our aggressive (yet wonderful) family dog.
In April 2019 we came to the very very painful decision that we had to put our five year-old Australian Shepherd to sleep because of many bad issues she had with other dogs. She was a wonderful, kind, stunningly beautiful family dog, loved all people, animals and kids but for three years she was aggressive towards other dogs especially small ones – and the violence was escalating. I was at the point where I could only walk her late in the night and on the lead at all times, even when she was muzzled she would either use her head as a battering ram to do serious damage or would get out of the muzzle by twisting her head in a certain way. She would ‘see red’ and after any attack have absolutely no problem being the ‘best family dog ever’ again.
We worked out that she had attacked 15 dogs over the years, many needing stitches, we paid £££s in vets bills to other dog owners. Two years ago we came to the conclusion she had to be put to sleep after a very bad attack but I talked my husband out of it saying we would find a solution, I would be ultra careful etc etc. until of course she did it again during a situation that was out of my control – she got out of our garden one morning and ran fifty metres across a usually deserted road to attack a puppy being walked on a lead, I never even saw the lady with the pup until it was too late – he nearly died that night. Juno had inflicted multiple puncture wounds and tears all over his body and he had to be put on a drip just to make it through, he suffered a seizure in the night but thank god, thank god the little thing made it to the morning. I was distraught, absolutely and utterly distraught that I could have raised this dog (with only what I thought was love, praise and discipline; a dog that everybody adored) to see her try to destroy an innocent puppy with what seemed like such utter evil intent. The owner was demanding that we euthanise her and although it is not the law here to do so, it was at that moment I realised I was kidding myself to think that I ever could manage this dog’s aggression, she was totally right – we had come to the end of the line with her, after years of seeking solutions, which all failed.
Most of my friends were supportive but because they only ever saw the wonderful side of her, I had a constant stream of .. ‘isn’t there anything you can do?” “just take her to be re-homed” “she is so perfect, so beautiful and sweet, give her another chance” comments. I lost 5 kilos after we did it and I am still depressed. It has to have been one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. But at the time I knew it was 100% the correct decision even though the guilt was crippling. I have asked myself a thousand times since if it was because she had a problem with her hips that the vets were unable to fix or because she was scared of thunder and fireworks or if she may have been attacked by another dog when she was young without us knowing it. Maybe she was overprotective of me because I loved her too much, we didn’t socialise her enough etc. ad infinitum … I have no answers to any of these questions.
What I do know is that there were some signs that we could have heeded, even though I am sure we would not have acted upon them if we had put two and two together. She was from a reputable breeder, a pedigree with an impressive line of ancestry, one of the last puppies left from a large litter and when we viewed her, we commented upon how she seemed different from the rest, detached somehow. Back then we thought she seemed calm yet superior to the other pups in the litter who were rushing around and tumbling everywhere. She also never quite sat right on her back hips, although we didn’t notice this at the time. We collected her when she was a couple of months old and the breeder went out of business soon after that, we never saw them again.
As a pup, she didn’t play like other dogs; she refused to chase toys or balls, just standing and watching them roll off across the garden. At one point I was determined to get her to be a little more active and succeeded in getting her to chase a frisbee five times and bring it back. That was the most she ever did. She playing chase with us though but would never do any exercise out of her own choice. Most of the time she sat right next to me wherever I was in the house or garden and was very quiet. We had some jumping up behaviour when people came to the house, which we could never quite resolve but we just took it as affection as she seemed to love people so very much. She had a couple of doggy friends but she played very very roughly with them from day one. She never stole food, would lie calmly in the garden next to our free range rabbit most afternoons and was really in every single way a perfect dog,
at an early age she started showing signs of aggression towards other (usually small) dogs; nips, lunges, some attempts at attacks. We took her to a professional trainer and realised that although she was a perfect dog in the house, out in the big wide world she was a completely different animal. Although we did not equate that to fright at the time, looking back on it, I think that is what it must have been but what had been fright in the early days became ingrained behaviour and by the end, she was actively seeking out dogs to attack as if on auto-pilot. Walking her was absolutely fraught with difficulties. I tried many, many things to make it better, stopping short at an electric shock collar, which I considered at one point but I am so glad I came to the decision early on never to use, as that would have done more harm than good to what I understand now as our deeply traumatised dog.
About two winters ago, a chihuahua randomly came sniffing under the fence into our garden and Juno attacked it. As I was running over to grab her and pull her off, I slipped on a patch of ice, broke a bone in my wrist and severely bruised my hip. I started to realise that even the garden was not the safe haven I thought it was. I then had to start walking her after dark in remoter places and I would panic about what would happen if we came across any other dogs, how much damage she would inflict and whether I would make it through without injuring myself.
The decision to put her to sleep was one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life but we were 100% positive that it was the right thing to do at the time. My trauma at witnessing the maiming of a small puppy and the anguish the owners went through in the days that followed was all too much for me. I could not get over the fact that my dog had caused so much suffering to an innocent animal that probably would stay with him for the rest of his life, and it wasn’t the first time it had happened. I had been telling myself that Juno would never attack a person but after the last puppy incident, we discussed the possibility that next time it would be a child and the thought of that was one I could absolutely not accept or even entertain.
So we acted very quickly; my husband made the vet’s appointment for the next morning as we knew that we had already discussed her future ad infinitum over the past years and if we delayed any longer, we would talk ourselves out of it yet again.
The last 24 hours with her were wonderful; a total joy. I groomed her and fussed her, removed a tick from her eyebrow, gave her a choc-ice for supper, took the most beautiful photos of her out in the garden in the sun, in the familiar ‘watchful repose’ she often took (one of which is the photo above). We took one last walk late in the evening, my girls chasing her over the fields and up to the waterfall, a favourite place to go with her until things got difficult. I remembered the girls running with her when she was a puppy 5 years before and realised how little we had been able to enjoy her since then, how little I could relax whilst out with her, how much I loved her despite her killer instinct and I fell into a mire of sadness that was all-engulfing. I spent the night next to her, stroking each part of her in turn; her soft ears, the fur between her toes, her pink tummy, I looked at every single whisker on her face, every swirl of brown and white on her body, I memorised it all and can still recall each and every detail as if she were still here. She was already in heaven that night with me there; sleeping so soundly, dreaming occasionally. I soothed her and I know she was as content as she could have possibly been, her family round her, ice cream for dinner and kisses, so many kisses.
Dear Juno, my beloved dog, we did everything we could to give you the best life possible, I know that as a very firm and deep Truth. Unfortunately my darling, it wasn’t enough.
The next morning was just like a countdown to hell. The girls were crumpled on the floor hanging onto each other, I was out of my mind with sadness, trying to be calm, trying to say the right things, wanting her to know how much we loved her and always would, saying thank you. My husband barely held it together (he later commented that the best thing he had ever done for his children was to bring a puppy home and the worst thing he had ever done was to take her away to be destroyed). She followed him calmly into the car and was totally obedient during her last hour – apart from trying to bite the vet. My husband filmed her falling asleep on his phone, which I cannot yet bring myself to watch but one day I will and I hope it will feel OKAY.
The relief was incredible, the guilt overwhelming.
Please understand that if you are reading this because you are having to make the same decision as we did; you have come to the end of the line, run out of options, live in constant fear, tread on egg shells, feel conflicted – it will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do and the pain, grief and guilt will cut very deep. Right now, do not let that pain cloud your decision however. A dangerous dog is a dangerous dog and no human or animal should have to live in fear of being bitten and potentially damaged for life because of an owner’s inability to make the decision. Think of the good times you had, think of how much you tried, how much love you gave, how you would have changed it if you could, how you would make it better if you possibly could. Your dog had a wonderful life whilst in your care, with everything it could have wanted (I know this, because you wouldn’t be reading this post if it wasn’t true) and you will definitely meet your beloved again (I am certain of it) in this life or the next.
A dog lives for the moment, it does not sit and mull over any event that happened in its past or will happen in its future. I learnt this from Juno. She never showed any remorse for what she did, she got on with her life, as an animal invariably does. Up until her death she lived in the moment, for the moment; she accepted everything that came along without question, she reacted to situations in the only way she knew how react. She only lived for 5 years, it could have been 15 years, it could have been 5 months (or weeks) but it made no difference to her. She was only in it for the split-second that is the endless Now, as we all are (but are often too busy to notice). She loved and protected us fiercely and with her complete Being and did what she had to do to survive in a world full of the most unimaginable threats, frights and pain; things I believe she was not bred or at liberty to fully cope with.
In the end dear girl, I know you would have been proud of us for protecting you in return because I believe that is what we did when we made the decision to put you to sleep on that sunny Spring morning back in April.
I sat in the garden in our favourite place, the way we had done every morning since she was a pup and listened to the birds singing whilst it happened; I knew the exact moment she died, just like I knew the exact moment my father had died 21 years before, whilst I was on a train bound for London, watching beautiful white clouds scud across a blue, blue sky.
I lifted my head up and howled.
I am slowly mending but it has been hard. I am working towards trying to understand what happened with my beloved dog. This has been a very long post but I feel that setting up this blog and continuing to write about my experiences will be like a kind of therapy for me. Thank you for sticking with it until the end. I know you are the kind of person who does that. And you will.