The Terrible Weight of Responsibility

Sad, abandoned dog in the middle of the road /high contrast imagThe voice on the other end of the phone was difficult to understand, because the woman was struggling to speak through her tears. This was technically a training call, but it was really a desperate cry for help. The caller did not live in my training area. Still, I felt so sorry for her that we spoke for quite a while. Her 3-year-old dog, a Golden Retriever, had bitten three people. Two were young teenagers. Each child needed more than 10 stitches. In one case, the dog had bolted through the front door when it had been left open; in the other, the child had gone to pet the dog. The woman has two children herself, a 20-year-old and a 9-year-old. Although she was lucky as far as the parents of the injured kids not suing, this was a grim situation and she knew it.

I know some of you are thinking, Why was a bite allowed to happen more than once? I’m guessing it had to do with less than perfect management, a hope that the first bite was an isolated incident, and the family’s love for the dog despite what had happened. The 20-year-old sleeps with the dog every night, is extremely closely bonded with him, and has told her mom that she doesn’t know how she’ll go on if the dog is euthanized.

The dog had a rough start in life: parvo as a pup, along with seizures. The family paid quite a bit to nurse him through it all. Did the illnesses leave lasting neurological damage? No one knows. We do know the dog has inflicted multiple bite wounds and caused serious injury. I did suggest getting the dog a complete veterinary workup, on the off chance that there was a physiological reason for the behavior. While I would never tell someone sight unseen to euthanize their dog, I asked how the woman would feel if, knowing what she does, the dog mauled or even killed a child. How would she live with herself? We both knew there was no way the dog could be rehomed. The family could work with a trainer, but regardless, this is a dangerous dog who would always need to be managed carefully. The other option, full-time management, would entail muzzles, crates, and constant worry and oversight. Besides the stress it would create for the dog and the family, management is seldom 100% reliable, especially when there are kids involved. At this point, the young son has no friends because no one can come to the house. This is a dog who could live another 10 years. Should the child be forced to grow up that way?

I’ve trained a lot of dogs over the last 25 years. The Golden Retrievers I’ve worked with who were aggressive tended to be intensely so. Perhaps it’s because the normal Golden temperament seems to be the sky is blue, the birds are singing…  In my experience, when dogs of this breed go wrong, they go really wrong. In this particular case, options were very limited because of the extent of the dog’s aggression, along with the family having a young child in the home. I believe the woman will end up euthanizing the dog. By the end of our conversation she had stopped crying, and said she felt better for having talked it over. My heart goes out to her and her family. It’s a terrible situation. Unfortunately, sometimes we must bear the terrible weight of responsibility in order to do the right thing for everyone involved.
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13 Responses to The Terrible Weight of Responsibility

  1. k9infocus says:

    It is a terrible terrible burden to make the decision to euthanize a dog you love in order to keep others safe. It’s the right decision, but one that haunts you. I would have given anything to have not made that choice, but my responsibility to the safety of others could not be denied. Thank you for writing this.

  2. ptharrelson@sc.rr.com says:

    Incredibly sad….I had a dog (street rescue mutt, one of a litter of three) that I took in at approximately five weeks old. She was definitely the alpha and bullied the other two pups, but she became quite aggressive at about age 1. After one actual bite (no broken skin), and several near misses, I made the decision to put the dog down. Why, you ask? Because I also took in both of her siblings, and neither of them showed any signs of aggression whatsoever. They were all raised with the exact same vet care, love, training and discipline. I still have her brother. He is a very well adjusted, well mannered young man of 3 years old, and her sister still lives with the family that I gave her to after completing her veterinary care. NO issues from either. While I don’t know what these dogs endured before they got dumped in my yard, only one of the three had aggression issues. I don’t know why Sissy was the way she was, but I knew I couldn’t keep her or pass her on to some other individual and risk her hurting someone. It was hard, but I know I did the right thing.

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  3. Steph says:

    Wow. Gives me some perspective on my own challenges with two seniors that fight each other when not managed…we have it easy. What a horrible thing to have to deal with/decide…

  4. Joanne Moore says:

    Sadly I have seen this situation many times. So many of the “even tempered” pets. I worked in vet med for many yrs and I strongly believe this may be a health/neuro matter. However- I think the best option is euthanizing for the safety of all involved including the dog. That said, I also feel very much for this family for having to make the choice.

  5. Puppyluvr8 says:

    WoW! What a post! The poor owner got off easy, not being sued. I personally have always felt, w/a biting dog, it kind of gives them the ticket to do it again. Adopted one myself, a rescue from a terribly, abusive, teasing background. Gave the dog right back to the couple who rescued him-they “must” have known.

    This management thing is so much easier w/o kids in the house, but tricky. Tight restrictions. But what happens when the adult owners get bit? Remember, some dogs see little kids as prey. A difficult life for the owners, I feel for them. Even the vet office doesn’t want to see these types.

    To euthanize, you are not ending a life, you are ending the suffering, for this poor family as well.
    Thank you for posting. God bless all.

  6. juliabarrett says:

    Oh wow! You really hit a nerve with me. Our Golden, Rosie, was the sweetest, kindest Golden in the entire world. She helped me raise three babies. And yet Rosie was nearly killed by a male Golden Retriever who attacked her unprovoked- two major surgeries to save her life and months of rehabilitation. My sister’s Golden Retriever, a female, bit three strangers, attacked me, (so she was not allowed in my home) and then, when my sister had a baby, she attacked the baby and his ear had to be sewn back onto his head. They put the dog down that day. We have a GSD. My son has a Coon Hound. He and I agree that while we’ve met aggressive dogs of all breeds, there is nothing worse than a mean Golden Retriever.

  7. Rebecca Rene says:

    Great read! I’m a trainer in New York dealing with a situation almost identical. It’s so hard but you do have to be responsible as the owner and trainer.

    • Puppyluvr8 says:

      Hate to say it, but the safety of people come first. My previously abused, rescued biter (the attacks were horrific) was not a bad dog, nor I a bad owner. Euthanizing was the best option, sadly. It was painless for him, and peaceful.

  8. Rose Beere says:

    What a heartbreaking story . My heart goes out to this family who obviously adore him. How hard it is to give advice that was so desperately needed. I hope they listen to you and maybe get a new puppy a little later and go through a gentle trainer to give them all the best start in life. Rosie

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  9. Thank you for this post. It is truly devastating to make the decision to euthanize a beloved dog even when you know that it is absolutely the right decision. We went through this 22 months ago with our 2.5-year-old Formosan Mountain Dog from Taiwan who became dangerous to unknown people and dogs.

    We didn’t realize the incredible amount of stress we were under until we let him go. Euthanizing him crushed us, but there was no other way. I miss him every day and I still often cry when I think about him or see memories come up on Facebook. But I could not live with myself if we ever slipped up in our management and he mauled or killed a person or another dog.

    One thing that has really helped me is joining the Facebook group Losing Lulu. It is a safe space to tell your story and to read the stories of others who have gone through and are going through this heartbreaking situation. It can feel so lonely and to know there are others who truly understand is invaluable.

    • I also want to say that this life of fear and aggression is not a good quality of life for the dog. I don’t know if our boy ever had a day in his life where he didn’t have fear of one thing or another. That’s a terrible way to live. It hurts my heart to think of this.

      We could not make up for what had happened to him before he joined our family or for anything that may have been have been wrong with his brain. I no longer believe that we can save them all. Sometimes we have to love them enough to ease their suffering and let them go.

      • Puppyluvr8 says:

        Thank you so much for this helpful response. Hopefully, others will add to this post. I too had to experience this. The best remedy I have found-go online, find another dog thru a rescue to fall in love with, adopt!, and you’ll be feeling better soon. For me, doing this the next day or same week helps me very much. Thanks for the Losing Lulu FB group tip. I love this blog! : )

      • @Puppyluvr8 – We adopted a puppy about 7 weeks later from the Humane Society where I was volunteering. I thank the universe for her every single day. She has brought us immense happiness and laughter and helped our hearts to heal. My partner said, “I think the universe knew we needed some joy in our lives.”

        We also adopted another dog last summer, a two- year-old Border Collie, who ended up being fearful of other dogs, and it was really hard for me at first because of the stress and trauma I experienced previously. But I started working with a force-free trainer who helped get me through that and realize that he is an individual and just because there are some similarities, it doesn’t mean that we will end up in the same situation. And that was huge for me. It allowed me to see this dog for who he is without the shadow of our former experience looming over me.

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