Breaking Up with the Family Dog

Sunday afternoon, as we relaxed in different parts of the house, a knock sounded on the front door. My son opened it to the young neighbor boy who sometimes stops in to play. As he stood at the front door, our dog charged from the back of the house, barking furiously, and attacked the little boy, sinking a tooth into his elbow. His terrified screams filled the neighborhood.

Instantly there were four adults on the scene. The boy’s father and mother and my husband rescued him from his attacker. I chased the dog into the house and locked her in her kennel. She’d been our family pet for three months, and I’d grown fond of her, but the bite sealed her fate: we could not keep her.

A year ago, Baxter, our sweet-natured mutt, ruptured a disc in his back and had to be put down. He was only eight years old, a dog in his prime, and his death made us all incredibly sad. We agreed we wanted another dog, so last July we adopted a female Belgian Malinois, and named her Sadie.

Emily and Sadie
Emily and Sadie

Sadie filled the hole in my seventeen-year-old daughter’s heart. Emily snuggled with her, played fetch with her and took her to the dog park. But Emily is the busiest high school kid I know, and since I work at home, most of Sadie’s care fell to me. She began to look on me as her human, and for her breed, that meant she followed me everywhere. The dog never seemed to nap, or want a moment to herself. Even when nature called, she needed an escort before she’d leave our porch. We joked that she was needy.

Needy and territorial. But we wouldn’t have called her vicious, until last Sunday.

Jon and I sat together in the aftermath of the crisis and spoke in low voices about the days to come. Would anybody take the dog off our hands? Would we have to put her down?

Most important, would our daughter ever forgive us? We called Emily, who was at the park with her friends, and told her to come home. She broke down at the news, by turns begging and demanding that we keep her dog. When we didn’t waver, she hid in her closet with her phone and a giant box of Goldfish crackers.

Monday morning we learned the breeder would take Sadie back. We arranged to meet the next day in a McDonald’s parking lot to hand her over. At Jon’s insistence, the kids and I visited an animal shelter Monday afternoon, to look over the possibilities. We found a beautiful lab-beagle mix, but my heart said, “It’s too early.” In the end, we walked away.

Tuesday, I walked Sadie for the last time, and put her in the car. Half an hour later we arrived at the McDonald’s in DeSoto, and I gave her to the waiting trainer. Up to that point I’d only cried for my daughter, but when the back door of the truck slammed shut, I was overwhelmed with sadness for the dog. I raced to the restaurant bathroom and locked myself in a stall, weeping.

Eventually I emerged, puffy-eyed, and got in line to order a drink. Two men in painter’s clothes looked at me curiously, but not unkindly. I took my drink to a quiet corner, and sipped slowly until my composure returned.

It was, I thought, an awful trick to play on the unsuspecting dog. “Let’s go for a ride!” …and never see each other again. But it wasn’t as awful as the trick Sadie pulled, and might pull again. People before dogs, every time.

I wonder how we’ll tell this story in years to come? Will we capture the terror of the attack, or speak only of a nice dog and a one-tooth bite? Will the kids remember their dad’s steadfast leadership, or see him as inflexible? Will they know, though we couldn’t keep Sadie, still we loved them with all our hearts?

I hope so.

10 comments

  1. Tough week, Jane. Sorry to hear. Thanks for being responsible with your main responsibilities. Hope the young neighbor boys is healing physically & emotionally.

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  2. Oh, Jane. I’m so sorry for Sadie, you, and the entire family. I agree you made the right, albeit heartbreaking, decision; I’m relieved the breeder was able to take her back. Emily and the others ultimately will forgive you and realize you did the best possible thing, but it might not be until they have children of their own and understand that unique, unwavering, protective, parent-love.

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  3. I am so sorry to read this, Jane. I know this was a very hard thing for you all to do. I am glad Sadie could go back to the breeder.

    I just couldn’t “like” this one even though I think you wrote it beautifully. Also a hard thing to do I’m sure. 😢 Mary Ann

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