Missing the dog that broke my heart

Four years ago this week, I killed my dog to protect my son.

It was the most brutal decision I have ever had to make, and I am still not sure it was the right one, though I shudder to think what *might* have happened if hadn’t done it. Oddly, it led to one of my first meaningful encounters with social media, in the form of a Rottweiler forum that helped me greatly through my grief. Gomer, my heartbreakingly beautiful 85-pound lab-Rottweiler mix, was my best friend before I met my husband.

He was a street dog through and through. He was brought to the Wisconsin Humane Society as a stray, and he ate rocks and sticks and anything he could find, including woodwork and windowsills. A week after I brought him home at four and a half months old, he ran circles around the dining room table barking and growling. I could have saved myself a lot of pain had I taken him back right then; but I would have missed out on a lot of love, too. He was worth it. Besides, who on Earth could take this face back to the pound?

But, cute little puppy aggressive Rottweilers grow up to be big, powerful aggressive Rottweillers. We went through extensive training. Amy Ammen, the seen-it-all owner of Amiable Dog Training, took a look at us and said: “That is a LOT of dog. I am a bit worried about you.” It was a prescient observation. Gomer earned his AKC Canine Good Citizen award, which would prove to be highly ironic. He was a great friend, but not a good citizen.

Gomer, we speculate, was abused as a puppy. He had aggressive tendencies, especially around little girls of a certain age, and kids on scooters, and always around food. He “nipped” me on the arm once in training. He “nipped” a neighbor who tried to give him a treat. (Why any idiot would stick their hand through a fence to feed a Rottweiler without asking is beyond me, and any bastard that would abuse a helpless animal is the lowest form of life.) He hated the mail carrier, and once broke out a window trying to get to him.

When I was single, Gomer was the perfect companion. I slept at night knowing that he would kick the ass of anyone that tried to mess with me. We road tripped to Colorado together, to visit my brother, and in a highly seedy motel in a bad part of town somewhere in Nebraska, Gomer was your man. He stayed up all night, watching the door and woofing throatily every so often, just to let people know who he was.

Gomer screened my dates; if he didn’t like them, or if they didn’t like him, they didn’t stand a chance. On my first date with my husband Karl, Gomer sat in between us on the couch and looked Karl right in the eye. Karl passed the test.

He had a great life. He had his own play room (yes, really), and as serious as he could be, he was also very goofy. He slept on my Calvin Klein sheets, went for walks morning and night, had frequent romps and training stints in the field, and befriended the cat. He got some of the foam from my morning latte, and partnered with our other dog to steal an entire meal of Italian carryout as well as part of our leftover wedding cake. He went for long swims and hikes, his two favorite things, whenever we could possibly get him there.

When I was in excruciating at-home labor with my son, who had his head turned sideways (another story, speaking of pain), Gomer sat outside the door crying. Little did he know how seriously his life was about to change.

After that, sometimes when I took Griffin for walks in the stroller, Gomer would sit by the window and howl. He wanted his best friend back. Little did I know that I was about to lose him.

We took extreme measures to keep dog and baby separate, for the most part. And, in a too-common tale, Gomer didn’t get what he needed with the baby in the house. His training lapsed. His exercise waned. In 20/20 hindsight, I wish with all my heart that I had become even more sleep-deprived to give him more. Yet, all the hindsight in the world won’t tell me what worse outcomes might have occurred were it not for the incident at Alterra on the Lake.

It was a beautiful summer weekend morning. What better way to spend it than walking the baby and the dog to the coffee shop by the lakefront? I went inside to get coffee, and left my husband with his hands too full. A little girl came running up unexpectedly and got in Gomer’s face. And he bit her. Thank God, only on the hand. It was a horrible, but needed, wake up call.

I was in therapy for postpartum depression at the time and talked to my therapist about it. Her opinion was that keeping Gomer was like living with a loaded gun on the coffee table. And that is exactly how it felt.

I took Gomer to an animal behaviorist. She suggested we give him all-raw food, two hours of intense exercise a day, and a newly constructed habitat in the sprawling-backyard-that-we-did-not-have. And when I asked her what she thought the odds were, with all of those totally unrealistic parameters in place, that my son would be safe? “50/50.” Not very strong odds.

I took Gomer back to the Wisconsin Humane Society. They can’t take dogs back that have bitten people. I tried to find him a new home, or an animal rescue, and couldn’t find anyone. Even if we had been able to, it is both irresponsible and a legal liability to give someone a dog you know may be dangerous.

So, I spent one more night with my Gomer in my bed. And then we euthanized him.

We walked a gorgeous, perfectly healthy, five-year-old best friend into the vet’s office, and had him killed.

I believe that was preferable to keeping him isolated in the backyard. He was too much of a free spirit for that, and too bonded to me. He would have been miserable, and so would I.

I cried for days and still cry frequently now, four years later. I just want hold his big silly head and touch his silky ears and coat one more time. I want his eyes to roll back in his head when I scratch his armpits. I want to watch the athletic beauty of him running and swimming.

I will never be able to do any of those things, obviously. Though like a knife to my heart, my son Griffin sometimes asks if we can get “Gomey” back now that he (Griffin) is a big boy. And I will never, ever know if I made the right decision. Though everyone in the online Rottweiler forum I spent a couple of days in after Gomer’s death seemed to think it was the right thing to do. Thank God they were there for me. Whoever you were answering my post, God bless you.

Please do not let this post ever discourage you from adopting a pet; on the contrary, we have gotten another, wonderful dog from the Wisconsin Humane Society and will likely get all of our future dogs there. If you have a good home for a pet, please go here to see the animals now available for adoption. Gomer was one-in-a-million.

Thank you to Michael Caughill who said to me on Twitter this week: “Every story untold goes to the grave unsung.” And thanks to Dr. Seuss, who said something like, “Don’t cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.” Gomer happened, and I was lucky to be his human.

Time to go hold my son, and thank God that he is safe. Thanks for listening; your comments are welcome.

  • http://twitterworks.tv Joe Sorge

    Sue, thank you for sharing this story with us this morning. Angie and I have been through so many of the same emotions with our dogs and my eyes well up with tears reading this story.

    I’m sharing “Don’t cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.” with Angie immediately.

    Now I miss Gomer, what a great dog. Not for nothing, you made the right decision for your family, and you’ll find that love in a new companion dog again, that dog will never be Gomer, nor would you want him to be. But it will be at that point that you really are able to appreciate your decision.

    Thanks again Sue,
    Joe

    (shout-out to my best bud Archibald (06-09) #squirrelpatrol)

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Thank you, Joe, that means so much to me to know that you understand. He was a great dog indeed. And another shout-out to Archibald.

  • http://JimRaffel.com Jim Raffel

    Sue,

    I love your humanity for humans and animals alike.

    Jim

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Thanks, Jim. What can I say, I am a bleeding heart (liberal) ; )

  • Shelly

    That was a great story Sue! You made me cry, its only 8:30 am, not a good way to start the day! haha!

    You did all you could to help Gomer. It was those people before you that abused him that ruined him. Its hard to bring them back after all that trauma when they are puppies. Its so sad. People that do that are THE lowest form of life, I agree with you! I actually feel worse for animals than I do for people sometimes. I can’t stand to think of people abusing them, it breaks my heart!

    You gave him a great life and you did what you had to before something really bad happened.

    Take Care,
    Shelly

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Shelly, I feel the same way about abused animals; those ASPCA commercials break my heart, too. Thank you so much for your very kind words. -Sue

  • Kasie Erdman

    Sue,

    Thank you for sharing a loving story of love gained & love lost! You never quite know what you are going to get when you adopt a cute little 4 legged friend from a rescue. 4 out of 5 of my dogs have been rescue or humane society and the love they have to offer is great!

    However, we never know until we see their actions the abuse they may have suffered. You did the absolute right thing and paid attention to the warning flags, regardless of how painful they were to look at directly. Yes, something horrible may never have happened, but most likely it would have. Thanks to your foresight and loving heart, you are on the right side of “maybe, if only”.

    Thank you for sharing your story, and continuing to encourage people to adopt from shelters!

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Kasie, how are you doing in NYC woman? Great to hear from you. We miss you here. It is true that shelter dogs are unpredictable. But I agree wholeheartedly, the love they give you in return is so worth the effort. Your kindness is amazing and touching and so very helpful. Thank you. -Sue

  • Kristin

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I can’t imagine having to make this kind of decision. You did do the right thing but that doesn’t make it any less painful. You gave him all anyone could have asked you too, which is much more than most would have done. I’m sure he knew he was loved. :)

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Kristin, thank you for reading and commenting and for your generous support. It is much appreciated. -Sue

  • Denise Kohnke

    OK you got me crying. I was crying anyway on Nicolet’s baseball loss (which is really the iconic end of more than a season) while Scrappy, aptly named from the Humane Society, squeeks on a cigar-smoking Bozo that says “Do you think I’m funny? Funny like a clown?” over and over. Dogs have personality, just like people, and Scrappy has preferences for people, just like Gomer did. Always on alert. Never lets his guard down. Secretly in control of everyone. Loved by us, for no good reason. I often wonder how parents who get broken children cope. At the time I understood what you did, but didn’t know how you could do it. I hold on to an afterlife, because it is the only upside to reality. Gomer would have been devastated to lose you. He never did. Never will.

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Denise, ooh sorry to hear about the baseball loss. I totally get that it is much more than that. Your comment made me smile. I haven’t seen a picture of Scrappy, but the Bozo visual image is fantastic. “I hold on to an afterlife, because it is the only upside to reality.” is profoundly appropriate. And you are correct, Gomer will never lose me. He owned me. He still does. I’ve yet to find a dog that can touch me like he did, though we are thinking about trying soon : ) So great to hear from you. -Sue

  • http://www.translatordigitalcafe.com Cindi

    I remember when you shared this story with me earlier… it’s one of those life moments/decisions that can’t help but effect others when you share it, as it did me, and now others. So many don’t understand the emotional attachment that develops between people and pets, and the depths of loss that go along with losing them. My dog CJ died in my arms over the course of a week when I was younger. I remember each moment of that journey as if it were yesterday.

    Your decision was without a doubt the right one. The trick I think is accepting pain, and sadness and missing him as signs of anything else. Which is always hard to do.

    And damn. I need to have coffee with that Dr. Seuss. :)

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Cindi, thank you very much. I am truly sorry that you have been through the same pain with CJ. You’re right, there are so many people that can totally relate to the enormous pain of the loss of a pet, and many people who think it is “just a pet.” Accepting pain and sadness and missing them is hard. But, sometimes, with great love comes great loss. I’d take both over neither any day of the week. Yes, let’s have Dr. Seuss attend the next lab session. : ) Oh, wait, I am pretty sure he’s dead, too. But, he left a lot of greatness behind for the rest of us. Case in point: The Lorax. The Lorax was also prescient; but, I digress…

      -Sue

  • http://dianecharno.com Diane Charno

    Wow Sue, another one of your stories that brought me to tears. Sounds like you gave Gomer a lot of love and a good life.

    When I was in 5th grade, my neighbor’s dog tore my ear in half and as a result was put down. I felt terrible and some how responsible, but the owners had smaller children and didn’t want to take any chances.

    I was bit again a few years later and decided to keep my distance from dogs. I’ve owned cats, birds and more, but still always loved dogs.

    Three years ago, we adopted Chase, a border collie lab mix, from the Wisconsin Humane Society. I took a lot of time to learn about raising/training him and so glad I did. He’s a wonderful dog and I can’t imagine not having him part of the family.

    I often think it’s sad our pets don’t live as long as we do and deciding to put them down is such a tough decision, whether for safety or illness reasons. But it’s wonderful to have them in our lives no matter the length of time.

    Thanks again for sharing your story, Sue.
    Diane

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Wow, Diane, thanks for your support and for sharing your story, too. It is helpful to hear of other parents making the same horrible choice. The European parents of the girl that Gomer bit actually tried to persuade us not to do it, and someone in their family had once been severely scarred by a dog. Their strong feelings about how a dog is like any other family member did not make the choice any easier. But, hearing your story makes me think it was the right choice. I am so glad you are having a good experience with Chase : ) Dogs rule. -Sue

  • Rachel

    Loved this post. You made me shed a tear or two. Loved the reminder from Dr. Suess. Our in-house babysitter ends this week and oliver starts daycare. Im so sad but trying to be thankful it happened.

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Rachel, thank you for reading and commenting. I know this is going to be a tough week for you. Be strong. Be happy that it happened. But it is also OK and perfectly natural to be sad at the same time. -Sue

  • Scott Baker

    Hi, Sue.

    What a wonderfully expressed and touching story. I’m so sorry that you had to go thru that. As someone lucky enough to share a house with children and a dog, I can’t imagine how I would handle that situation. I’m now going to give Jack, Henry, Rhys and Gus (7-year-old bulldog) all a big hug!

    Best,

    Scott Baker

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Scott, so great to hear from you and thank you for the kind words about the story and your support. This was a tough one to write, but an important chapter in my life that had to be shared. Maybe it will help someone else in a similar situation at some point. Hope you, Molly, the boys, and Gus are all doing great : ) – Sue

  • http://finndigital.com Kari Dunham

    Sue,

    What a touching story. Thank you for sharing. Even though you warned me it would be a sad one I could’t help but read it (and shedding a couple tears). Your strength is very admirable, I really don’t think I could make it through a similar situation. You made the right decision, and hopefully soon you will get a new pet with the spirit of Gomer.

    I do have to say that I grew up with a Rottweiler. Zippora was my day care providers dog. She was a dog with more patience than any human or animal I had ever seen (fictional or non-fictional). They are great dogs! :)

    Thanks again for sharing,
    Kari

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Kari, thank you so much for your comment. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have made it through this were it not for the amazing kindness that the people in the Rottweiler forum – I think they were on http://www.rottweiler.net/ – showed me at the time. I posted my story expecting to be blasted for what I had done, and instead found this amazing outpouring of support, from total strangers. It was unbelievable. Sort of like all of you here. : ) I am very lucky and appreciate your support. And I agree, Rottweilers are great dogs that often get a bad rap. -Sue

  • http://whyroll.com Sara

    Sue,

    Thank you for sharing this story. It brought a rush of tears. It is something that I pay very careful attention to with our own two Husky puppies. Although the Husky breed is usually great with children and ours adore our kids, they are a lot of dog too. We take their training and care very seriously so as not to every be in the position you were in. You have to protect your child first, obviously. You did the right thing. You made one of countless sacrifices that parents make throughout their lifetime. I wish I could give you a big hug right now.

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Thank you, Sara. Virtual hug accepted, gratefully : )

  • Michelle

    Sue – thank you for opening your heart and telling this story. I feel I will come to similar crossroads soon with my cat, Sybils.

    Three summers ago Sybils was outside on the patio on my lap enjoying the sunshine with my husband and our family. (He’s an indoor cat) Suddenly, he started growling. Not caring to know what set him off, I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and proceeded to take him to the house. That’s when all hell broke loose. He thought I was trying to kill him. Spit, urine and blood were flying in the air. Mere seconds later, and eight puncture wounds in my hands (7-8 in my husbands too) we finally got the cat back in the house.

    Everyone was freaked out by the scene and the cat was still “on the loose” in the house. But at least he was inside. We thought we’d have to put him down. We’ve never seen a cat act like this – over nothing! The vet said he must’ve smelled something in the air and was defending his life (thus the urine all over the place)

    Sybils loves sitting in window sills and sometimes, I’ll see him smell something in the air and I’ll see that look in his eyes again. He can be the cutest, most loving cat – who also freaks me out.

    I don’t have children yet and I wonder, if I get pregnant, will I trust Sybils around the child? Will I have to put my cat down to have a kid?

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Hi, Michelle. I don’t have very much experience with cats; we have one, and he pretty much stays away from my son 99% of the time. Cats don’t seem to like being anywhere near little people that are loud and move very fast; but, you ask a hard question about whether you could trust your cat with a baby. I would bet that, somewhere online, there is a cat forum in which you could find plenty of people willing to share their similar experiences. Maybe start there. And, it sounds like you don’t need to make a decision in the next ten months, so for now, try to enjoy your cat : ) -Sue

  • http://rasterweb.net/raster/ Pete Prodoehl

    Well, you made me tear up… Thanks for sharing. I can’t imaging how tough the decision was for you. It makes me want to work even harder in the kitten fostering we’re doing right now. (Working with two semi-feral kittens getting them socialized.)

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Thanks, Pete. And bless you for taking care of those kittens : ) That is really something.

  • Gee

    Hi Sue,
    What a tear-jerker, touching story. I am crying as I am typing right now. I am not a dog person but I know I’d have loved Gomer. He had a great, wonderful, free-spirited 5 years with you, and for that I am sure he was grateful. And yes, he would not be happy to be isolated in the backyard.
    You will see him again, and when that time comes you can enjoy walking, running with him happily and forever. I have no doubt about that.

    Virtual hugs,

    Gee

    • http://www.spaighttalk.com Sue Spaight

      Gee, Gomer was indeed a unique, special, troubled personality. Thank you for your understanding, support and virtual hugs. They mean the world to me. -Sue

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  • Milliondollars45@hotmail.com

    Your dog just bit some one and you killed him?! I hope you rot in hell!!!! I wish I could punch you in the face!!!! People like you should be out down. Your dog didn’t do anything to you. You suck!!!

    • Anonymous

      You, as well, are a gem of a human being.

  • Anne

    Just read this post and I’m sorry for the extreme guilt you must feel about your abrupt decision to end Gomer’s life so suddenly. You know the old saying, “where there is a will there is a way”. Perhaps you should have calmed down a bit before you did the dastardly deed. You thought you were taking the easy way out but it’s not so is it? I am not trying to be harsh with you just honest.

    • suespaight

      Anne, I feel sad, not guilt. I do appreciate your honesty, and relative kindness compared to some (see above) but unless you have ever had your one-year-old child in a room with an aggressive Rottweiler which had bit not one but THREE people including me, a professional animal behaviorist said had a 50% chance of mauling your child…you really have no right to judge me. Believe me, this was the absolute FURTHEST thing from the easy way out. It was hell. I loved my dog very much…I love my child even more. The easy way out would have to been to chain the dog in the backyard and ignore him, making his life miserable for the remainder of it. My professional therapist advised against that as well, likening the dog to living with a loaded gun on the table, which was an apt metaphor. Seven years have gone by and I stand by this terrible, terrible decision as the right one. It was FAR from an abrupt decision. It was considered and consulted with professionals.