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.