I quit on him.
I filled out the surrender form late one night and the next day, around noon, piled him into the truck and, with my husband riding in the back to keep him from jumping into the front seat, I took our newly adopted dog, Romeo, back to the Humane Society.
I thought I would feel bad about it but I didn’t.
It had been three and a half weeks of Romeo tormenting our older dog and me thinking that it would get better with time. Oh, part of it was Romeo being very young (13 months) and our older dog, Minnie, being a lot older (14) but, as time went on, Romeo’s attacks on Minnie took on a rougher and rougher character, knocking her over, pinning her to the floor, biting her back legs, and, once, causing her to fall down the stairs.
The Humane Society told me to keep the dogs separated. So I did that but it seemed an impractical solution long term. It became harder and harder to protect Minnie without isolating her from the rest of us. And that felt very cruel to me.
Her eyes were beseeching. It was as if she couldn’t believe life had brought her to this point. But still I was determined. I kept Romeo tethered to me with a leash like I’d done years ago with another very energetic dog. It worked then but not this time. He chewed the leash.
So I worked harder on training, having him sit quietly with me in the kitchen by giving him treats every now and then and praising his quietness. But that only worked for a while. He would run off to attack Minnie and then come back, sit quietly, and wait for his treat. Meanwhile, breaking up his attacks became much more dramatic and wild. I began to feel like a cop on a domestic violence call.
And then, as predictably as winter following fall, Romeo came after me.
At first, I couldn’t believe I couldn’t handle this dog. We have had some rambunctious dogs but never one I couldn’t handle, never one I couldn’t trust not to bite me. His jumping at me and snapping were nearly constant and none of the techniques I’d used before with other dogs worked. If I quickly turned my back when he jumped, he just bit on my jacket. Thank God it wasn’t summer.
So I reflected on this. What was my commitment to a dog I’ve known three weeks compared to my commitment to Minnie who has been a gentle and sweet girl for so many years? What was I saying about myself if I took a dog back? That I was intimidated by a 28-pound dog? That I didn’t have the persistence or patience to train his aggression out of him? That I was afraid of him?
“He’s going to hurt somebody.”
As is so often the case, it was my husband, Howard, who distilled the issue into its most condensed, meaningful form. We live in a neighborhood with dozens of kids and Romeo had already learned to jump over the back porch railing. We couldn’t leave him outside alone. Ever.
So when the Humane Society worker smeared a mound of peanut butter on the floor for Romeo to zoom in on and took off his new collar and leash to hand to me, I was relieved. I told them about his behavior, that he probably shouldn’t be placed in a home with other dogs or children, but that he hadn’t ever really bitten us. He wasn’t beyond redemption at all. He was just too much and they nodded like it was something they’d heard before.
I waited to feel bad, thinking that I would have to confront and absorb my failure. But I only felt relieved and for days I settled into the peacefulness of my house and my life like it was a new thing just delivered to my door, something I’d never had before, it felt that strange and precious.
So this is my dog story, my story of taking Romeo back, of quitting on him. Maybe it’s not the happiest dog story around, but it is true, as true as I could tell it.