I feel that I killed my dog.
This is a public blog, and I generally don’t put the really private stuff up here.
But this feeling that I killed my heart dog is a quagmire in which I am stuck. Maybe writing about it will help extricate me.
Of course, I did arrange to help Cooper die. He was sick with lymphoma, and failing fast. On that last day, he came over to me as I sat on the edge of our low deck, put his head in my open hands, and looked up at me steadily. This was so unusual that I called Russ over, and together, looking at our dear Cooper, we knew it was time to help him leave this life.
But that’s not what I’m talking about.
What I’m talking about is the feeling that still makes me cry, every day, even now – 32 days later. I can usually keep myself under control when others are around, but when I’m alone, I cry. Driving to work, taking a walk, sitting on the deck…
From the day I got Cooper, I knew that he needed to stay intact (not neutered). At first, this was to allow his bones and joints to grow properly. But later, after he was diagnosed with Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy, I kept him intact to protect his health. SLO is an immune-mediated disorder, and even though his veterinarians assured me that neutering would have no impact on his SLO, I felt strongly that he needed all the hormones his testicles produced to support his whole system. This became even more important to me when he started treatment for low thyroid.
But then we got Carlin, an energetic, impolite, untutored, and rambunctious puppy boy. Carlin wanted so badly to be friends with Cooper, but Cooper was having none of it. He made it clear that he wanted that puppy to go away, and as soon as possible. Cooper attacked Carlin several times, frightening all of us. And once Carlin grew stronger and bigger enough, he attacked Cooper, giving him puncture wounds on the neck.
We tried everything: talking to his breeders, getting the dogs checked out by their veterinarians, consulting two behaviorists several times, adding more discipline and impulse control exercises to their training, and even giving them flower essences and homeopathic remedies. We tried keeping the two dogs separated, but this made none of us happy. We also sent Carlin away to a trainer for a couple of months, hoping that he’d mature and things would calm down.
But nothing worked. Cooper wanted Carlin to go away. It came down to this choice: find Carlin a new home or get Cooper neutered.
Twice I called Carlin’s breeders to tell them that we needed to re-home Carlin. And twice I backed out. Carlin is an affectionate, friendly dog who actually shows some talent for obedience work. He’s beautiful. He’s not the compulsive retriever that Cooper was, and he’s not as good a bird-finder as Tooey, but he hunts and enjoys it, and will make a good hunting dog. I knew that Cooper, and then Tooey, would retire from hunting at some point, and now seemed to be the best time to get another dog ready to fill that role. I couldn’t give Carlin up.
So that left neutering Cooper. Just about everyone recommended it, and we didn’t know what else to try. So even though I knew in my heart that Cooper needed to stay intact to support his health, I had him neutered. I satisfied my own wants at the expense of Cooper’s needs. I brushed off the warnings in my own heart, and convinced myself that somehow I could have both.
Life is hardly ever like that, where you can have two contradictory things at once. You have to choose. I chose, and based on the depth of my grief and guilt, I can see I made the wrong choice. And I made the wrong choice because I didn’t clearly realize what was most important to me.
Carlin would have been happy in another home. I could have gotten another puppy later. But Cooper is my heart dog and cannot be replaced.
And now he is gone.