From the minute my daughter was born, people warned us. “You have to be very careful around the dogs,” they would say. “You never know what those animals might do.”
As a former dog walker and trainer who owned three medium-sized dogs, I didn’t take their advice that seriously. Dogs have always been my friends and closest companions, but I had also been in enough canine skirmishes to know the strength behind dogs’ teeth and jaws. Still, I was conﬁdent that my experience and love of the species would guide me through any dog-toddler interactions. So we let our daughter play and snuggle freely with our pets, teaching her (and them) to be gentle and respectful of one another.
One sunny day, we had a few families over to swim and play. Six kids ran around, most younger than 4. We smiled as they lavished attention on the pooches, and when the dogs looked overwhelmed we removed them to another area to have their space.
As the day wound down I talked with a man as his 2-year-old daughter, Kyoko, motored around the house. Suddenly we heard a loud bark and a snap, and then the sound of a young child screaming.
Stunned, I rushed over to ﬁnd that our 10-year-old Dalmatian, Dottie, had bitten Kyoko in the face. I quickly removed Dottie and rushed back to check on Kyoko’s wounds.
We were lucky. The wounds were superﬁcial. Kyoko’s father was calm and still very friendly, even staying on after the incident for several hours. I really don’t think I would have been so kind. If Dottie’s bite had been less than an inch in a different direction, Kyoko would almost certainly have lost an eye.
My husband and I were in shock. Not once had we thought Dottie would bite a child. She had become a little more ornery in her age, but we had still freely allowed our daughter to climb all over her, assuming Dottie would let us know in gentler ways if she was uncomfortable. Granted, we didn’t see the attack, didn’t know what pushed Dottie to behave in such a way. However, because we had a young child, the bite displayed a real risk.
We had a major problem. We couldn’t ignore the issue, but the thought of having to give Dottie away was just too heart-wrenching to bear. We considered all the possibilities. How do we ﬁnd a new owner for a senior dog? How do we ensure that the new owners will care for her properly and not just euthanize her? How do we ensure her continued happiness? If we had to put her down, could we? It seemed like such an irresponsible thing to do. After all, we had assumed responsibility for this life. Giving up on her just seemed wrong.
For days, we were in a funk. We knew that the safety of our young daughter came ﬁrst. A visit to the vet conﬁrmed our fears. Dottie would have to be kept separate from our child at all times, even under supervision. We tried to make it work. But the image of Dottie’s sweet face peering down at all of us from behind the railing of the upstairs landing was too much. Dogs are social animals, they want to be where we are. It didn’t seem right to ostracize her, and the way she gazed at us proved it. We knew what we had to do. I suggested a call to her previous owner, just to update her on the situation. Dottie had been with us only a few years.
Dottie’s previous owner had to give her up for ﬁnancial reasons. However, as any dog owner knows, a pooch can wander into your heart fast. Dottie had become part of our family within a matter of months.
To our luck and surprise, the previous owner was in a better situation and offered to take Dottie back. It was amazingly fortuitous. Finally, a resolution that didn’t break our hearts!
The day Dottie left was a sad, sad day. We cried and gave her lots of cuddles. I kept thinking about Kira, the Husky I had raised for eight out of the 10 years she had been alive. Would I be able to give her up if she had been the one who bit Kyoko? Kira is my best friend and has seen me through the worst of times. It would have been an impossible decision.
My husband and I wouldn’t have been pushed to this choice if we weren’t parents of a small child. We don’t give up on those we love. However, as you grow and your life changes, difﬁcult decisions appear.
Dottie is now living happily with her previous owner. Her behavior has improved greatly, as has her level of contentment. I believe a quiet, solitary life is what she wanted, and the chaos of our lively household no longer suited her. We still miss her, her loving nature and gentle nuzzles. We wonder how she is doing and tear up when we see another Dalmatian.
I never thought I’d have to decide whether to give up our dog. To me, a commitment lasts a lifetime. In the end, our commitment to Dottie meant we had to give her a life that she quietly asked for, a change that would keep her comfortable and happy into her old age.
It was a hard choice, but I feel it was the right one.
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