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The Influence of Positive Punishment on My Adoption Decision

Not everyone I know agrees with my decision to get a puppy from a responsible Saint Bernard breeder. Many think my decision is unethical and...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Jul 16th 2010


Not everyone I know agrees with my decision to get a puppy from a responsible Saint Bernard breeder. Many think my decision is unethical and irresponsible. I respect differences of opinion, and was raised on the philosophy that you can please some of the people all of the time, none of the people all of the time, and all of the people on very few occasions. Variety is the spice of life.

Many of these same people may feel differently if they, like I did yesterday, have to mourn the loss of their dog to a birth defect on his sixth birthday instead of spoiling him rotten with free range buffalo and home made, organic ice cream.

If you had asked me a few years ago or even a few months ago if I would be considering getting a dog from a breeder, in all likelihood I would have responded, “No, I wouldn’t.” I am a very devoted and passionate advocate of rescue, offering discounts on classes to adoptive parents of rescue dogs, free educational services and deeply discounted or free private consultations for rescue/shelter volunteers and foster parents. All of the animals I have ever brought into my home have been rescued.

I also plan on bringing many, many more “garbage dogs,” dogs that were thrown away by society and left with physical and behavioral deficits and abnormalities, dogs that would be euthanized if someone with the experience, commitment, and knowledge needed to “leash on life.”

At the same time, I feel very cheated. Monte was a great gift even though he came from an irresponsible breeder. I spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours diligently bringing him back to behavioral and physical wellness. I worked harder with and for him than I’ve had to work raising all of the many other dogs I’ve had the privilege of sharing my life and home with. It was emotionally, financially, physically, and mentally one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced in my life, but my efforts were very well rewarded by the time I did have with such a noble, magnificent, forgiving, and loyal friend.

Two days before his diagnosis, Monte played like a puppy. It was so beautiful to watch him move, this dog that had started out gangly, wobbly, and undermuscled was finally an impressive physical specimen. I loved to watch him move, ears and jowls flapping in the wind, tail wagging merrily, slobber flinging for a dozen yards at a time, shiny white teeth flashing in his smile, muscles rippling under beautiful, soft fur. He played happily. He made us laugh and laughed with us.

Suddenly, a yelp and brief limp while playing with his sister.

Two weeks later, he was dead.

Before judging my decision, imagine for a moment how you might feel if your healthy dog suddenly could not take more than one step without yelping and collapsing. When his favorite activities, rolling over for a belly scratch, relaxing in bed, going upstairs to lie on the cool bathroom floor tiles, Kong/Tug a Jug/Buster Cube/Nina Ottosson toy emptying, playing with you or his doggy sister, and greeting with a play bow and a toy, were impossible because they caused him (and you, consequently) great agony.

I held his last Kong for him so he could enjoy it. Trying to eat it by himself and lowering his head even two inches would cause him to crumple in pain. Watching him yelp when he played with his favorite toy almost caused the same effect in me.

Seeing my baby hurt like that just about ripped my heart out of my chest. i sat staring at my phone, sobbing, feeling like an executioner calling the vet to ask her to relieve him forever from the pain he was in. I may very well have won a Guinness record for the longest smooching session, kissing him, crying, for hours.

I only had four and a half years with an animal that was truly exceptional, inspiring, and life changing. Having my heart shattered at his early lost was one of the biggest positive punishments I’ve ever encountered in my life.

Sometimes you hear a shock collar trainer talking about “laying the dog out.” Shocking the dog so hard that he collapses in pain and fear. Losing Monte laid me out, literally. It hurt so bad I could hardly get out of bed the next morning to take him on his final car ride – staring at him in his final slumber on my living room floor.

Rescuing Monte was one of the most important experiences of my life. But now, temporarily at least, I am scared. Scared to adopt another mess like he was and put in all the work only to have a few short years with him, less than a quarter of what many dog parents expect in terms of longevity and half of what many Saint moms can expect.

I know buying from a responsible breeder is no guarantee that I will have the world’s oldest Saint, but just this once I want to play a game with the cards stacked in my favor. Fear not, faithful readers, I’m sure a number of hands in my pet owning future will feature another king of hearts, a Saint like my Monte boy that society thinks is garbage and that I will treasure, for however many days, months, or years he or she may bless me with.