Four weeks ago, I had the bones above and below my knee sawed apart. Then the surgeon took the kneecap off and did some other yucky stuff before putting everything (including a bionic part) back in and sticking the kneecap back on. Then she sewed me up. By the next day, she even expected me to walk on my own (with the help of a walker) to the bathroom! That was a month ago, and I’m still struggling to get my life back to normal after this total knee replacement.
Soon after I got home from the hospital, something terrible happened (terrible for us). It became imperative that we give our 8 month old bordoodle back to the breeder.
Back in 2014, when we lost Emma, our much-loved goldendoodle, to bone cancer, we grieved hard. That very week a woman walked past our sidewalk while we were out front re-staining our front porch. On the end of a long leash was a gangly adolescent goldendoodle the exact shade of auburn as our Emma. We stood there, stunned, as they started to walk past the house. It had only been a few days since Emma had died and we were both reeling from the loss. “Hey, Tom. Look at that dog!” I exclaimed. It was like looking at an exact replica of our Emma.
The woman stopped and smiled at us. A twenty minute conversation ensued, and soon we were talking like old friends, wrestling with “Luke,”her goldendoodle, and touting the qualities of the breed. Oh how we longed for one more day with Emma. Luke’s owner told us that she had lost a precious dog to cancer the year before, and Luke was new to her family by a only six months. She told us she felt as if Luke saved her life.
The woman became a friend. I baked muffins and took them over to her home two blocks away. She brought Luke by our house so we could play with him. She offered to dog sit and go for walks with me if we ever got another dog. She was sure we would…and the sooner the better as far as she was concerned. By Christmas (Emma died in September) Tom and I felt like we were old friends with Luke and his mom Debbie. That Christmas, we received two very special gifts in honor of Emma, a Christmas ornament with her name on it and a Charles Caruth statue of a dog with angel’s wings. I believed God brought Debbie by that day to comfort us. It was hard not to picture a brighter future with another dog under her optimistic guidance.
But we weren’t ready to open our hearts quite yet. Even so, almost against our own wills, our hearts soon began opening towards the possibility of getting another puppy. Eventually, we started looking for another goldendoodle. What we found were breeders who were charging exorbitant fees for this sought out breed. We just didn’t have that kind of money.
As I searched the Internet, I stumbled upon a breed I hadn’t known about…a bordoodle. This is a cross between a border collie and a standard poodle, two of the most intelligent dogs on the planet. The photos were adorable. Some of the dogs I saw online inherited the father’s blue eyes. Think of black and white and silver curly hair and bright blue eyes. I fell head over heels in love.
I have some extensive disabilities left over from years of major health issues, but I struggle with denial about it. In my mind, I imagined that raising a puppy could help “whip me back into shape.” I pictured myself training my dog every day and ending up with most well-trained dog on the block. I imagined working with a trainer who could help teach my dog how to help me with balance issues, and things like picking things up off the floor. I envisioned a dog that would walk off-leash with us on hiking trails (it’s been years since I have been able to walk on a trail of any kind). I pictured a puppy that loved to snuggle and get kissed, and who would live to show me it’s undying devotion. A perfect dog.
My husband and I are big believers that it is most important to rescue dogs that have been given up. But because of my disabilities and my nature, I am afraid to take a dog from a shelter. I cannot see well since brain surgery. My eyes don’t track at exactly the same time. When I swing my head around searching for something it takes a second or two for everything to come back into focus. I can hardly walk, and just underwent one of two total knee replacements. I certainly can’t run after a dog who gets out. I have feared I would take a dog from the shelter and have it end up being one that is too hard for me to handle. Because of my nature, I could never take it back to the shelter, and the idea of spending the rest of my life attempting to handle a dog that is too hard for me is just to big of a risk. We needed one that would learn quickly not to jump up on me, and to walk calmly down the street without pulling. I needed to know I could shape the temperament of this dog. There were things we wanted to teach her that we never taught Emma, a “do-over” of sorts. For some reason I thought all dogs were pretty much alike at birth, and it’s up to the owner to shape “who” they become. So, we searched for a breeder. I found one, and began the adoption process.
I named her “Annie” before she was even conceived. We paid a large non-refundable deposit to get on a wait list. I allowed myself to love her long before she was born, and I picked up puppy supplies weekly, storing them in a box. I thought the big day would never get here. She was born on June 14, 2016.
Eight weeks later, Tom and I drove out to the coast of Oregon to take a brief but much needed mini vacation before heading south to pick up Annie. We didn’t know it then, but this was the calm before the storm.
Five days later, at the breeder’s home, I picked up Annie for the first time. She was a black, white, and silver bundle of fluff, and she looked up into my eyes that first moment and snuggled against my chest. The breeder said that she had never seen so clear a bond from the first moments. My heart took a tumble. I couldn’t wait to get her home and begin to watch Annie learn that Tom and I were her new parents…people she could trust and protect.
It never occurred to me that this was a two-way street…that I would also need to be able to trust Annie.
She was the perfect puppy those first couple of weeks, adjusting to her new environment. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly she learned to use the backyard for potty; how she only wanted to “go” in the perimeter of the yard, where it was hidden from view amongst the leaves of plants. Our lawn would remain green and intact! Everything seemed perfect.
A few weeks in and I knew we had a challenge on our hands. Annie’s razor sharp puppy teeth found their mark again and again on our hands and arms, and at one point I wondered if I would need stitches before she was through. She was affectionate, but only on her terms. If she didn’t’ want to be pet or held, she let you know very quickly. I read a dozen puppy and dog training books, even ones specific to border collies, and I tried every tactic to no avail. Every time she bit my hand or arm (or Tom’s) she drew blood, and all the yelping like another puppy, or getting up and walking away, or pinching the fur on the back of her neck didn’t seem to faze her. We gave her plenty of bully sticks and bones, hard and soft toys. I constantly changed bandages and began to wear long sleeves. When we showed our vet our hands and arms, she looked at us with raised brow. “This is not good.” She advised us to take Annie’s mouth and pull back on it when she did this. We tried. It did nothing to stop her assaults.
Annie is extremely smart. I started training her right away and she quickly learned anything I threw at her in two to four tries. She was fun to train. She also needed a lot of exercise so I took her out into the backyard and ran her around in attempts to wear her out. She destroyed the backyard within several months time, shredding the hot tub cover. She dug so many holes that I bought her her own sandbox.
She needed mental exercise even more so I developed games that made her think and worked hard to take every opportunity to train her to have good manners. I quickly realized that with her intelligence, she was second-guessing all the time. She started being “naughty” on purpose, knowing that if I redirected her and she obeyed, she would get a click and a treat. She wanted to play all day long, even after long walks with Tom. My body hurt and I was exhausted by the time Tom got home from work. And he was exhausted from a long day at work, leaving him little energy to take over. What did we get oursleves into? Tom and I commiserated with each other and told each other that once she turned one or two years old, things would calm down.
One day, Annie got ahold of something in the house. It may have been the TV remote or one of my combs. Whatever it was, I wanted it back. I began walking towards her. Her eyes bore into mine. “Back off!” they seemed to say. I reached down to get whatever it is she had and she growled. She wasn’t playing. I grabbed it anyway and walked away, a little shaken up by her lack of respect.
It happened a few more times over various objects, and each time her determination to keep whatever it was she wanted grew. One day, she growled, and then as I tried to “trade up” with a dog treat, her teeth grabbed the biscuit and my finger at the same time. It didn’t break the skin but it really hurt. Again, I was shocked. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
I began an Internet search and found that this type of behavior is called “resource guarding,” and although it is not uncommon, it can escalate and become dangerous. It stems from the distant past, when an animal had to make sure he or she was the last one with the resource. Thinking they need to guard something or perish puts them into a “kill or be killed” frame of mind. I bought a book on resource guarding and the book listed the levels of severity for this behavior. Annie seemed to fall somewhere in between “easy fix” and “get professional help.” At lease she did at that moment in time. The fact that she had not yet broken our skin with her bites made it more likely she could be rehabilitated, but according to the book, this was a serious issue that could get much worse if not corrected quickly.
One day I got a call from my physician’s office about a knee surgery that was planned for late March. Could I possibly have it next week? I thought it over. “Sure,” I said. Why not? Let’s get it over with and begin recovering. I entered the hospital on a Tuesday and was gone for three nights. When I got home, Tom helped me upstairs to the bedroom, far away from Annie and her behaviors. She couldn’t jump on me possibly knock me down. She also didn’t get my loving attention in the mornings and I was no longer her playmate while Tom was at work. She seemed to resent this new change in circumstances.
One night, Tom left a half-eaten plate of spaghetti on the counter. Annie decided she wanted it and each time he went towards the sink to start the dishes she began growling. She was clearly warning him. When he didn’t back off, she ran up to him and bit his hand hard enough to puncture the skin and make it bleed.
Again, we were shocked. It took me with a lot of coaxing and distracting to get her to back off. She was acting vicious, like those videos you see of a police dog on a wanted felon. I gave her some spaghetti strands in another part of the kitchen while Tom snuck over and took the plate. I started to play a game with her in order to distract her. Two minutes later, she had clearly forgotten the incident, but we hadn’t. We were beginning to fear our own dog.
The next day, Tom was in the kitchen cleaning up (by this time we knew to have her in the other room behind a baby gate during the cooking/cleaning routine). He heard a slight noise in the other room and saw that she had grabbed a paper back book he was reading. “Oh well,” he thought. He knew that the book on resource guarding recommended against confrontation as this will say to the dog, “Yes…there’s a reason I need to guard this thing!” So he turned back to what he was doing in the kitchen. She dropped the book, looked at him, and ran over to the baby gate, jumped up, and bit his hand again, this time drawing even more blood. Both of us spent the evening upstairs in our bedroom with the door shut talking about what to do. For us, the writing was on the wall. For whatever reason, our dog was becoming dangerous; not only to us, but also to anyone who was in the way between her and things she wanted. This was not good.
I found a trainer online who deals with just this issue and contacted her. She is in Portland, and we set up a training session for the following week via Skype.
In the meantime, I thought it important to let the breeder know how the behavior had escalated. She was shocked, and begged us to allow her to re-train, and then re-home Annie. We became convinced that this was the smart thing to do. The book I had been reading had said that when a dog actually bites and breaks the skin, this is serious behavior. The amount of commitment and training it was going to take to stop this behavior was something that Tom and I weren’t prepared for. We were both physically and emotionally exhausted.
And the breeder was offering us a way to save Annie’s life and get our life back too.
So, Tom got in the car and drove Annie almost 800 miles back to the breeder. They had a wonderful road trip together and it broke his heart to leave her there. The only consolation was that the breeder was sure she could help and place Annie in a home where she would be a better fit.
Two days later, we got word that Annie had “guarded” something she wanted around their two year old son. Her husband had suggested they might have to euthanize Annie! As much as I understood the dilemma, I felt angry that they had put their son in the situation even though they clearly knew the problem Now, because of this, Annie may pay with her life. I felt my heart shatter with this news. I couldn’t sleep. I was overwhelmed with guilt for taking Annie to the breeder’s, but I honestly didn’t have a different solution.
I did what I normally do when I find myself with my back up against a wall. I began to pray in earnest. And that’s when things began to change.
At that time, I just happened to be reading a book by John Eldredge called “Walking With God.” I usually detest books of this sort…the “how to’s” of following God. But this one intrigued me and held my interest. In the book, John details a year of his life where he decided to really talk to God about everything concerning him and then become patient enough to listen for the answers. One of the things John talks about in the book is his habit of journaling, which became the background notes for much of the writing of the book.
One day, in the midst of all that was happening with Annie, I got out my journal. I am a “once in awhile” journaler. I will journal for several days or weeks, then drop off and I don’t pen another entry for a long time. At John’s prompting I decided to take it up again, so I sat on my bed and opened it up. It fell open to June 3, 2016. My eyes widened as I read these words: “Tom and I have decided we are NOT going to get a bordoodle puppy. If we do get a dog, it will be a golden, or a lab, and then maybe not for another year.”
This entry was written just two short months before we drove out to Oregon to pick up our bordoodle puppy. What happened to change our minds? I sat there, as the memory flooded back into my mind. Tom and I had decided that any dog that was part border collie was going to be too much for us. We knew that these were working dogs and needed a lot of exercise. With my disabilities and Tom’s work schedule, we inherently knew we couldn’t meet this dog’s needs. We were so sure about this that we were willing to give up our nonrefundable deposit.
I emailed the breeder and told her we had made a very hard decision not to get one of the puppies, and that I understood about the deposit. She wrote me back right away, assuring me that these puppies did not come from an Americanized border collie working dog that needed hours of exercise a day. “These dogs will adapt to any family situation,” she told me. Both parents are laid back dogs that just need a normal amount of walking and exercise.
I decided to listen to her instead of what my gut was telling me. We went forward.
As I sat there, with my journal open on my lap, I realized that it was very possible that the Lord was trying to speak to us back on June 3rd. Maybe he was letting us know that this would be a decision we would come to regret. But we didn’t listen to that still, small voice. We went ahead with our plans…we wanted a dog and we didn’t want to lose our deposit.
The day after I read this entry, my daughter called. She had had a vivid dream. “Mom, I don’t think I have dreams from God, “ she started, “but I remember every bit of this dream and I think it’s a message.” She shared with me how in this dream, one thing after another kept me in a place of sorrow. I tried one thing after another and something would happen that would cause loss. There was even a scene (in her dream) where I was cooking dinner and something happened to ruin the dinner. “Why didn’t God care about all these things that are causing me pain?” I thought in the dream. (Coincidentally, I had these same thoughts in real life, but had not voiced them to my daughter). In the dream, God began to talk to Alia. He said, “I do care about what is happening in your mother’s life. I want to heal her, but I need her to simplify her life.” That was it.
For some reason, after my daughter told me the dream I just knew that the Lord wanted me to re-home Annie. Our lives had been anything but simple since we brought her home. She had become an overwhelming force to be reckoned with, and certainly, although she provided much joy and fun, caused more stress and frustration than we had energy for. I feared she would one day bite a stranger and would be taken from us to be forcefully euthanized. That idea was a nightmare from which I didn’t think I’d ever recover.
I knew Annie needed professional help, beyond what Tom or I could provide…and if she didn’t get it fast it would be too late.
The morning Annie left our home, I hobbled downstairs to say goodbye to her. As I sat in a chair, petting her and telling her I loved her, I realized she was already wearing her harness. Tom had put it on her to take her for the trip. I began to feel around for the buckles, and the halter felt too tight. Annie looked at me and growled. I lifted my hand away and said, “all right.” She continued to stare at me and growl. I realized what a bad position I was in. With my leg freshly healing from surgery, there was no way I could escape if she decided to go after me. I stood up, the only thing I knew to do, and didn’t make eye contact with her. I said, “It’s ok, and I walked away as quickly as I could with my walker in front of me. She let me go. I felt a little dizzy with fear as I moved past the baby gate and limped back up the stairs. It was my last moment with Annie.
In a way, I regret I didn’t come back down and have a positive moment with her before she left. Another part of me feels that was is a good thing. It is the memory of her growling at me that keeps me knowing I did what I had to do to let her go. It has proved to be one of the hardest things Tom and I have ever had to do.
Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you. Peter 5:7
We stayed in touch with both the breeder and the trainer in Portland. She (the trainer) became a main support to me over the next couple of weeks. Once she found out we took Annie back to the breeder, she went into “friendship” mode with me. She called and emailed several times a day to check in and give us advice. It turned out this woman was born in the same town I was. We’ve lived in many of the same areas and she thinks about things in a very similar way that I do. She became an understanding friend to us in a time of trouble. She was a godsend.
The breeder kept in touch with us too. After the one incident with the resource guarding and her son, she was much more careful. We got reports of Annie playing for hours with the other dogs and learning how to give things back when she wanted to guard them. I continued to pray that Annie would go to a good home and that the people who took her would know what to do with her guarding and aggression issues.
Yesterday I got a call from the breeder. A service dog trainer spent five hours with Annie, assessing her appropriateness to be included in her service dog training program. Annie astounded her with her ability to quickly learn new skills. She taught Annie how to differentiate between two different pill bottles and was able to have her to go into another room, get into her purse, and bring her the right pills, with the simple command, “Go get my medication.” She is thrilled to take Annie into her six-month program where she will learn her job, something she desperately needs. She will eventually be working with a disabled, wheelchair bound veteran. I cannot think of a happier ending.
Our home? It’s much quieter these days. I still miss Annie. Sometimes I still shed some tears. But I know beyond a doubt we did the right thing, both for her and for us. My husband and I enjoy each other so much more since there is no longer the “issue” of who is going to train the dog not to bite. I’m now able to recover from my knee surgery without worrying about leaving Annie downstairs alone. This was the right thing to do for us. And I have learned that I can trust God to comfort me and care about the things that concern me, even if I make mistakes along the way.