Father’s Day of 2014 was a few weeks after I returned home from the hospital. My gift from Julie was a book of different dog breeds. It was her way of saying that, after going 7 years after Eden had died, it was time for the family to have a dog again. She felt the fun and companionship of a dog would provide healing benefits to me as I recovered from surgery and underwent radiation and chemo-therapy. We spent some time looking, but eventually found Sophie at the humane shelter and brought her home in early August. Her arrival was easily the best part of that summer.
Of course, there were challenges. For over a year, we took turns in being the person who had to get up at 4am to let her out. She went through a house breaking stage that still shows on our carpet. She ate the wrong things, even to the point of needing major surgery to remove part of her intestine that had become blocked by “rugged” chew toys that were no match for her. She ruined the back of the couch and love seat while teething. She demanded constant attention and inflicted more damage on furniture as punishment if you tried to ignore her requests.
But the good far outweighed the bad. Julie had been right about the impact Sophie had on our lives. She put smiles on our faces as she played with new toys, ran around with puppy enthusiasm, and bonded with the family. She made us laugh as she chased leaves on walks as if they were small animals and she was on a hunt. She showed us unconditional love. It’s been a number of years since my kids greeted my arrival home from work with running hugs and shouts of “Daddy”. Sophie brought that back for me. And in truth, she greeted every visitor with energy and affection that was sweet if you were big enough to withstand it or intimidating if you weren’t. She loved everyone she ever met.
A few months ago, Sophie started showing signs of Resource Guarding. We didn’t know that term at the time, but every once in awhile, she would turn aggressive and hostile if you tried to take something from her, like a chew toy that you could tell was going to be bad for her compromised digestive system. We developed coping mechanisms designed to avoid triggering her. We talked to people and read countless articles that offered advice on how to train it out of her. We failed. The incidents started to grow more frequent and severe. Last week, I got up off the couch in a way that she interpreted as a threat to her sleeping spot. She attacked me. It was the first time her bite had broken the skin. She later threatened our daughter who tried to shoo her away from the dishwasher while plates were being loaded. Last night, she had her worst attack yet. She again attacked and broke the skin of a house guest who merely walked by the spot where she was sleeping.
The moment we had talked about and been dreading had finally come. Even though Sophie was as sweet as can be 99.9% of the time, we could no longer afford to live with the idea that the next attack could do serious damage to our kids or visiting nieces and nephews. After a last walk, a last femur bone, a last play session with the purple squeaky ball she loved so much, and a last cuddle session, we headed to the vet hospital. The day has been filled with tears and grief. Euthanizing Eden at the end of her life when a tumor had robbed her quality of life was difficult. But Sophie was still in her prime and wanted nothing more than to play and love. This is much harder.
There’s an old axiom that says there’s no such thing as a bad dog – only a bad owner. I don’t know if that’s always true, but today was an especially heart-breaking day in part because I wonder what I could have done different.
Good bye Sophie. We love you and miss you.