With Heavy Heart

When Jude was still a small infant, I was still doing Pampered Chef shows and business fairs quite frequently. While I was attending one of these fairs--Jude in tow--sometime in the spring or summer of 2003, a tragedy happened. Many of the demonstrators had their children running around outside. We were in a small school gym in a rural community in central Alberta--you know, the kind made up of many acreages close together. One of the small kids had been minding their own business, playing, when a medium-sized neighbourhood dog came up, unprovoked, and took a large chunk out of her face.

As I clutched Jude to my chest, I shivered with fear that something like that could happen to the precious baby in my arms. The event cast a pallor over the mood in the gym for the rest of the afternoon.

Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes you wonder if bad things like that could have been prevented. Had that dog been a biter before? Could the owner have prevented that little girl from going through life permanently scarred? I guess I'll never know.

Yesterday, Shiloh had to die.

After pouring as much time and love into him as I could this past winter, he was finally starting to bond to me, as well as the rest of the family--but he was my shadow. Anytime I came out the door, he came running from wherever he was (usually barking at some far-away animal to make sure they didn't even think about coming in his territory) to follow me around the yard. His head was just the perfect height so that he could slobber on my hanging fingers as I walked, asking for affection and attention.

Yes, he still had a long way to go, but all of his flaws seemed to be things that could be worked with--he was still in the habit of chewing on (okay, mostly licking, but it was still a violation of their personal spaces) the cats whenever they were outside, mostly for his own entertainment. (I still don't know why those kittens, who are now nine months old, don't just give the dogs a solid, all-claws-bared swipe at the nose whenever they try that and "tune them in," but maybe they were cowed from too early of an age.) He still got a little aggressive while playing with Koda occasionally, but Koda is now big enough to hold his own, so that wasn't a huge worry. He still got a little too overprotective of his food, snarling and baring his teeth at any animal that looked like they were thinking of sneaking something from his dish.

But he had also learned to come when called. He was staying around home. He managed to go through the whole weekend of wiener-roasting without trying to steal anyone's hot dog (a huge improvement from last summer). His incessant, deep-throated barking kept dangerous wildlife (including the garden-molesting deer) away--and I was getting kind of fond of his singing. ("Your dog would be a singer," commented Jason wryly one evening, as we listened to Shiloh calling back to the coyotes underneath our bay window.) And he was beginning to become loyal to the humans that kept him--namely, us. Even Jason, who has disliked Shiloh since I brought him home last summer, admitted that he was beginning to think that he had the potential to be a good dog.

Unfortunately, this past weekend also revealed a fatal flaw.

He tried to bite one of our male guests. He succeeded in biting Jason (all because he came out of the house with a hat on, therefore looking "strange") through his jeans, actually scratching his leg. The next day, he nipped at the gravel truck driver twice while Jason was standing there talking with him.

There are a lot of faults that you can work with... but if your dog is a biter, you just can't risk that someone's kid will go home with part of their face missing.

Jason borrowed a friend's .22. He took Jude and Shiloh out to the very back of the property, leaving Koda howling on the leash.

Later, with a voice strained from emotion, I asked Jason, "Did Shiloh take long to die?"

"No," he said quietly. After a pause, "You know I didn't want to have to do that, right?"

A tight nod. "I know."

Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes, we need to prevent worse things from happening.

The hard choices are the ones that hurt either way.