I haven’t been writing recently. Mostly because my word juices have been spent writing response papers and chapter notes for my classes, but also because things have been… rough.
Last year, a month or so after my husband and I bought our first house, we adopted a dog. We named her Nala.
It was surreal to be a pet owner. I had adopted a dog, not my parents, I had done it. I was so happy to have her and to be taking her home, it was so exciting.
Nala looked to me when she was scared, sat in my lap, cuddled, played fetch. It was amazing! But she was a puppy and she liked to bite and my hands were often the recipients of those bites. I tried everything from playing the puppy (yelping and ignoring) to playing the dog mom, but nothing I did worked and often the ignoring led to more bites unless I pushed her off the couch. As Nala grew, she got more and more intense. Trying to increase my fitness that summer, I took to walk-running in the backyard. That was almost too much for Nala to handle. In her excitement, she snapped at me and even knocked me down. That was scary and impressive, how forceful she was.
More and more I thought that something needed to change, we needed to do something. I was increasingly frustrated with her, angry at her biting and the behaviors I couldn’t seem to do anything about. I told my husband that I thought we weren’t being fair, that she had play and exercise needs that we just couldn’t meet. She needed a playmate. If she had a playmate, she could bite that dog and stop biting us.
I sent John to the shelter to adopt a yearling, a dog still young enough to be molded to our family but old enough to play with Nala and to be mostly house broken. John sent a picture of a black lab mix pup around three months old and three weeks later we brought home Kiara.
It was perfect! For awhile it was stressful because Kiara still had stitches from her spaying and I was afraid Nala would hurt her (Kiara was so tiny), but then I realized that they were okay, they could play together. But Nala would play and play and play, even after Kiara was tired and done. We would have to separate them after a time or let Kiara tell Nala “no.” But Kiara was a puppy. Nala was a puppy. Rules were not always clear.
Months of cleaning up accidents in the house, and our Yin and Yang dogs settled into a routine. They played with toys together, shared a self-feeding dog bowl and water. They snuggled, it seemed so perfect.
Nala began a troubling trend of growling at us with her stuffed animals in her mouth (she liked to carry those around to soothe anxiety or feeling). She listened when we told her to drop the toy but the behavior stayed. Nala began taking bones and toys away from Kiara, began claiming the food bowl to the point that Kiara began to grab a mouthful of food and dash away. Gone were the days they ate together, at the same time.
But that was understandable! They’re dogs! So we supervised feeding times, getting rid of the self-feeder and implementing bowls. We took toys away when there were problems.
But the problems continued to escalate.
Nala began dominating Kiara outside, usually after we came home and let them out. Full of energy she would jump on top of Kiara, grabbing her neck and shoulder skin. Kiara held out for a while, but the play fights grew and the barks and sounds became more and more ferocious from them. I stepped in then, bodily separating them from fighting with each other by stepping through their space, blocking Nala from getting on Kiara.
Then it became too much; the first fur flew.
A week after that escalation, John was home alone. Earlier that day, they had begun to fight so hard I had to smack them with something to jolt them out of that state. John was putting away laundry and walking out of a room when suddenly they were fighting again. He tried over and over to jolt them out of it, using whatever he could think to grab. Finally, he had to wrench them apart, putting himself in danger. Thankfully, he was not bit, but the danger was real.
Both dogs were bleeding. We took both to the vet that week, Nala first because hers were more obvious due to her light-colored and thin fur. It was then that we knew we couldn’t keep both, not unless we were to sacrifice our safety and perhaps our marriage. The stress of these constant fights was intense and it got to us, knocking a wedge between John and I. I was tired of worrying when Nala would turn on me, lunging as she did when I told her to do something she did not want to do.
As the week went on and we deliberated on which dog to say goodbye to, we saw Kiara trying to sniff Nala and Nala attack. We saw Nala making a beeline for the bathroom door where we had put Kiara so there wouldn’t be a fight and attack under the door. We saw Nala try to attack Kiara through the crate, through the patio door. Our decision was made.
Last night, I said goodbye to Nala, clutching her soft yellow fur in my fingers as she sat within the protection of my crossed legs. I let her lick me, I held her head, tears rolling down my face as I remembered that little Piccadilly (her shelter name) that I took home almost a year ago, as I remembered how she ran to my arms when John came home to meet her, as I remembered how she would suck on her toys, would cuddle. Last night I remembered all the good things as she looked up at me, her masked face, her golden eyes, how she and Kiara were so in balance together. Even now, as I write this at my computer, the tears come because I remember the good things, the reasons why I loved her.
It’s easier to think about the reasons why we are giving her up, easier to talk about that, because then it doesn’t hurt so much. My family is hurting… my family is one living breathing member smaller today. No matter how much we know it is the best
decision for our family and ultimately for Nala, it hurts. Deeply.