the hardest decision

A few days after I got Toby, things started to change. He settled into his new home and his true colors came out, which was great news.

At first.

It turns out what I thought was a simple housebreaking problem was a whole host of behavioral problems. He was wild. I set about tackling each problem, spending hours on end researching and developing a game plan. He wasn't a bad dog, just an undisciplined high-energy one.

As time wore on I began to grow increasingly frustrated. I found myself dreading weekends when I would be at home with him for long uninterrupted periods of time, which is not exactly the best reaction to a new dog. But I gritted my teeth and attempted to keep pushing through. This little 8 pound ball of fur loved me and I owed it to him to try and love him too. I felt bitterly frustrated, not only with Toby but with myself. My thoughts followed a simple pattern: How could I be failing my dog like this? Maybe I'm just not meant to ever have pets.  

Night time wasn't any better. Even though I was crate training Toby, I wasn't getting much sleep. His crate was in my room because I couldn't bear to have him sleeping by himself in a crate in a different room of the apartment. But because of his behavior, every time he moved I woke up worried that he was misbehaving somehow. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep which was only compounded by my high stress & anxiety levels during the day.

Through it all there was one saving grace that I clung too: Christmas was coming and I would be taking Toby home with me. You see my parents' house is a dog paradise. We have a decent sized backyard that's all fenced in and a dog door that stays open 24/7 (well unless the yardmen are there mowing the yard). There are squirrels to chase and terrorize. The house is large and there are lots of comfy couches. Dogs are allowed on all but one or two of the couches and all of the beds. There are toys everywhere and food is plentiful. It's a good place to be a dog.

Not only is it a good place to be a dog, there would be two other dogs at my parents' house over Christmas. My sister had brought her dog with her from New Orleans. Lucy is a definite pack leader. She's not aggressive towards other dogs; instead she oozes a quiet assertiveness that makes even the toughest of dogs bow down to her. It's a little bizarre, honestly. And if anyone could put Toby in his place, it would be Lucy. And if Lucy failed Kenley would be there. Kenley likes to think she's a pack leader and act tough but she really isn't one. I needed the influence of two older bigger dogs to calm Toby down.

Unfortunately that's not how things played out. Within short order, Toby had bit both Lucy and Kenley, peed on the floor, and jumped on the coffee table twice.

Suddenly the conversation began to turn to how sometimes dogs don't work out and that's not a reflection on the character of the person who adopts them. Mom and I talked about how Toby needed a ton of discipline and structure. She asked me one simple question: do you think you can do it?

I started to sob. Mom asked me what was wrong. After shaking my head for a few minutes, I said four words that I hadn't even allowed myself to think: I can't do this.

In a strange way, admitting that I couldn't do it felt freeing. The three of us talked about it some more and the decision was made to surrender Toby to a shelter in the morning.

Now let me be painfully clear. This was not an easy decision. It was not one that was reached lightly. It was not one that was made because the dog was mildly inconvenient.

It was a decision that was made because it truly was the best option. With his behavior towards Lucy and Kenley we couldn't keep Toby in the house any longer. If we did, he would have to be crated by himself in another room and that seemed cruel. None of the options were good ones and the option we chose seemed like the least of all the evils. I hope that I never have to make that decision again because it was hell.

The truth is, keeping Toby would only have destroyed both of our lives. I was already battling the temptation to throw him in his crate and go live my life without him. That's no life for a dog. A dog deserves a home where he his happy, safe, and loved and I simply could not provide that for him. I couldn't.

So the next morning Kara and I headed out to surrender Toby. After one failed attempt and a few more tears (okay a lot more tears), we finally arrived at a shelter that would take him. I clung to him, feeling like the worst person in the world. This dog loved me and I was putting him back in a shelter. I hated myself, even though I knew it would be best for him.

And it turns out that it was.

As the intake coordinator and I were dealing with the paperwork a man approached and asked if Toby was going to be up for adoption. I said yes.

His eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning and he asked can I please have him? I told him I was fine with it and looked to the intake coordinator. After conferring with a few other employees, the conclusion was reached that yes, this man could take him home that day. Because they had begun entering his info into the system they had to do a quick vet check and vaccination before turning him over. But since all adoption fees on animals that had already been fixed were waived that day, that was all they needed to do.

I have never seen someone gush so excitedly. He was head over heels in love with Toby. It turns out he had driven from a different part of Georgia looking for a dog just like Toby. He wouldn't stop petting him and thanked Kara and I profusely. I handed Toby over to a shelter employee, who told the man he'd back with him in 15-20 minutes.

I felt hugely relieved. Even the next morning when I woke up, I felt a sense of calm assurance that Toby was in the right place for him and that he would live a long happy life there. I don't know how I knew that but somehow deep in my soul I knew.

Kara and I then picked up Dad from the house and grabbed a spot of lunch. We had made the decision to look for a new dog that same day, mostly to help ease the guilt and sadness that I had felt heading to the shelter. After lunch we stopped in at Atlanta Humane Society. I had decided to look at older dogs. They're generally already trained, a lot calmer, and super super affectionate.

After wandering through a row or two of kennels we came to one in the center of a row. Inside was a precious 10 year old beagle/basset mix named Veronica. As soon as she saw Kara, who found her first, she trotted over to the glass and wagged her tail. Kara called me over and I took one look at her and felt my heart literally stop beating in my chest. Somehow, based on three seconds worth of interaction on opposite sides of a glass kennel door, I knew that she was absolutely perfect. We looked at a few other kennels just for form but in my heart I knew which dog I wanted. A volunteer took her out and put us in a visitation room to spend some time together.
Ronni, left, with Lucy

She was even more perfect in person.

Dad finally found us a few minutes later. He walked in and said Courtney are you sure you want one that old... Then he just trailed off and started petting her. She was so sweet that it trumped any doubts.

30 minutes later we were leaving with Ronni. She wasn't crazy about the car ride but she was crazy about my parents' house. Her introduction to the other two dogs went smoothly and she set about sniffing her way through the house. I gave her a bath since shelters aren't always the cleanest of places. By the time Mom arrived home an hour or so later she had already started to settle in.

In short order, Ronni stole everyone in the house's heart. She blended into the family perfectly.

Once Christmas was over Ronni and I headed back home to her true forever home.

To be honest, the first 18 hours here were rough. Ronni was scared and unsure of her new environment. She had an accident on the floor. When I came home from work to check on her over my lunch break, she reacted like she had been terrified and thought she had been abandoned forever. It broke my heart. All I wanted was for this dog to know how safe and loved she was and for those first 18 hours it seemed like she forgot that.

But then she turned a corner. It sunk in that this was home, that she hadn't been abandoned. She started eating again. She slept more, which was good because Ronni doesn't sleep when she doesn't feel comfortable.

Seeing her settle in has made me indescribably happy. She warms my heart and soul in a way that Toby never did. I love the feeling of her warm body curled up next to me at night. I love hearing her snore when she falls asleep on the armchair in the living room. I love seeing her tail wag on walks. I love seeing her jump up to greet me when I return home, whining softly. I love her even when she has an accident or chews up some garbage. I love how she trots into the kitchen to see what I'm doing.

I love this dog.

At the end of the day I am grateful for Toby. He taught me a lot. He taught me that it's okay to admit when you failed and that younger dogs may be cute but they're not for me. If I hadn't adopted Toby, I wouldn't have found Ronni.

Toby, I hope you're happy, safe, and loved in your new home. I hope you live a long wonderful life surrounded by people who love you like you love them. I'll always miss you in a weird way.

Ronni, welcome home my love.

1 comment:

  1. OMGosh! That was soooo sweet. Your screaming, Tasmanian Devil has a wonderful home and you have Ronnie!