Hard Stuff

Honestly… I really really really contemplated not writing this post.  People told me not to.  People told me to lie.  People told me to just let it go, that you would forget, and I’d be safe.  I thought about all the options.  But, I’ve tried to be honest on here… and an outright lie just wasn’t going to be an option.  I was hoping you’d forget.  That I’d forget.  But I didn’t.  I can’t.

I cared and I tried, but I did fail.

About a month after the owner returned 5 year old Colt to me, his breeder, I took him to Ten Sleep, held him in my arms, sobbed, and told the vet to give him his final injection.

Go ahead, let me have it.  Tell me I should have done this or that, that I’m an idiot, I don’t know dogs, How could you????? etc.  etc. etc. etc.  I’ll agree with all of you.  I could have done more.  I brought him into the world, I should have done EVERYTHING I could.  Well.  Yeah, but.  How much is too much?  Can every dog be saved?  Should every dog be saved?  At what point is it passing along a problem?  If I had, and Colt bit someone, some KID in the face… could I live with THAT?

I made my decision.  It was not easy… far from it… it was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do.  I will stand by that decision, and sob when you lambast me for my actions.

Colt’s owner was at a loss of things to do, so she did what good owners do as a last resort.  She returned him to me, his breeder.  She talked of his Jekyll/Hyde personality.  How dog savvy people could feed him treats, being non-aggressive, and he would take them and without warning turn and bite the hand that he so gently had accepted a treat from.  She tried.  Now it was my turn.

Although unsure at first, Colt enjoyed being here.  He loved to run.  He loved wallowing in the mud!  I will never forget his joy in that mud puddle!  I never pushed him.  He entered his kennel willingly, was fed, had miles of exercise, minded his basic manners, came to love me and shadow me like all English Shepherds.  He met everyone on the place, though we kept the small grandkids a distance away from him.  Everyone had petted him.  Their comings and goings were routine.  I had begun to look for him a home.  I did not see the dog his owner had described to me.  I was looking for a home far from town, few visitors, just a job being a companion.

Then the day came.  Daniel had come up for something… working on some equipment… and Colt growled at him.  When he told me I was shocked.  Colt hadn’t growled at anyone before.  He was running loose but staying close to the yard and me… and I asked, “What were you doing?”  “Nothing.  Just got out of my pickup…”  Huh.  We both kind of shook our heads and wondered at the cause.

The next day, Daniel drove up again, coming into the house to see us.  Colt was outside the fence loose.  (I kept Lucas and Dally inside the fence, rotating as necessary.)  I happened to be looking out the window when I glimpsed Daniel tossing down a metal fence post and hurrying through the gate.  “Sheesh.  Your dog was going to EAT ME!”

“Really?”  I was shocked.  I really was.  There was never any indication Colt would act that way… even strangers, the UPS man, no one, ever got a reaction from Colt.

Daniel told me the story.  He got out of his pickup and Colt came at him.  Now Daniel has stood up to 2,000 pound bulls and he’s got the ultimate Dog Voice.  Taken aback at Colt’s actions, he nevertheless told him to GET BACK in his dog voice.  Low.  Throaty.  Demanding.  Colt stopped, turned, and headed towards his kennel.  Daniel said if he was thinking, he would have watched him go all the way, but instead he just turned and walked towards my house.  He heard Colt coming for him.  Up against my fence were some metal fence posts and Daniel grabbed one and fended him off.  Colt respected that!  Even after hearing Daniel’s story, I couldn’t quite believe it.  I mean, maybe he was just barking?  just defending the house?  just doing what my English Shepherds do when someone is coming to my house?  NO.

After visiting with Vernon, the three of us headed outside.  When Vernon opened the gate, Colt shot through it and he was going for Daniel.  Honestly, I have NEVER seen a dog go on the attack like that before.  He was going to EAT HIM.  Vernon and I stepped in between Colt and Daniel but Colt would circle around us, trying to get to Daniel.  It was ugly.  Here was the Jekyll/Hyde dog that his owner had talked about.  Snapping.  Snarling.  Purely vicious.  Daniel escaped through the gate and I stood alone with Colt.  He was calm.  The switch was turned off again.  The “ifs” started pelting my mind… what if we hadn’t been there, what if the fence posts weren’t there, what if it’d been one of my daughters-in-law with baby in arms and toddler alongside, what if it was a neighbor, what if???   That dog would have bit them and bit them badly.  There is no doubt in my mind, then or now.  I knew what I had to do.  I called and set up an appointment for late that afternoon.

I took Colt on a big long run… the thing he seemed to have enjoyed the most while at my house.  I drove and cried and tried to figure it out.  There was nothing that made sense to me.  I had given him the best life I could, and I could not see another step available to me.  Lock him up?  Find a dog behaviorist somewhere and pay gobs of money to figure him out, but it took a month before he “broke” here, how could I afford that?  Try to find that hidden spot where he wouldn’t ever have strangers or family visit??? I’m not sure that place exists!  And really, after seeing that attack, and it was an attack, I couldn’t live with myself if Colt injured someone.  I JUST COULDN’T.

When his run was over, I put the Rhino away and he jumped into the Durango, ready for another adventure.  It was hard to see the attack dog in his soft eyes.  He was tired and content and I drove him to town.

He’s buried out by my studio, down a ways from Elsa, his mother.  There are two spots reserved in between them, the spot where Lucas and Dally will someday rest and watch the sunsets.  I’d just as soon be there as well.  My heart will always carry a small piece of Colt, a reminder of the responsibility I take on as a breeder of English Shepherds.  I love this breed and believe in them.  What went “wrong” with Colt, we’ll never know.  All I can hope is that he is at peace.  That he forgives me.  That he did love being here for the short time that he was.

I long to know if I made the right decision, but I suppose I’ll never know until I meet him in heaven.  For heaven must be a place of fields and mountains and cold creeks, where dogs can run and play and wallow in mud puddles to their heart’s content.  I hope I’m there to feel the warmth and softness of a dog’s loving head under my hands… and I hope Colt is one of them… I hope that the hard stuff is behind us, and joy echoes through the valleys.



Hard Stuff — 43 Comments

  1. A tough decision, but the right one… for you and for him. We went through that some years ago… dog would be laying down, or hanging out, then start growling. Nothing visible. He did bite my mom (she was living alone) and we had to make the decision for her as she couldn’t bring herself to do it. We had a necropsy done… turned out he had a brain tumor. You never know. ..


  2. Carol, I can not imagine a harder situation to be dealt. It was the right thing to do. You would have never forgiven yourself if Colt had bitten one of your grandchildren. No one that knows you personally or through your blog would doubt your decision. I can imagine Colt is in dog heaven with my beloved Fenway.
    Lou Anne

  3. I agree with what you had to do. There was, unfortunately, something not right with Colt. You had to protect the humans and other animals.

  4. Carol, I cried all through your blog. Remembering the time we had to put a dog down. She had bitten one of the kids’ friends and would growl and act funny after that. I was holding her when the Vet gave her the shot and she looked up at me as much to say, “Thank you.” I’m so sorry for your loss, but am happy that you followed your instinct. Glad that Daniel is ok.

  5. Carol,

    I am so sorry you had to go through this but it was the right decision for everyone. You did the right thing.


  6. Colt was lucky to have you to love him enough to do what was best. We can never know what is in the heart and mind of an animal, but I suspect he knew on some level that what he was doing was not good, but couldn’t stop himself. I an so sad for you, but you did the right thing.

  7. Dear Carol, Condolences on your loss. Sometimes in life we must accept what is and decide how to deal with it. In putting Colt down you did the only responsible thing that could be done. From your description, the risk to others and yourself was not would it happen again but when would it happen again. Our animals give us so much joy it’s easy to forget that heartbreak is the other side of the coin. I think you were brave to do what had to be done and both brave and humble to share Colt’s story with us. You teach us. Thank you. I wish you peace.

  8. 4 years ago I had to make that same call. You made the right decision. Even after 4 years I hate what I had to do but humans are so much more important. Just think how you would feel if the dog would have hurt a child or anyone really. Please know you did the right thing even though it was so difficult. Prayers for you.

  9. Carol,
    I am so sorry. I cannot imagine what else could have been done for Colt. As difficult as it was to come to the decision you did, in my mind it was the best and kindest decision for Colt. Sometimes doing the right thing feels like crap too.
    Thank you for posting this–how hard it must have been.
    Take good care.

  10. Carol, This is a sad thing to happen but even as sad as it is there are things to be thankful for. Thank goodness it was Daniel that Colt attacked. Daniel is young, strong, able to move quickly and defend himself so he was not injured. When you think of the liability of keeping a pet that you know can be dangerous, you did what had to be done. Not only were people coming into your yard in danger, every “thing” that the family owned was on the line. Generations worth; past, present, and future. You also had the opportunity to spend that last afternoon with him and take him to the vet for the injection. In a lot of situations the incident would have ended with someone using a weapon right there in the yard and then you would have that trauma and mess to deal with and remember, too.

    I am sorry that Colt’s story ended this way. Everything said and done, though, the dogs have given you so much joy. This sadness will fade. Chin up. Bonnie

  11. No one who reads you regularly would ever question your love for your land, your family, your community, your friends and your animals. How heartbreaking that you were put in the position to make such a decision but, honestly, if someone had to do it, I am grateful it was you. You were loving and responsible to Colt — too many dog owners aren’t willing to make unselfish decisions on behalf of their four-legged charges. Sadly, some people are unwilling to take responsibility for a sick or damaged animal and would either let it continue to endanger others or try to pawn it off onto an unwitting new owner. You made a tough, mature and responsible decision. Yes, your heart will always hurt over the tragedy of Colt, but you can be assured of the support, compassion and understanding of those who care about you and care about animals. Bless you, Carol. May your aching heart be soothed.

  12. You have lots of friends above here understanding your plight! I am wondering: “what more could you have done?” I have a friend that recently had to have her darling dog put to sleep for the same reason. Anyone else coming in her door was vulnerable! Your story is written so beautifully, I hope you will include it in a book of your writings of events on the ranch! I certainly do want a copy! This morning I just told our “Pepper” (Shi-Tzu / Maltese) that we could not live without him.

    If you want to see one of my writings, check out today’s (Wed.) bottom of the Tribune editorial page. I am surprised they put it in!

  13. I have tears in my eyes for both you and Colt. It’s such a hard decision to make to euthanize a pet when they are sick, let alone when they are healthy. We just had to euthanize a dog at the vet clinic I work for who had been fine with his family but very aggressive towards anyone else. The owner did everything she could but he started to be aggressive towards even her. She even said how much harder this was than her other dogs because he wasn’t sick but as the dr. said, “he is sick. He’s mentally sick. It just doesn’t manifest in the same ways it did for your other dogs.” Know that you did the right thing. He was a liability and I’ve seen others who had dogs like that who wish they had done it sooner. He passed away knowing he was loved and cared for and like many others have said, now he’s free. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  14. Carol, I’m so sorry. I’ve also had a dog that had that attack switch. I tried a lot of things with him, but he just couldn’t ever be safe. I never knew what was going to set him off. It’s impossible to live with a dog like that. And I don’t even have small kids/grandkids to worry about. You made the right decision, you made Colt’s life as good as possible, you gave him one last wonderful day, and you made the right, the only possible, call. Stay strong.

  15. I too am reading this with tears in my eyes. Not for Colt, for you. I know this was heartbreaking for you. You did the right thing. Don’t beat yourself up over this. You are a responsible dog owner. This was one dog out of how many you have had over the years. You know there was something wrong with him. He’s better off. So will you be when you get over this.

  16. I just want to say that your blog means so much and for once we can help. I totally support what you had to do. Being a responsible dog owner/breeder comes with heart break and great rewards. I cried when I read your story but I really think it was the right thing. Every morning I start my day with your site, so I am sending healing thoughts to you from Wisconsin.

  17. Carol, I am so sorry that you had to go through this most difficult and heart-breaking decision about Colt. As others have commented, I know you did the right thing. And he is running free and happy and healed at the Rainbow Bridge.

    I, too, went through this with a yellow Lab who I had to put down when she was only two. She had bitten me badly three different times, each time getting closer to my face. No amount of professional help, training, nor behavior modification at Cornell U worked. On her last day, she jumped on my bed and had her mouth over my nose. She was not a safe dog to keep, nor a dog to send to a shelter for further adoption.

    You did the right thing for your family. Losing a pet, no matter how it happens, is not easy. You will feel better in time; and as one of your readers I send a hug.

  18. You most definitely did the right thing. I can only imagine how hard this must be. Thank you for your story and the reminder that as pet owners we have a responsibility not only to the animals we love but to the humans around us.

    Well written!

  19. What a shame you had to go through this, Carol, but kudos for not shirking the responsibility, for not turning a blind eye, and for doing what had to be done, even though is was so terribly hard.
    As animal owners and breeders we owe them… and you paid dearly.
    I hope writing it out here for us helped to lighten the weight.
    Kathryn Jane recently posted…Test postMy Profile

  20. I can’t imagine the pain and torment you have been through with Colt. And I can’t imagine any of our family here ridiculing your hard decision. I think most of us who come here daily love animals as much as you do and know the heartbreak of having to make tough decisions.

    You gave Colt a good chance, chemistry and events just can turn an animal or person into a wild beast. You can look at the human race and see the same thing. How do we create people that find killing other humans a pleasure? Dalhmer or Manson are prime examples. Something just breaks.

    I’m sending you hugs and well wishes today. I know it was a hard post to write.

  21. Loving our companion animals means the responsibility for their well being is ours. The decision you made was for Colt’s welfare, too. I think you saved him from himself….freed him from the side of himself that he probably could not understand, either. There is a Colt-sized hole in your heart. May a small part of it be filled by the sweet memories and contentment of knowing what you did was right.

    The Lord gives us these sweet animals for a short while here on earth. Colt’s life here was so much sweeter by having you in it.

  22. Oh Carol. To think that I was the one who had to ask specifically about Colt… To think that if I hadn’t, perhaps you wouldn’t have had to agonize over writing this post… A part of me is very sorry that I asked, but a bigger part of me is glad nevertheless, because I hope that the reaction from your readers may help put your mind a little bit more at ease, if only about us… For it is the reaction that I would have expected from people who come here, and I have nothing to add to what they have said. I agree wholeheartedly with the twelve comments I see before me. I, too, believe you did the right thing, and never would I have assumed that you could have taken this decision lightly, and I am so very sorry that you had to go through this process.

    I imagine Colt not only “forgiving” you but thanking you for setting him free rather than locking him up (like so many poor dogs that cannot be re-socialized and are condemned to live out their lives in our (strictly no-kill) shelters here).

    Yes, I hope that the hard stuff is behind you now, and that you find inner peace. Lucas, Dally and Eden (not to mention your family (and us!!)) need you to stop agonizing, and to be calm and balanced and, yes, joyful.

  23. I’ve had to put down several pets over the years. Cats, dogs, horses, but they were all sick and couldn’t get better. I did everything I could for them, but in the end I always had to let them go. But Thank God I’ve never had to put down a healthy animal and I can’t imagine how hard that would be. It was decision that had to be made and in my heart I think you made the right one.

  24. Thank you for your heartfelt post. For whatever it is worth, I think you did the right thing. As breeders of animals, we sometimes have to make hard HARD decisions, for our animals, for ourselves and for other people but that’s the duty that a responsible breeder takes on. You did what, in my mind, you had to do, not that my heart doesn’t ache for you and how difficult it must have been. I hope writing this post helped.
    Kris recently posted…rest dayMy Profile

  25. I have to agree with so many others. I’m so very sorry you had to go through that, and I’m 100% sure you made the best decision! You couldn’t just let it ride til someone got hurt. Again, I’m so sorry you had to go through the pain!

  26. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I am so sorry that you had to make this tough decision. And that you had to make the even tougher decision to tell us about it. You absolutely did do the right thing (on both counts). You had no other choice. It might sound cold to some, but sometimes animals can be flawed (as humans can be as well, but unfortunately we can’t put them out of our misery…of course I’m speaking of sociopaths…) and it may be that Colt had a mental or even a physical condition that caused his unpredictable behavior. Perhaps it was a certain smell or gesture. This made him dangerous and you could not take the chance that he would attack and injure someone. So chin up, and stick to your guns. I have a hard time believing that anyone who follows your blog and knows you would think that you did this out of meanness or out of anything but love.

    Now, because I believe a little levity is needed I will share with you a joke I got in an email today:

    Amy, a blonde Texas city girl, marries a Texas rancher.

    One morning, on his way out to check on the cows the rancher says to Amy, “The artificial insemination man is coming over to impregnate one of our cows today. I drove a nail into the two-by-four just above the cow’s stall in the barn. You show him where the cow is when he gets here, okay?”

    So the rancher leaves for the fields.

    After a while, the artificial insemination man arrives and knocks on the front door.

    Amy takes him down the barn. They walk along long row of cows and when she sees the nail, she tells him, “This is the one….. right here.”

    Terribly impressed by what he seemed to think just might be another ditzy blonde, the man asks, “Tell me little lady, how did you know this is the cow to be bred?”

    “That’s simple. By the nail over its stall,” Amy explains very confidently.
    Then the man asks, “What’s the nail for?”

    She turns to walk away, and with complete confidence, says, “I guess it’s to hang your pants on!”

  27. We’ve had rain for the last 24 hrs and I added to that with tears streaming down my face as I read your story about Colt. What a hard decision for you to make Carol. I totally agree with your concerns about little people being bitten. That has happened too often here in the UK. How lovely that you have a special place for him to rest and that amongst the bad memories there are many happy stories and photos. Run Colt, run in your new home.

  28. I’m so sorry you had to make this hard decision. As others have said, it was the right one. I had to put down a beautiful devoted ES this year who, much like Colt, was 90% wonderful and 10% dangerously crazy. It took me 6 months to steel myself to be able to do it and five months later I am still heartbroken there just was no other solution. You did the right thing. But I know knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.

  29. Am sorry you had to make two hard decisions- the first about Colt and the second that put your decision out to a world in which someone may not be able to fathom the first. I can fathom and I have known the difficulty of such a decision. The decision you had to make was done with love and compassion, not of hate and anger. Go easy on yourself; you answer to none of us.

  30. Oh my God, Carol, I am so sorry you had to deal with that Jekyl/Hyde dog. He was very dangerous and psychotic. You absolutely did the RIGHT thing– the only responsible, strong, courageous thing to do, for your family, other people who would come in contact with him in the future and for him also. He clearly had “a screw loose” and couldn’t help or control himself, so you so bravely needed to do it for him. You DID do the right thing, Carol. God Bless you for having the strength to do it.

  31. I hate you had to make this decision, but you made the right one. I made the same decision with a dig we had, but too late. He bit my daughter, not badly, but still, a bite to her face. I wish I had made the call earlier. Prayers and good thoughts for you.

  32. Carol I am so sorry it didn’t work out for Colt. I think you made the right decision for everyone, including Colt. I am sure that he was not a happy dog when that attack switch was flipped. Now he can be happy and run and play and I believe that all his problems went away when he went to heaven. You lovingingly stayed with him, right to the end, making sure he felt your love. You also gave him time to run and play one more time, something that must have been very painful for you, but out of love and kindness you did it anyway.

  33. Oh Carol. I can’t disagree with what you decided you had to do. I’m sure it was a horrible decision to make, but a decision that had to be made. We can’t always understand when there is a strange quirk in an animal, but there was and you did so much to try and give Colt so many chances so that he could be a good all-around pet. I’m very sorry that it didn’t work out. My deepest condolences to you. I believe you did the right thing.

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