I don’t remember when I started doing it, but at some point I realized that about once a year or so I would mentally go over the dogs I’ve had and loved throughout my life. There was Rex, a shepherd of some sort. He was so much bigger than me, though that wasn’t a great accomplishment on his part as I was only around 3 years old. There was Archie, a light-colored spotted puppy who was more my size. Pluto came next. I loved him as much as I could and I’ve never gotten over seeing him die when he was hit by a car. I was 5 then. I’m more than ten times that now and his face has never left me. Coco was next. That golden girl loved me and loved to play. When I was about 8 she jumped up on me, knocking me into a car bumper – face first – and I broke my two front teeth. The veneers in my mouth are there because of that day. She was a good girl. Then there was Pepper. That little pup had the shortest life. He was killed by a terrifying bulldog my father had brought home, a dog unfit to be around children. The morning he killed Pepper is a scar on my mind and my heart.
And then there’s The Kirb. After I last wrote about him, I suffered an intense attack while taking him out for a walk and it was the worst injury yet. But it wasn’t just physical. That terrifying attack left me filled with doubt and grief.
I’m trying to manage my fear and mistrust. And I’m doing a pretty good job. I’m being strong and firm in dealing with Kirby and I feel mostly comfortable with him. Mister is supportive and understanding, but he isn’t able to get his head around the biting incidents as he hasn’t witnessed any of them. All he sees is the good side of The Kirb.
And what a good side it is! He’s funny, playful, loving. He wants nothing more than to be where we are, by our sides. He loves anything that flies and wants to chase it with all his might. Birds, butterflies, light reflections, leaves on the wind, flashlights in the dark, bubbles – they’re all fair game and he fancies himself their hunter. More than once he has lain across my laptop, trying to get me to focus on him I suppose. If I’ve gone outside, he’s waited by the door for my return, be it a few seconds or fifteen minutes. When Mister has come in during the day to say hi, Kirby hasn’t hesitated to hit the floor in anticipation of belly rubs. He has, in short, become part of our family. And we have given our hearts to him.
At The Kirb’s last vet appointment, I asked about his go-to being aggression. The doctor said it may very well be related to his life pre-rescue. She then said it may very well be related to his personality. That stilled me.
It’s been rough with him lately. It’s also been wonderful. To say he’s in my heart is ridiculous, as of course he is. I love the little guy. I love his fluffy curls. The way he snores sometimes. How he snorts like a piggie when he’s getting at an itch. The way he chases butterflies and anything that flies really. His waggy tail. The fact that he likes blueberries and carrots. How he wants to be wherever I am in the house. There are so many things I adore about that pup. Truly.
But lately aggression seems to be his go-to when he isn’t happy, or when he’s startled, or anything else that isn’t ideal. And as I’m currently nursing some ugly injuries from his last challenging episode, I can honestly say he sometimes frightens me. And that ain’t good. He senses moods and emotions and it doesn’t benefit us when he thinks he’s got the upper hand, that he might be able to step in and be the alpha. Not cool.
I’m trying to focus on the good parts. On the things about him that I adore. On the happy-faced dog who has the cutest smile in the world. That’s good stuff. Those things make me happy. And I want him to feel happiness coming from me.
Yesterday afternoon, twenty-two days after the street attack, after an amazingly wonderful dog week – the kind of week that leaves you in joyful awe – Kirby bit Mister. It was the first time I wasn’t the one being bitten. When I saw it happening, it freaked me out. I think it triggered some sort of PTSD from when I was hurt last. Then last night, without warning, Kirby violently attacked me and Mister saw it. He finally saw how bad it could be in the moment. How truly terrifying this dog’s aggression is.
Mister’s wounds are on his hand and fortunately they’re not too bad. When Kirby lunged at me, he bit me on the breast (thank goodness for padded bras) and just before he came at me again, I was able to get my forearm up and he bit me there. That one hurt. The injuries will heal. Mister is on his first round of antibiotics and I’m on my fourth. But there is greater harm done. And that is to our well-being.
We fully opened our hearts to this dog. We are all in. We found a trainer who works with rescues and we committed to working on helping Kirby be better. But we can’t keep taking chances. Nor can we assume the next bite will be mild. I’ve said how lucky I’ve been to have not been bitten on my face or neck, but luck doesn’t last, does it?
I can’t help thinking what I would say to a friend who was going through this. My friends are squarely in the That-Dog-Must-Go Camp, with only one exception (and she’s iffy). I understand that, as I would likely counsel them in the exact same way. But they all seem to be missing a key element here, which is that I love the dog. I don’t think any of them can imagine their own dogs presenting such aggression, so they’re probably not able to empathize with the emotional complexities I’m feeling. Even if I were to point this out and specifically reference sweet Quinn or Moxie, they wouldn’t be able to see it, to envision their wonderful pups having such dangerous moments. I don’t blame them for that. Their dogs really are wonderful and I would never wish for anyone to experience the terror I’ve seen.
Kirby has so much fear inside him and it manifests horrifically. I will never understand where it comes from or what he went through in his life before us, how humans failed him in the worst possible ways – abuse and neglect. (And don’t get me started on how a person can abuse a dog in the first place.) But now Kirby must be dealt with as he is. And I am clueless as to how to go about that.
Today we got help in the form of a behaviorist who is familiar with Kirby. After working with us for several hours he took The Kirb away to doggie boot camp, where he will stay for a while. The house was immediately empty without him.
The rescue has been aware of what we’ve been going through and understand our trying to decide what to do with the situation. Do we keep going or do we ask them to re-home Kirby? Mister says he’s leaving it up to me, as I’m the primary caregiver and the person who’s suffered the most (from injuries). But he also says he hopes I’ll choose to keep The Kirb around. Honestly – it doesn’t help me when he says this. I don’t believe he’s trying to put pressure on me, but I end up feeling that. I’m so conflicted. My heart is devastated and wants to save this dog. My brain is quite certain I should remove danger from the vicinity of my person. It’s a lot.
It doesn’t help that I’ve not had much sleep over the last few nights. Add that to feeling emotionally drained and you’ve got yourself a sloppy version of me. I feel… I feel on edge, anxious, tired. Most unsettling I suppose is the feeling of being so very out of touch with myself. As if my skin belongs to another.
17 December 2021
Kirby. There are a laundry list of things I like about him. LIKE! And I do love him already. There is only one thing on the con list and it’s too big: Biting/Attacking. How the fuck have I gone my entire life without being bitten by a dog, only to now find I’ve suffered 4 separate incidents? It’s crazy that I have seven (7!) new scars on my body.
Turns out he’s skittish. Nervous. Fearful. Probably never socialized correctly, if at all. And I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s probably a full-time training job and even if I was willing to take on that employment, how would I go about it? Would it work?
It’s Friday and he’s been gone since Monday. My daily crying jags have lessened but are still in the mix. I miss him. I actually miss him. I miss walking him, feeding him, caring for him. I do not miss being on edge, frightened of what he might do. The longer he’s gone… I want to be honest with myself about this. The longer he’s gone, the easier it is to imagine he won’t be coming back. It still hurts. I suppose it will ache for some time. But I’d like to get past the nightmares. The fear. I can take heartache. I really can. I don’t like it, but it’s something my soul can bear. Constant fear is another matter. That actually harms my overall health. It dims my light, shrinks my soul. And I don’t want to dim me. I don’t want to hold me back from being bigger than my body. I don’t want to feel out of touch with my wings, even if no one can see them. The heaviness of the recent trauma has left me lower than low. And I do indeed feel detached from me. Not good. Not good at all.
It’s Friday night and Mister will be out of the office in a while, maybe until the New Year. He will probably want to celebrate, to kick off his vacation. I get it. I support it. It’s just challenging to pretend I’m in a place to enjoy that. Oh, Kirby. How I wish you could surrender to Love. I know you can’t. I don’t blame you for that. I just love you. God help me – I always will.
20 December 2021
Today Mister and I had a solo session with the new trainer. The point was to get her input on the Kirby situation. To find out if he could be rehabilitated through some sort of training other than the behaviorist’s protocols. And honestly, I think I just needed permission to walk away, to let him go, to choose a path without him. She gave me the path. The validation.
It sucks. I really do love the best parts of him. So much. I just don’t think I’ve got it in me to love him through the dark parts. His past is too big. And I desperately wish I could give him a way through. But I really am ill-equipped.
There’s a part of me that feels selfish. Like I’m wussing out, abandoning Kirby. As if I’ve failed him. That side of me is the part that feels guilt over the situation.
There’s another part of me that’s trying to find the lesson in all this. What did Kirby come into my life to teach me? I’ve wondered if it wasn’t to stop martyring myself to the point of physical damage. If maybe it wasn’t to rein in my ego and see that I’m not the only one who can save a soul. And dear lord – I cannot continue to be injured. I truly believe that if we were to keep him, I would be bitten again. And probably again after that.
21 December 2021
I find myself sighing a lot lately. Mostly to release the sadness that builds up like steam inside my soul. If I don’t sigh, it might become dangerous and cause my very being to rupture. That’s more of a scar than I can bear I’m afraid.
The vet’s office called today and the person on the line was so amazingly beautiful, I don’t quite know what to think. She spoke kindly to me about Kirby and his issues, assuring me that we are doing all we can. She supported our (possible) decision to seek re-homing for him and said I can reach out to them any time I want, regardless of whether or not Kirby is still in our home. Some people remind you of just how lovely humans can be – it’s astounding. Almost holy even. Wow.
Otherwise, I’m trying to hang in there and to move through my grief at having to let go of this dog. I have no idea how long it will take. And maybe I will always carry a heart scar for having loved him so. That’s okay. It really is. I would rather be a person who can love deeply than someone who cannot. Great risk? Yes. Great reward? Absolutely.
22 December 2021
Okay. So I’m going to pick up Kirby to take him to his vet appointment later today. My brain is already messing with me, asking me if I can keep him, if I can actually rehabilitate him. Technically – I suppose I can. Practically – not so much. So I’ve been telling myself I have to let him go. I do. I have to let him go. Right?
It’s been 2 weeks since the behaviorist took Kirby to work on him. I’ve seen him twice, when I picked him up for pre-existing vet appointments. Each time wrecked me. I was so happy to have him near (if only in the car). I was also very afraid he might bite.
For the second vet appointment, I tried talking to him, to tell him all the things I appreciate about him. He was very quiet in his crate, just lying and listening. He was so good. The folks at the vet’s office told me how wonderful he was and that he simply wanted to be near them. That’s his way. He’s a little lover. When the appointment was done and I drove him back to the behaviorist’s, Kirby looked up at me with those beautiful eyes. Not doing anything, not whining, not begging. He just sat and looked at me. When it was time for me to drive away, the behaviorist was trying to take him for a walk. But Kirby wouldn’t budge. I heard the guy say, “You wanna watch until she’s gone?” And that’s just what Kirby did. He watched me drive away. I yelled out the window, “See you later, alligator!” I looked at him one last time and turned down the street, sobbing out loud in the car all the way home. It was the last time I saw The Kirb.
This morning we told the rescue that we need them to take him back. The lovely lady there made it as easy as she could for us, but there is only so much comfort anyone can give. I have cried for so long I don’t remember a time when my eyes weren’t achy. And I know I’m nowhere near finished. This grief is going to last.
That’s the risk of loving, right? One can either close off the heart, never take a chance and never experience the fulness of caring or one can bare one’s soul, aware that it can be scraped and cut to the core, all in the hope of drowning in Love. It’s tricky. I get why some choose to remain closed off.
And yet I am so grateful to have chosen risk. I’m so grateful to have had a brief love affair with a 15-pound fur ball. I know I’ll never forget him, that I’ll always love him. I just know.
Someday I hope to see him again. With Pluto and Pepper, chasing butterflies and wagging his tail. I think they’ll be great friends. And I think they’ll be as happy as they could ever be. Through tear-laden eyes, I can almost see them. And they’re just glorious.
I am no longer crying every day. Only here and there. Some nights I wake up with tears on my cheeks, from a dream about The Kirb. I think about him less, but he’s still prancing around in my mind, ready for a walk or to play. Thinking of him this way is good. These thoughts have almost entirely replaced the fearful memories. I needed that to happen. I do still need to heal the injured parts of myself. The hurt runs deep.
I reached out to the rescue a few times, trying to keep in touch I suppose. Trying to assure myself that Kirby is okay. That he’s going to be okay. But they pulled back from my queries, which is probably for the best. Now I don’t reach out at all. Once in a while I catch myself worrying about him, but I try to stop myself from spiraling. I try to remember that we are not the only path to salvation for that dog. That he may find someone better equipped to deal with his issues, to retrain him, to love him through it. God how I hope he finds that person.
After Kirby left us, Mister gathered his belongings – his crate, dog bed, toys – and put them away in the garage. It was too much to see them every day, for both of us. And I thought those items would gather dust out there for a long time. But I was wrong.
A friend reached out and asked if we would be willing to foster a dog for two weeks, to “see what it’s supposed to be like.” We were more than hesitant. I told Mister I thought it was a good idea, that I needed to work on my heartache and that helping another dog might enable that. He wasn’t so sure, but he relented. After that pup had been with us one day, Mister said, “You know, in the depth of summer we’re going to have to figure out a walking schedule that protects him from the heat.” I reminded him that we had signed up for two weeks only. He looked at me as if I’d grown a third ear from my forehead and said, “Yeah, but this is our dog!”
Charlie’s adoption has now been finalized and he has officially joined our little family. He has no idea what came before him, how we’ve been broken. He only knows that this is his home now. That he gets regular walks and runs, belly rubs and play time. He isn’t Kirby. And that’s okay. Being Charlie is enough. As I type, he is asleep beside me, dreaming and making funny little noises. I’m not the least bit afraid of him. And it is good.