I took my final picture with Rufus on Saturday. He’s 75 pounds – so not exactly a lap dog – but he let me pick him up so we could hang out like this for a while.
It was our last picture because on Saturday, I made the heartbreaking decision to return Rufus to the rescue that I had adopted him from. Between this and saying goodbye to Slimmons, Saturday was an awfully rough day. One of the worst.
Here’s why I had to say goodbye to Rufus: There have been two incidents, in the two months since I first brought Rufus home, where Rufus has bitten and drawn blood. First, two weeks after he came home with me, he bit a friend, in my living room. I’m not going to rehash the specifics (so don’t ask), but he was uncomfortable, and bit out in fear.
I sprung into action immediately. I started making calls that night, and 48 hours later, I had consulted with five trainers and behavioral experts over the phone, and scheduled appointments with two of them to come out and meet with me and Rufus. I continued working with one of them, Beth, a seasoned pro: she used to train guide dogs for the blind, and now runs a program that teaches people how to train dogs.
Beth was an enormous help. She gave me a routine to use with Rufus, a way to introduce him to new people that came over, that would prevent an incident like the one with my friend from happening again. She also gave me a long-term training program that would slowly build Rufus’ confidence as well as our bond, and teach him to defer to me, because deference is the ultimate goal. Rufus needed to look to me for cues on how to behave when confronted with new or unfamiliar people, things, and situations, instead of lashing out on his own.
I made a big commitment to working with Rufus. I spent 30-60 minutes training him every day, always with positive reinforcement and piles of treats. I practiced introducing him to guests, and it went well. Rufus is a smart boy, and he learned quickly. He was making good progress. We made a good team.
I started taking Rufus to the dog park, once or twice a week. He loved it there, and ran around like crazy, meeting other dogs, sniffing lots of butts. He was curious and playful and wonderfully social with other dogs, and it was always positive. No aggression, no apprehension, no insecurity. The biggest problem was that with all the doggie distractions, Rufus would ignore me. He wouldn’t come when I called. So I called Beth and arranged a session where we met at the dog park. She watched Rufus in action, and gave me steps on how to work with him, which I immediately started using.
Our last visit to the dog park was on Friday evening. Rufus was doing his thing, running around, happy as could be, his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. Then I saw another dog provoke Rufus. It would get nose-to-nose with Rufus, challenging him, and when Rufus stepped away, it would follow, and get right back in his face. It wasn’t backing down. Then, in a split second, Rufus snapped, and responded. A fight began. The dogs reared up on their hind legs, then pulled each other back down to the ground. The other dog may have instigated it, but Rufus fought harder. I had to physically pry him off the other dog. The other dog drew blood: Rufus was bleeding from a cut on his lip, but it wasn’t bad, and didn’t require medical attention. But Rufus sent the other dog to the emergency veterinary hospital, where it required surgery, and I offered, and ended up paying, the nearly $800 bill.
My stomach was in knots over seeing Rufus behave like that. I didn’t sleep much that night, and on Saturday morning, I knew I couldn’t keep Rufus any longer. What was confirmed at the dog park was that despite the work, the attention, the training, and my commitment to him, there will always be things that trigger Rufus. He had been a stray, and the first two years of his life are a mystery, and I’m never going to know what he’s been through, and what those triggers are.
I’d like to think that, with time and a lot of hard work, I could help Rufus overcome his issues. But the truth is that I can’t give him any more time, because when he’s triggered, he turns violent and dangerous, and he stops listening to me. I’ve now witnessed two unacceptable incidents, and I can’t let any more happen on my watch. I can’t keep a dog that I can’t trust around other people or dogs. I can’t isolate him – or myself – from my friends and loved ones, many of whom are understandably afraid of him. I can’t give him the home he needs, and that is the absolute worst feeling in the world.
On Saturday, less than 24 hours after the incident at the dog park, I returned Rufus to the rescue. I had to say, in the lobby, that I was returning a dog, and all I felt was shame as a room full of strangers stared at me. Rufus was writhing with excitement – he could hear the other dogs nearby – and he didn’t look back when a staffer slipped a lead around his neck and took him from me for the last time, a brown brindle blur disappearing through the doors and forever out of my life. I couldn’t fill out the paperwork at first because I was crying so hard.
The rescue is no-kill, so Rufus is not going to be put down. They’re going to take good care of him and find him a home that’s better suited for him. Beth works a lot with this rescue, and knows the staff there very well, and said she’ll keep me posted on where he ends up.
Meanwhile, I’ve been continually fighting the feeling that I failed Rufus, and failed myself. I know it’s not true, but that’s the sinking feeling that comes back, again and again. I know I should be proud for giving Rufus a second chance, and providing him a great home. Beth told me she very rarely sees people as committed and focused on training a dog as I was with Rufus, and that’s something else to be proud of. I really did everything I could for Rufus, and while I’m devastated it wasn’t enough, I know this outcome is what’s best for both of us.
I’m sorry that no one really got to see the Rufus that I so quickly fell in love with. He was a sweetheart when it was just he and I. He followed me from room to room, plopped down at my feet, and loved chest rubs and playing tug-o-war. I never once feared for my safety around Rufus. He was my boy, and I was his dad.
Pair this turn of events with the experience I had with Maude, earlier this year, and man oh man, I’ve experienced every shitty dog ownership outcome there is, in less than a year. (Maude was the very first dog I adopted, and I had to put her down four months later, due to renal failure.)
My experience with Rufus (and my experience with Maude) will only make me a better dog owner when it comes time to adopt again. And I will adopt again, when I’m ready. I’ll keep trying. I have a great home and a lot of love to give a doggie companion, and I know that for a fact.
Keep it up, David.
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