Oh, how naive I was when I first saw those big puppy eyes.
The lady that had him in the pet smart shopping cart said she had seen him thrown out of a car in her neighborhood. She wanted to check for a microchip. We checked and located the microchip and were able to get ahold of the previous owner; that was very clear they rehomed him and wanted nothing to do with him. I had been wanting a dog and loved the idea of having a younger puppy to raise. Little did I know that Starks's trauma ran more profound than my previous traumas.
Stark had marks on his teeth where it looked like he had tried to chew out of the kennel for hours. That first day I got Stark and was so excited to become a pet parent. I went to put him in the kennel, and he bit me and ran off to hide in the corner. I was trying to accept that this was my dog now, and I needed to learn how to help him. Stark and I attended Petsmart training and started my journey to teach Stark how to be a dog. He didn't know how to walk on a leash, basic manners, and he had a lot of triggers. I even went so far as to get him a plastic crate, and it took me four weeks to get him to go into the crate on his own. Stark had endured a lot of abuse and neglect. Anything you took away, he tried to bite, or did bite and consistently broke the skin, but never deep. Stark loved to cuddle once he trusted you but still had so much to learn. In a year and a half, I had gotten him to an okay place and progressed the longer he was with me but the protective he became of me.
Starks had quite the record with a few people and dogs in his bite history. Stark had returned from intensive training, and we went on a family camping trip shortly after. Stark was tethered near my tent for most of the time and had never had problems previously with kids. Stark's triggers were men and dogs on leash and resource guarding. He had once always loved my nieces and nephews. That day I went to tell my two-year-old niece not to do something. Because I had corrected her, I assume Stark thought she was a threat or needed to protect me. Stark jumped on my niece and had bitten down on the back of her neck. My sisters and I were close that we were able to jump into action without severe damage. I had to pry with all my strength to get Starks jaws off of my niece. Once I finally got him to release and as my sisters were scooping my niece up. Stark tried to attack her again.
I had talked to many vets about Starks's behavior, and I had done a lot of training and tried so hard to keep him alive. I could not accept Starks's fate, being locked in a house for the next 10+ years. Being locked away and drugged wasn't how I pictured my first dog. Let alone the quality of life for a dog to live in such a high alert state. I made the hardest decision ever to euthanize my best friend.
Stark and I went through some tough times. I truly believe whatever trauma happened in his past life was too horrific for him to overcome. It's been five years, and I can say for sure it gets easier, but there isn't a day that goes by that wishes it could have ended differently.
Stark taught me more about being a dog owner than any dog could have in such little time. I loved that snuggle bug, but I now see how everything that happened led me here. Not every dog was born equal, and all we can do is release them from constant fear and anxiety. After Starks passing, I left being a veterinarian assistant and pursued a dog training career. I am in the second year of owning my own dog training business and have helped support owners with behavioral problems. I owe it all to Stark and can't believe I've held this story in for five years.
Unfortunately, many will read this in judgment, and many people have never made that devastating decision. I am sure some would disagree with my choice. When I made that hard decision, I had to look at the other side of the coin. What If he did bite and severely injured a kid or person. As bad as that is, what if that led that child to hate dogs and not adopt or get a dog later in life.
Every choice we make in life comes with positive and consequences. I hope that Stark understands how much I loved him and why I made the decision I did. If you are reading this and are in a similar situation, reach out for help or look up the Facebook group "Losing Lulu." Just know you are not alone—the tremendous amount of guilt that comes with a decision like this. You will always wish there was more that you could do. You will also feel a sigh of relief like exiting a relationship with an abusive partner. Then more guilt hits you like an unexpected wave. The comfort when you realize you do not have to walk on eggshells anymore. Then the enormous amount of responsibility for feeling relieved that no one brings up in conversation.
Regardless of why you are reading this, you are not alone, and others suffer in silence. The amount of guilt can make you mute for years. When asked "how I became a trainer," I usually said it was my dog, Zena, and tried to avoid the convo. I told you no more censorship, and this story needs to be informed, and people need to know that some dogs can not be 'fixed' no matter how hard we try.
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