Today we had to put Pepper to sleep.
As long time followers might know, being Pepper’s owners has been a battle. We weren’t really supposed to be her people. She belonged to my husband’s father and when they moved they asked us to keep her for a while as they got settled in. Then when the time came they refused to take her back and told us that if we didn’t want her to just take her to the pound.
In my life I will never understand this kind of attitude towards pet ownership. My animals are part of my family. I could no sooner just casually get rid of one than I could get rid of my left foot. Taking on a pet is to take on a responsibility for life.
So at any rate we became a three dog family. This came with it’s own trials. Pepper had some minor aggression towards the other dogs that we were mostly able to train out. We don’t hit our animals. Usually when pepper would act aggressive towards one of the other dogs she would get put outside immediately. This was a punishment for her because she hated being outside and she seemed to pretty quickly get the picture.
Then when I got pregnant, things started getting bad again and her aggression and nervousness started coming to the surface. We consulted the vet and he put her on a prescription for prozac, which seemed to calm most of the problem down.
After Charlie came things were okay, but there were a few instances of Pepper growling at Charlie that made me uncomfortable, so we made it a rule that Charlie and Pepper were never to be in the same space together without Charlie being in the arms of an adult. Even so, once or twice Charlie would slip through our fingers, especially as she started walking.
A few weeks ago Pepper’s nervousness and anxiety seemed to be at an all time high. She would just shake all the time. The vet agreed to switch her meds but warned me that he was concerned she might be becoming unbalanced and that switching her meds might not work. At the time I was still hopeful that we could find a way to help Pepper through this and at no point had the thought of things getting worse come into my head.
Yesterday the Captain came over to watch Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life with me. We put Bubba and Bonnie out on the porch because they wouldn’t settle down with having company over but kept Pepper in because she was sleeping peacefully. Around 2:30 or 3:00 Chief came downstairs with Charlie after her nap to get her a snack and put her in the living room with us while he was getting it ready. She of course immediately toddled over to Pepper and I kept my hands on her and told her to be gentle. She petted her once and then walked around to where the Captain was sitting. This is when Pepper snapped at Charlie. She didn’t bite her but she did snap at her, simply for standing about a foot away.
I got up to put her outside with the other two dogs. This is when she attacked Bonnie. And not just a little scuffle-a full blown attack where she latched on to Bonnie’s ear and started shaking her head like Bonnie was a rag doll as opposed to a 60 pound basset mix. I started to call for Chief while Charlie started to cry and the Captain looked on in horror. Chief grabbed a pillow and literally had to beat Pepper off of Bonnie, who was now bleeding with a large puncture wound in her ear cartilage.
We immediately isolated Pepper and examined Bonnie. The wound was bad enough that I called the vet and they asked us to bring her in. He glued her ear back together and we found three or four other gashes on Bonnie’s face and in her mouth from the fight.
At this point the vet voiced what Chief and I had been afraid of in the car on the way over: Pepper had become a danger to other people and animals and he was recommending we put her to sleep. We knew he was right, but we left feeling brokenhearted about it. We scheduled it for 10:00 am this morning.
I cried all the way home from the vet. I cried after the Captain left that night (she had graciously stayed at our house with the baby so we wouldn’t be juggling her and a bleeding dog at the vet). I cried when I came home and looked at Pepper knowing that she can’t control how she is. I cried at how unfair it is. I railed against Chief’s parents for putting me in this position in the first place and then we went to bed and slept terribly.
This morning I woke up with a lump of dread in my throat. I felt grateful for Mother’s Day Out where we dropped Charlie off before we went back home to get Pepper and head to the vet. I walked in the vet’s office where all the staff know me so well with tears already starting to fall. Everyone was so sweet and kind and they got us back into a room immediately. The vet came in and talked to us about how he would sedate her as if for surgery first and then he would give her the barbituate that would stop her heart. He assured us that she wouldn’t know a thing was happening. She would just drift off to sleep and then not wake up.
He injected her with the sedative and left the room and I sat on the floor with her in my arms as she fell asleep, the whole time telling her that she was a good dog and that this wasn’t her fault, and that I was sorry we couldn’t do better by her. After five minutes the vet came back in and checked to make sure that she was truly out of it by manipulating her jaw. Then he went out and returned with the barbituate. Before he injected her he told me that he had taken her chart home and looked it over and felt that we had done everything that could be expected, if not more. He said that he knows the environment of our house is loving and that this is truly just Pepper’s genetics at war with the world around her. I thanked him through the sobs I was trying to control as he injected her with the drug that would end her life. He and my favorite vet tech stayed with us, all of us with a hand on some part of Pepper as she took her last breath. After she left I fell over her body and sobbed and told her I was so sorry and that she was a good dog, and that things would be easier for her now that she isn’t so scared and anxious all the time.
Everyone is telling me I did the right thing for everyone-including Pepper, but it was hard to feel that way when I walked out of the clinic clutching her harness and leash to my chest as the people with their living and breathing pets tried not to look at me, probably thinking that I had just said goodbye to an old dog that had lived a full life. I’m not sure I’ll ever truly move past this guilt.
I know the pain will fade, but the guilt I’m just not so sure about.