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How being a pet owner changes when you have kids.

I have this dog. Samson. He’s a tiny toy poodle, about 7 pounds, with reddish-blonde hair. I got him when I was 21, after scouring the newspaper for weeks for teacup poodles and finally finding him. I wasn’t the first person to call about him, though, and the other person paid for him and took him home, but brought him back to the breeder when he cried all night. This one-day-owner told the breeder that Charlie, as he was then named, was so small they were worried that if they got mad at him they would hurt him. The breeder gladly took him back and called me to see if I wanted to come look at Charlie. I fell in love right away and took him home right then, renaming him Samson — as big of a name as I could think of for this little teeny dog.

I don’t even know when Samson started being aggressive. He wasn’t too fond of my first boyfriend, Riley, and in fact I considered giving him to a Poodle rescue group at that time. But I loved Samson too much, so kept him despite the few issues that it caused in our relationship.

At some point, I realized we had a problem when Samson would attack other dogs without provocation. I spent $1500 for a trainer to work on behavior modification. When I went to pick Samson up, he said, “He’s a little shit, isn’t he?” The point is not that the guy didn’t know what he was doing; he did. The point was that Samson has issues that can be curtailed with training, but probably won’t go away.

When Dave and I got married, Samson was still sleeping with me, and he liked to burrow under the covers. He bit both of our toes a couple of times, mistaking the movement for what, I don’t know, but drawing blood on each of us. I finally taught Samson to sleep in his crate, where he now prefers to spend the night.

Throughout this whole time, I’m spending thousands of dollars on Samson as we try to find out why this poodle is starting to look like a hairless Chihuahua. This dog…I’m telling you, he’s on his way to winning the ugliest dog contest. He hair is thin, at best. His skin is covered in liver spots, and his breath smells like shit because he eats, well, shit. Sometimes while it’s still steaming.

A little less than a year ago, a friend came over with her baby and 2-year-old daughter. I knew to keep Samson away, so I put him in our room while we hung out in the living room. We all left to let the 2-year-old play at the park, and when we came back, my friend was rounding up her stuff so she could leave. I didn’t bother putting Samson back in our room because my friend was leaving, but sure enough, he bit the 2-year-old. He bit her on the hand because she was reaching for something he wanted. He barely broke the skin, but I took Samson to the vet two days later to have him euthanized. I can’t have a dog around that bites children! The vet talked me out of it, saying that Samson “wasn’t committed to the bite.” She tried to provoke a bite while we were at her office, but of course he played the nice submissive dog.

Samson has snapped at Ethan three times now, leaving a scratch on Ethan’s hand twice. I know, it’s not a real bite, but does it matter? Does it matter that Samson isn’t “committed to the bite”? Do I keep Samson until he does some real damage?

When I found out I was pregnant, I called a poodle rescue organization, but given Samson’s age, health problems, and behavior issues, the woman didn’t think he could be re-homed.

I’ve become really good at keeping Samson away from Ethan. I know what Samson’s triggers are, so oftentimes I’ll put Samson in our bedroom if Ethan is playing on the floor or cruising around. Samson loves hanging out in our bedroom — everything smells like me and Dave and he can sleep on the bed without being bothered by anyone.

Someone recently posted this on Facebook:

I get it! I’ve got this dog for the long haul. I think that I’ve done everything I can for this dog, with this dog, and to this dog, but I’m at the end of my rope. I’m not going to risk a child’s well being with a dog that’s unpredictable.

The third snap at Ethan happened today. I called up Samson’s new vet to discuss our options. It’s so frustrating because the vet doesn’t want to put down a healthy dog, but neither do I! I’ve done the behavior modification. I’ve tried to keep any of Samson’s triggers out of the way, but I can’t police Samson 100% of the time. Today was a perfect example of how I can turn my back for just a second and somehow there’s a trigger and Samson’s snapping at Ethan.

The vet agreed to try to rehome Samson. Not only do I have guilt for needing to find Samson a new home, but now I have guilt that I’m feeling relieved. Relieved that I can let down my guard. Relieved that the problem might be solved. Relieved that the problem won’t be mine anymore.

I get it. I’ve failed my forever dog. But I promise that some day I’ll pay it forward and rescue a dog from a shelter, and that dog can be my forever dog.

44 comments »

44 Responses to “How being a pet owner changes when you have kids.”

  1. Kailana ()

    I am so sorry that your dog didn’t work out. It is a really tough situation to find yourself in, but obviously your child’s safety is the important part. I hope one day you really can find your ‘forever dog’.

    [Reply]

  2. Pam ()

    We had these issues with Jackie. We had the same thoughts. We have never taken her to class but I am pretty strict. She bit Elijah maybe 3 times, not committing as you said. I had to watch constantly, and I did the same with Jackie kept her in my bedroom. At some point when Elijah was around two something changed and she decided he was worth it. They haven’t had any more HUGE trouble. I still have to watch during ball play and I can never leave him alone. Jackie, however, was only two when Elijah was born. This is probably one of the hardest decisions you will make. (hugs)

    [Reply]

  3. Ti ()

    Oh, Trish. Such a difficult position to be in, but you’ve tried everything. I think trying to find him a home is the best bet right now. You have to protect Ethan of course, but even the guests in your home are at risk right now. You never know, he might be better in a house with just one owner.

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  4. Wendy ()

    I’m sorry you find yourself in this difficult position! The way I see it, the poster is just encouraging you not to get a dog on a whim – which you didn’t! Even marriages sometimes end in divorce! I hope things work out finding Samson a new home, but no mom should need to apologize for putting her child’s safety first!

    [Reply]

  5. Marci ()

    Trish, what an awful decision to have to make. I don’t think that that person was being very fair to you or the. situation. Personally, in my opinion, you have tried everything in your power. Maybe the dog doesn’t like children, who knoqs.

    Please don’t feel guilty or bad for your decision. You have done everything humanly possible and spent a large enough chunk of money doing everything you can to make him a part of your home. it is time to find a new home for him, and for you ti finally stop being on high alert all rhe time.

    Don’t feel guilty! If you neec to vent/ talk I’m here if you need me.

    [Reply]

  6. Carrie K. ()

    I know how hard this decision was, and while I love our cat, Sam, if it ever came down to a choice between having him and the safety of one of my children – it would be an obvious choice. Not an easy one, but the best one – and I truly believe you’ve made the best decision for your family. I pray you can come to peace about it.

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  7. Mandy ()

    Trish, I am so sorry you are going through this. It is a tough decision to make and it’s clear that you’ve given it a lot of thought. Try not to feel down on yourself for doing what’s best for your little one. *hugs from Biloxi*

    [Reply]

  8. Lesley

    Ethan comes first. Period. Priorities change when you have a kid. You have done everything you can for Samson, but if it’s not safe for Ethan, it doesn’t matter. No guilt!

    [Reply]

  9. Lenore Appelhans ()

    Oh poor Samson! He’s just not adaptable to change is he? I hope for the best :(

    [Reply]

  10. Heather ()

    I am so sorry you have to go through this. Four years ago I had to have one of my cats put to sleep because he became so aggressive that he was picking real fights with my other cat (and try had been best friends), and he even started coming after me. I couldn’t, in good conscience, give him up to be adopted by someone else knowing how mean he had suddenly gotten. He was the best cat with the best personality before the meanness started, too. I was devastated. *hugs*

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  11. zibilee ()

    I can understand your dilemma exactly. We have a dog named Mango who is very old, and I’ll just call him crotchety. He did in fact bite a child I was caring for a few years ago, and I was just so upset. The bite was on the hand, and it bled and bled. He was my husband’s dog before I married him, and my husband kept saying that the bite happened because he was provoked. I didn’t believe that, but ok. Now he bites everyone. His eyesight is poor, and if someone comes at him too fast, he snaps and bites. He has bitten me several times, and I just have to let it go because he is old. But here’s the thing: his bites are deep, and he draws blood. My kids are older, and know to stay out of his way, but if I had babies in the house, or if I was still watching kids in my home, he would have to go. He has other problems as well, but the biting thing is so frustrating for me. Don’t feel bad about protecting your son and giving the dog up. It’s your job as a mom to look out for your son, and the dog isn’t changing or getting better. You have done all you can. Please, don’t think that you are a bad person for giving up the dog. You can’t be on alert mode all the time, and if the situation isn’t handled, it could be really dangerous one day.

    [Reply]

  12. Amanda ()

    You know, you’re forever a parent, too, but if your teenager is doing drugs, you’ll want him to go to rehab, and if he’s committed a crime, you should tell the police. It sucks, but you have to be responsible to yourself and the people around you as well. I think you’re making the right decision. Don’t let the guilt weigh on you – you did everything you could. You did more than most people would have done.

    [Reply]

  13. Meg ()

    Oh goodness — what a tough thing. But I agree with Amanda: try not to let guilt weigh on you. You’ve provided a great home for Samson and your priorities have changed. Your responsibility is keeping Ethan safe, and I can absolutely see how that stress about Samson’s behavior would weigh heavily on you.

    A friend of mine is pregnant and due in June, and they’re struggling to figure out how they will keep up with their new baby and a 2-year-old Rottweiler mix who needs constant attention and care. He’s run away several times, gets in endless trouble and basically needs full-time care. They don’t know how he’s going to act around the baby, and I know they’re really stressed about it. These things are just tough — you’re not alone.

    [Reply]

  14. Beth F ()

    Oh no. I know it’s not very helpful, but truly you did everything you could have and for years. You spent money you didn’t have, you tried and trained and loved. Your first priority has to be Ethan. I’m so sorry.

    [Reply]

  15. Lisa Munley ()

    Aw, Trish. I don’t have anything to add (I think Amanda said it best when she said “you’re a forever parent, too”). What more can you do? Your first priority has to be Ethan and his safety. I’m sorry you have to go through this {hugs}.

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  16. Swapna ()

    Oh poor Trish. I’m so, so sorry. Part of the reason that I’ve never had an animal as an adult is because I have trouble committing to the “forever” part – like you, I would place my baby’s safety over keeping an unpredictable dog in my house. You’ve really gone above and beyond trying to fit Samson into your family. I know you feel guilty, but you shouldn’t. HUGS.

    [Reply]

  17. Kelly

    Replace “7lb poodle” with “70lb German Shepherd” or “70lb Lab” and then think about whether or not you’ve done all you can to make things work. People tend to give small dogs a LOT of leeway on biting because they are small and cute and can’t cause “too much” damage (a point I would hotly contest). It sounds like you have truly gone the distance in trying to correct and manage Samson’s bad behavior. It doesn’t make this decision easy though. My thoughts are with you.

    (For what it’s worth, I’m the vet coordinator for a dog rescue, have 3 dogs of my own [small and large] and have an 18 month old son.)

    [Reply]

  18. Frances ()

    Trish, my heart goes out to you. I adopted a Bichon-Poodle about six years ago and he was problematic from the very beginning. I,too, spent thousands of dollars on training and later on medical care and eventually had to euthanize him. He was a terror when I walked him, snapped (which is considered a first-degree bite), and eventually bit a child and drew blood. I also crate-trained him. When he bit the child, I waited 10 days (it’s the law) and had him put down. The vet tried to talk me out of it but I felt that I’d done everything possible for him. I learned that you can’t change a dog’s temperament with training. I just adopted a rescued Labrador and she is sweet, friendly and easy. And she loves everyone! It’s a tough decision, but it’s the right decision. If you need someone to accompany you to the vet, let me know.

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  19. Chrisbookarama ()

    Aw, Trish. I know it’s tough. We had to make a decision like yours when we had our daughter. We tried what we could but our dog had major issues from a past owner. Things came to a head when she bit me (I surprised her at night) and all I could think was, “What if that was the baby?” It sucked and I did feel terrible but you do what you have to do when it comes to your kids. We’ve had 2 forever dogs now. When the right dog comes along, you will know. ((HUGS)) It sucks being a grown up, as I always say.

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  20. SuziQoregon

    Oh Trish – such a difficult decision but it’s so obvious that you have not come to this choice lightly. You’ve done everything a reasonable person can be expected to do. I really do think you’re doing the right thing.

    Many many hugs!!

    [Reply]

  21. Michelle @ The True Book Addict ()

    Trish, don’t feel guilty. You have to protect your child above all else. I know it’s hard because I’ve been there. My husband and I got our dog, Zack, in 1994–seven years before we had our sons. He was a rescue dog. He had been an abused puppy (someone even burnt him with cigarettes) so he had issues from the get go. Our first mistake was not getting him fixed. You know how male dogs can be. But he was a sweet dog, just a bit, for lack of a better word, paranoid. If he felt cornered he would snap. He got along relatively well with our 5 cats (more about them later) but he could still get aggressive with them if the right mood struck. When we had the boys, it all snowballed. He was jealous and skittish. He never tried to bite them, but I watched him closely anyway. When Gabe (my oldest) was 17 months old, he had just started walking (late walker) and was pretty unsteady. I was in the bathroom and he came toddling down the hall toward the bedroom. Zach was in the bedroom. I swear not 5 seconds passed and I heard the screams no mother ever wants to hear. I rushed in the bedroom and Zach was on top of Gabe, attacking him ferociously, biting him all over the head. There was blood everywhere. Gabe must have fallen on the dog and, of course, him being the dog he was, he got scared and attacked. I grabbed the dog off of Gabe and proceeded to do what had to be done. ER visit. Luckily, he ended up only needing one stitch but it was very traumatic and Gabe had a bad fear of dogs for a long time. He’s still not completely at ease around them. And what happened to Zach? Well, sadly, we had to have him euthanized because we couldn’t give him to anyone with kids and he was too old for a rescue. It was really hard because we had him for so long, but we had to make the best choice for our boys. Believe me, you are doing the right thing. And it will get easier when you see that Ethan is safe and happy.

    As for the five cats I mentioned earlier, after we had the boys, that number dwindled down too. One ran away the night before I was scheduled to deliver Reece by c-section (my husband let her out unknowingly and we never found her). One ran away when we moved. When we moved into our house, we let them be indoor/outdoor cats (big mistake)…two more ran away. And my beloved yellow tom, Ethan (yes, Ethan), contracted an incurable disease and passed away. Having kids has changed my desire to have a house full of pets. We’ve had just one cat, our black cat, Alice, for five years and only recently took in another female, Arya, because the boys wanted a kitten. The boys want a dog, but that will have to be a long way off. Two cats is enough for me at this point.

    I hope you don’t mind me sharing my story. Take care, Trish. :)

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  22. jenn aka the picky girl ()

    I cannot imagine having to make that sort of decision. Maddie is small – 6 pounds – but thankfully she doesn’t have aggression issues. She’ll snap at a dog that gets in her space, but she’s incredibly patient with kids. In fact, my 5-year-old cousin has dragged her around for years with no problems.

    But you’re right, you can’t take that chance with Ethan. Don’t feel guilty for the relief. It’s natural for you to feel that way when you’ve come to a decision on something so difficult.

    [Reply]

  23. Anna

    I think you did the right thing, especially since you tried everything else. You’re right that being a pet owner changes when you have kids because you have to put your kids first. So sorry you had to make such a decision, though.

    [Reply]

  24. Darlene ()

    Awww Trish, I’m sorry. You know how much I love dogs and would do anything I could for mine but there is a limit when it comes to biting and kids. It’s one thing to keep your dog away from kids when you’re out walking like I had to do with Buddy and still do with Sammy even though he’s friendly but it’s very different when you have a child in the home and they are in any kind of danger. It’s impossible to be vigilant all the time and it’ll drive you crazy with worry. Ultimately you are right – you can’t wait until real damage is done because once Ethan loses a finger it’s too late. It is very sad that you will have to say goodbye to Samson but at the same time you’ve done everything you can including trying to find him a home. Try advertising and such – I’m sure there may be an older person who would love an older dog as well. You are doing your best Trish — the best you can do for your boy and that’s what matters.

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  25. Tara ()

    Ugh, I hate to read something like this. I am 29 weeks pregnant with our first child right now. We have a 3 year old Westie named Buster. We have babied Buster since the moment we brought him home. We’ve treated him like a child pretty much. He has been known to get what I call “mouthy” before. By this I mean he’s never bit anyone, never drawn blood, but he will gnaw on your hand if given the opportunity. And he has snapped (at the air in the direction of our hands) a few times in the past. Naturally we have done everything we can think of to correct this and he’s pretty much grown out of it, except when he gets wound up and excited. Naturally I am terrified about how he will react when our son arrives home. He’s never been exposed to young children before, he’s been around a few 10-12 year olds before, but never anyone any younger. And of course he minds my husband better than he minds me … and who will be at home most of the time with the baby and dog? Me, of course. So I will be watching Buster like a hawk. I truly hope that he takes out his jealousy anger out on my house and not my child, but I’m just so scared of how he’s going to react. I don’t want to have to get rid of my dog, ever. But at the same time, I can understand what you’ve been going through and understand the decision you’ve made and I definitely commend you for it.

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  26. Seaside Book Nook

    Trish

    Don’t feel guilty. You did what you had to do and what so many have done before you. You have to put your children (human) first, in my opinion. I understand it is hard and I hope one day you do get your forever dog. Keep your chin up and don’t feel guilty.

    Jill

    [Reply]

  27. Amy

    Hey Trish, I definately know you are doing the right thing tring to let the dog AND your family have the best for you both. I am happy to hear you are looking to place Sampson in another home. And as much of a dog lover that I am, he is still a dog, and your SON and husband, and yourself, come first. I will say prayers to the doggie Goddess and hope for a quick resolution. Take care!

    [Reply]

  28. Linda Locke

    You can get another dog that needs a new home at some time in the future,
    there-by saving a dog’s life that needs you and loves you. I got another Chihuahua a couple of months ago who had been badly treated and she is happy now, and so am I, to be able to give a good life to her.

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  29. Erin

    My husband, daughter and I are puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence and have raised 5 dogs so far for CCI. I know for a fact that if any one of these specially bred dogs even snaps at a human, child or otherwise, they are automatically released from the program. Biting is not acceptable and you are doing the right thing in re-homing your dog. Your baby comes first. In the future when you do consider getting another dog look for a larger breed such as Lab or Golden Retriever. There is a reason they are the only breed that CCI uses and trains as service dogs. Good luck to you and please don’t feel guilty. You did everything you could and then some.

    [Reply]

  30. Karen So Fla

    Breed dogs aren’t always bred for the right reasons or with the best intentions. You can have in breeding and ther dog suffers behavior problems and/or health problems. It sounds like you tried many options and I am sure you are upset…but my heart breaks for the dog because in the end, it is them who suffer and lose. I sometimes wonder if people could euthanize kids..how many parents would opt for that when their kids beat up other other kids, or act out and do bad things. Sad all around.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I understand where you’re coming from, Karen, and no one is more upset over this than I am, but comparing euthanizing dogs to euthanizing kids completely misses the point and is only an inflammatory comment.

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  31. Lisa

    Trish, you’ve certainly given your all to Samson and under no circumstances should you feel or be made to feel guilty by the choice you’ve been forced to make. There is no way to know when you bring a puppy home what kind of a dog you will have as circumstance change in your life. You certainly didn’t bring Samson home with the intention of not having him forever but you have to protect Ethan. I hope you can get Samson settled into a new home soon. It will be easier for all of you.

    [Reply]

  32. Jenny ()

    Oh my god, this post has made me cry.
    We got a small dog before we got pregnant, but our little guy was still young when Little Girl was born (1 1/2 yrs), so there were no issues, but we do have issues when other kids come over.
    He is a small dog, and really fluffy and soft – kids LOVE him, he does not love them quite as much. So everytime, he gets put into his kennel to save him from the kids, but to have it happen with your own child, I see and feel your dilemma.
    I am sure you will adopt a dog soon and find one that fits great with little kids and I am sure you will find a new forever home for Samson.
    I think you are making the right decision – there have been so many stories of dogs and babies in the new recently – and although you dog is small, small dogs can still cause a lot of damage.

    [Reply]

  33. wendy ()

    Trish – I completely sympathize and I understand. Of course you have to put your child first…and I would do the same. If Samson connected with Ethan’s face (or eye) and scarred him forever, everyone would be asking why you had kept a dog which kept snapping at your kid. I have always been really clear in my head about my dogs (who I love beyond measure)…if they pose a danger to others, they will not be here. I used to do German Shepherd rescue and 99% of the dogs we rescued could be re-homes and rehabilitated. But there was that 1% that for whatever reason, were not socialized enough to live with people safely. Those dogs were euthanized. Everyone felt bad about it, but people MUST come first. It sounds like you have done everything you could possibly do and Samson is not coming around. Don’t feel guilty. You are doing the right thing. *hugs*

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  34. Kathleen

    This must be so stressful for you. I’m confident that your dog will find a new home and he will be okay! Your son has to come first and there will be another dog in your future that will get along with the whole family. You’ve done all you can for Samson and he will find another owner to love him and work with his issues.

    [Reply]

  35. Jennygirl

    Trish, it seems to me you have tried everything to make Sampsn and Ethan wotk together. It’s not your fault. I get the whole facebook thing, but there are times when you have to remove the dog from the home due to a baby. The Dog Whisperer just had an episode last week about that. The dog could be rehabbed so he removed the dog.

    You tried girl. You’ll still feel guilty probably but at least Sampson is going to another home. Then weh than is olde enouh, adopt a shelter dog. Repay the favor.
    Signed, Shelter dog Mamma

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  36. Mumsy

    Can I offer another perspective? I own a standard poodle, and I’m thinking the problem was never with you OR with Samson…it’s a problem with teacups. Breeding dogs so tiny (in my opinion) creates significant personality issues; I know many breeders who consider breeding the animals this small not okay. I think you did a fantastic, over-and-above job at working with Samson and trying to help him overcome issues that were not in any way your fault or his fault, but the fault of his DNA. Protecting your son is of course your top priority., and you acted like the responsible mother you are. I have to say, I am also kind of surprised at your vet’s behavior; protecting the human population – especially babies – is an important part of protecting animals. The more dogs with “issues” there are, the more tragedies that will happen – and tragically, this can result in very negative attitudes and laws towards animals in general.

    [Reply]

  37. stacybuckeye ()

    I hear you Trish. I wrote a post on this a few weeks ago http://stacybuckeye.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/sundays-with-gage-pets-the-babies-before-the-baby/
    I hope things get better, but finding Samson a new home looks like a prefect solution right now. I still have to keep Max and Gage in separate rooms if I’m not prepared to be right there with them. It adds stress, but I’m hoping it will get better. If need be Max would have to go (pretty sure my parents would take him) and I can’t feel guilty about it. And neither should you :)

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  38. Sheila (Book Journey) ()

    Ugh… Trish…. thats awful. Having had to put down our “forever dog’ in October at the age of 15 because he was having trouble breathing still makes me tear up (yes, right now even). However rehousing if possible I think is the answer, having kids in the home is a totally different scenario.

    I wish you the best with this decision. *Hugs*

    [Reply]

  39. The Literary Lioness

    Please don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve done everything you can to “rehab” Samson. But your child is more important than the dog and Samson seems that he cannot be helped, through no fault of his own. I believe that Mumsy (comment 36) is right. It may be a teacup problem.

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  40. Janet

    Have you tried medication? Prozac has worked wonders with my troubled dog.

    [Reply]

  41. Nótt

    I advise you to read Marley & Me! :)

    [Reply]

  42. Tiffany Lena

    Hi Trish,
    I realize it’s been a while since you created this post but I was looking around at book review blogs (thinking of starting my own) and got hooked into this post. When I first read the post and accompanying comments, I thought, “well, she should just wait until Ethan gets older and see what happens, maybe the dog will shape up.” But then I had to check myself and I remember when our 60 pound Australian Shepherd knocked my two year old down the stairs. I was SO angry! And that dog was my first baby–just like you. I called my husband in tears, yelling that “we have to get rid of that dog!” My kids are 10 and 12 now so I guess I had just forgotten how scary it is to have a baby and all the dangerous stuff they can get into and how the primary Mommy instinct is PROTECT. We kept the dog and I was more careful. He really was great with the kids, never snapped or bit at them, just a bull in a chinashop. So, I hope that things have worked out for you and you were able to let go of guilt re: the dog.

    [Reply]

  43. Rose

    You are probably fine now, but if someone else is facing this. Please don’t feel guilty. It doesn’t serve you or your dog. Sometimes doing the right thing feels a little bit sweet with the bitter, we don’t need to counter measure it by making ourselves feel bad.
    If you really want to indulge in guilt, imagine a scenario where you truly failed your dog by keeping him around until he caused serious harm, and you hated him and yourself for it. Even if that never happened the way you were living doesn’t sound good for you or the dog.
    You know you made a hard but sound decision.

    [Reply]

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