My heart has been very sad for a friend who recently had to make the most difficult decision to say goodbye to her beloved fur friend.  This was an especially hard decision given the fact that her dog was not physically ill, but rather he had become increasingly psychologically unstable and aggressive.  Now, before you rush to judgment, please understand that this decision was not made in haste – far from it, this was a decision made only after a very long and committed attempt to work with him on his aggressive behavior.  Trainers were brought in, vets were consulted, a reiki master was hired – in short, my friend went to the ends of the earth and back trying to understand and rehabilitate her dog.  Her other dog sustained multiple unprovoked attacks as did my friend and her husband, and it escalated to the point where they could no longer have guests in their home comfortably given their dog’s unpredictable behavior.  This is a dog who, although he had always been somewhat timid, went from enjoying romps on the beach to being fearful and extremely aggressive (towards people and other dogs) over time.  I know my friend agonized over the decision and tried everything within her power to help her beloved fur friend.  When I learned the news that she had finally had to say goodbye, I was filled with such a deep sadness – I know she loved this dog dearly and knowing her, I was sure she was blaming herself.  I didn’t know what to say to ease her pain, how can anyone make sense out of a situation like this?  The words, “I’m sorry”, just seem so inadequate.

There is an unspoken truth in rescue, that most of us don’t discuss beyond our ‘inner circle’ and that is the fact that almost all of us at one time or another have had to make the gut wrenching decision to euthanize a dog because of aggressive behavior.  It is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and one I don’t wish on my worst enemy.  I have sat at our vet’s office, saying goodbye to a dog I had vowed to save because he attacked and bit a visitor at his foster’s house.  He was not a ‘bad’ dog, but something had happened in his life that caused him to be fearful and thus, dangerous and unpredictable.  Like my friend, I consulted with trainers and vets and agonized over the decision and even after it was made, I kept second guessing myself.   Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief there is no magic farm where emotionally unbalanced dogs go to live out their lives being loved and cared for – yes there are a few sanctuaries, but the need far outweighs their capacity.  And so, more often than not, a decision has to be made to gently and lovingly say goodbye to these lost souls.

Having gone through this emotional turmoil with a foster dog, I could not even begin to imagine the anguish my friend was experiencing having to make this decision for her own dog that she had loved and cherished for many years.  I just haven’t been able to stop thinking about her and wondering why she had to go through this.  I tend to believe that there is always a reason for the painful experiences in our life – a silver lining or a lesson to be learned.   When I lost my beloved Daisy just 7 months after adopting her, I knew that she was sent to teach me the joy of opening my heart to an older dog – even if it meant she was only in my life for a short time.  As many reading this blog know, Daisy was the catalyst for me to create Daisy’s Place Retriever Rescue, dedicated to saving and finding loving homes for abandoned Retrievers (Labs, Goldens and mixes) age six and older.  But what, I kept wondering, could possibly be the reason for my friend’s painful experience?  There couldn’t possibly be a silver lining in any of this.  What was her dog trying to teach her?  Another belief I hold dearly is that these amazing creatures come into our lives with important lessons to teach us.  Sometimes it’s as seemingly simple as unconditional love – often times I truly believe they come into our lives to teach us so much more.  I often say we must listen with our hearts to truly learn what these gifts from God have to teach us.  And again, I pondered, what was my friend’s dog trying to say to her?

As I meditated today after yoga, a thought popped into my brain – it was so random and almost fleeting and I had to struggle to hold onto it before it was gone.  It was almost more of an image than an articulated thought.  I saw in my mind’s eye, my friend – a strong, courageous, compassionate and determined woman – someone who didn’t back down from a challenge, and someone who much like myself, truly believes that if she works hard enough, puts in enough effort, cares deeply enough and wills it TO BE, she can make order out of chaos and make everything RIGHT.  I’m struggling a bit with the words here, so bear with me please.  What came to me in a moment of silence was the fact that sometimes we can’t fix everything, no matter how ‘perfect’ we try to be, no matter how ‘good’ we are, no matter how much love we extend to another, sometimes we just have to let go and have faith that we’ve done all we can do.  We have to forgive ourselves for our ‘failings’ and more importantly, we have to love ourselves the most when we feel we have fallen the hardest.  I think perhaps this is what my friend’s dog was trying to tell her – despite all the love, the dedication and commitment she had given him, he could not be ‘fixed’.  There was something broken deep inside him and it was time for him to leave this earth, to run free at the rainbow bridge.   I’m convinced that he would want her to know that he doesn’t blame her and more importantly he would want her to be kind to herself, to allow herself the same compassion and forgiveness she had given him for so long, despite his behavior.

Every day the majority of us strive to make the ‘right’ decisions, we consciously choose to do our best under any given situation.  And the reality is that no matter how hard we try, there are going to be times that we encounter difficult and often painful experiences.  Sometimes we will triumph and sometimes we have to let go and accept that there are things beyond our control – and we have to learn to be at peace with the fact that we’ve done our best.  Most importantly, we must learn to give ourselves the same love and compassion that we would a treasured friend – whether 2 legged or 4 pawed.

I realize there are no words that can heal my friend’s pain right now, but I pray in time she will find peace and her heart will heal knowing she did the very best she could do given the most difficult set of circumstances.  Perhaps we all need to remember – do unto OURSELVES as we would do unto others.

Many Blessings,