Last week, surrounded by many of his favorite friends, Vince enjoyed his last ice cream cone. The way he looked at it hesitantly and took that tiny first lick, and then carefully licked every last little bite and even ate the cone, made us wonder if it was his first ice cream ever.
And then, with tears in our eyes and love in our hearts, with gentle stroking and assurances that we loved him and that he was such a good boy, we said goodbye and Vince passed while laying on his favorite blanket in the arms of his friends. Together we cried and remembered little things he did and snuggled with his little body for long afterward, reluctant to leave his side.
In the five years Dogs Out Loud has existed, we’ve experienced the death of one of our dogs only one other time. That was a case of medical suffering, but in spite of what we could see with our eyes and knew in our minds, that knowledge made the decision to help that dog pass no easier. The only other decision we could be faced with that would be as heartbreaking as a medical euthanasia is a behavioral euthanasia. We always hoped we would never have to deal with that. But after Vince had a significant incident directed toward someone in his home, we weighed all the factors and looked at the options, and ultimately we decided we had no choice but to euthanize Vince for aggression to people.
Euthanize for aggression. It hurts so much to write that.
We met Vince last year at Austin Animal Center, where he quickly stole the hearts of all the volunteers who worked with him. Calling him “The Little Vince” or our “little low rider”, everyone enjoyed spending time with the handsome little brindle dog and his too-big ears. He was a big dynamic spirit in a little (for us) package. And he was the whole package, with his soulful eyes boring a hole into your heart, his long, happy tail always wagging, the unique white tips of his toes, and his soft sweet muzzle pressing into your hand. He also suffered with stress as much as any dog we’ve ever seen, and his reactivity earned him his own condo suite (usually reserved for large dogs or pairs) despite his diminutive stature. There he could relax enough to sleep in the shelter and find some refuge from the anxiety being surrounded by hundreds of dogs caused him. Vince attended our classes, did a few outings (though car rides were not his thing for a long time), and we showered him with love, treats, and toys.
After several months at the shelter, he stole the heart of one lucky lady who immediately made him her own. It seemed like the perfect match, but then life got in the way and she could no longer keep him. We were able to able to keep him from going back to the shelter by placing him with a trainer to work on crate training and improve his walking skills. It was there that, after a serious incident involving some very concerning behavior, talking to those who knew him best, and even a visit to a veterinarian to rule out health problems, we made the very difficult decision that we could not safely place Vince in another home.
Even though we felt it was the right decision, it was a heartbreaking and even startling one. We had known Vince at the shelter, where every indication pointed to a somewhat quirky and very stressed, but otherwise wonderful companion. Vince’s good side was so endearing, sweet, and cute. We had seen his stress lead to leash biting and other unwanted behaviors, but nothing very out of the ordinary for a dog who just doesn’t like being around other dogs. We wondered how this little dog, who did the most adorable little dance when you scratched his booty and snuggled so closely late at night, could also have this other side to his personality?
It wasn’t until we brought his group of advocates together to figure out what the next steps were for Vince that the mystery started to unravel. During our conversation, little anecdotes about unusual incidents emerged to create a picture of unsettling behavior. Taken separately, each individual growl or freeze or snap didn’t seem like much. But when pieced together in a timeline, those seemingly small events added up to a picture of increasingly aggressive behavior. A snap at a known friend one day. A growl in bed with another friend on another day. An unexpected lunge at a stranger during a meet n greet. Each time, Vince would go back to his usual friendly self, and while each person thought it was strange, everything would seem to go right back to normal and it seemed like a random, one-off event. But after putting all the events together, we realized that we were looking at a pattern of unsafe behavior, one that we knew we didn’t have the situation or opportunity to change.
Demonstrating that shelter dogs who have resource intensive behavior problems can be safely trained and placed in adoptive homes is something Dogs Out Loud takes very seriously. It’s part of our vision and guides everything we do. But evaluating a dog’s behavior is also an ongoing process. We don’t usually see the full behavior repertoire in the shelter, and more often than not, behaviors we see at the shelter do not show up in a home or predict how a dog will act in the home. Oftentimes, the “worst” dog at the shelter can go one to be the “easiest” dog in in the right home (we’re looking at you, Bastian). And sometimes it is the quiet, sensitive dogs whose behavior we think we have the best handle on who end up struggling the most.
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. — Unknown
It is a little comfort, however small, knowing Vince’s sweet little soul is at peace and that he knew in his last day that we loved him and wanted only the best for him. A dog’s “best last day” should be a celebration of the light of one little life, and we put as much effort into carefully planning that dog’s version of his best day as everything else we do for our dogs. Usually that means a party (sometimes large, sometimes small) with his best friends, all the junk food he can eat, all the toys he can play with, and all the things he wants to do.
We made Vince’s last days the best days ever. He stayed at his friend Jen’s house, running and playing in the house and yard until he fell asleep. He went for as many “walks” as he wanted (just around the backyard, but he didn’t complain). His friends Andy and Tom visited him with cuddles and sausage biscuits. His favorite ladies Dawn and Kayla bought him bacon and ice cream (mmm, so delicious) and a hamburger and chicken strips. He tore up boxes on his favorite blanket. He buried his toys in the yard. He snuggled his mom and his best friends. He never went back to the shelter and the last place he knew was one of his favorite places, the home of one of his best friends. It was the best last day, and when our tears subside, it will be a comfort to know he knew only happiness and love right to his last moment.
We will miss you, Little Vince, We are so glad to have known you and shared your journey. We will miss your booty dance and prancing gait and sweet smile. You will forever remain in our minds and hearts. You were such a good dog.