Yesterday I took Gunner to Animal Services and had him put to sleep.
Against all reason, I was crazy about this dog. I met him at the feed store when I was buying chicken feed. I did not immediately bring him home because I had to at least pretend that Steve had some say in the decision to bring him home, but anyone who knows me knows that I have been blessed with a man who will do whatever he can to make me happy, including saying yes to a fully grown dog who was clearly part pit bull and about whom we really knew nothing. Much of what we were told about him turned out to be untrue (those spots were mange, and he was not a puppy, and today I am quite sure that the reason the woman gave him to me was not that her bulldog was beating up on him). I was simply crazy about him and she could have told me exactly how the story would end and I believe I still would have had to have this dog.
So Gunner moved in. The first thing he did was destroy a Santa toy that belonged to another dog. With hindsight, I can see the foreshadowing that was occurring, but at the time he looked like an overexcited dog who was happy to have a forever home. It was immediately apparent that he would not get along with our cats, but I figured we could keep them separated. When he killed the first chicken, it was easy to forgive him because the chicken wasn’t where she was supposed to be and after all, a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do. When he decimated the flock one morning, I found another home for the rest of my chickens. It hurt to part with them but the decision was not terribly difficult to make because it’s much easier to find a home for productive chickens than for a dog who is, undeniably, a dog that kills small animals. By this time, we knew that if we decided not to keep him, he really had no other alternatives…and I do love an underdog. He was doing well in obedience classes and we’d been successful at keeping him separated from the cats, so I thought that with the chickens gone we were probably in the clear. He was settling in, looking to us for direction, and I felt fairly confident that things were going to work out well in the end.
Every now and then when I’d walk up the driveway to the house, Gunner had this game where he’d nip my thigh. He never bit me and this was not frequent; I’d say it happened three or four times in the 16 months he lived with us. But I have to admit it was a little scary. He was a big strong dog and had he wanted to, I have no doubt he could have easily killed me. So on these occasions, I had to look fearless…but they didn’t happen often and he never hurt me. Last summer we had friends visiting and Gunner was loose in the yard. He went after my friend’s grandson…not with any vicious intent, but it was frightening and unsettling. Then a couple of weeks ago he bit a friend of ours. I wasn’t here and I don’t know why it happened, but it did. Fortunately, this friend has his own experience with loving an aggressive dog and forgave Gunner nearly as quickly as I did. But Gunner was just not predictable. I couldn’t take him to a dog park because I could not trust his behavior with the other dogs. I worried when new people came to our house because there was no telling how Gunner would react. Still, I was just sure everything was going to work out.
Did I mention that I was crazy about this dog? The part of him that was not pit was boxer, and Gunner clearly had boxer characteristics. He looked like a boxer, he played like a boxer, and he spent the majority of his time being just as sweet a dog as any boxer ever was. He would come into the bedroom each night and sit so pretty, waiting for his nightly piece of candy. Then, of course, he’d be out of bed sniffing around for a stray sock or maybe a wet towel…but eventually he’d curl up and settle in for the night. He loved frozen grapes. He loved coffee. He loved diet Coke and if it had a little rum in it, so much the better (just an occasional splash on the ground…he wasn’t THAT spoiled). He loved going for walks with Steve and he loved going for rides in the car and he learned not to jump up on us when we fed him and he would wait patiently for the command to take his treats. He liked being tucked in under his blue plaid blanket on chilly nights. He loved cool mornings when he could jump and play without the heat wearing him out. He loved squeaky toys. He’d show off his new toys by prancing around the yard with them. He loved chasing the red laser light through the front yard.
He would have made a great boxer but in the end, it was the pit bull that won (I know pit bulls can be sweet and loving. Please don’t think I have anything against pits. But they do tend to be far more aggressive than boxers.) On Wednesday, Serge (my scrawny orange cat) got outside and Gunner saw him. By the time Steve could get Serge to the animal hospital, he was already dead.
Wednesday afternoon was rough. When Steve called to tell me what had happened, he had already decided that Gunner’s time was up. It took me awhile longer to get there, but here’s the thing. I was always able to forgive Gunner for anything. Even now, with the world’s third best cat dead because Gunner killed him, I forgive. Even knowing that Serge wasn’t killed instantly and knowing that Steve had to deal with that carnage, I forgive Gunner. But what if Serge had been someone’s child? What if Gunner decided one day that the UPS guy shouldn’t be allowed to deliver packages down at the gate? By the end of the work day Wednesday, I had run through all sorts of scenarios for saving him. I could pretend to take him to Animal Control but let him go in some woods….I could just drive off into the sunset with him…I could ask Steve to see his clients somewhere else…I could have his teeth pulled…but truly, there were no options. Iknew Steve was right. Not easy. Not at all easy. It would have been much easier if I could not forgive him. It would have been easier if the decision were not irrevocable.
Steve was willing to be the one to take him, but I really felt it had to be me. And yes, Gunner jumped right up in the truck like it was any other ride. It wasn’t until we got to Animal Services and I started crying that he seemed to realize something might be amiss. I am disgusted to admit that I was so wrapped up in my own misery that I never even asked if I could go with him to the end…I think they might have let me. And now Gunner is gone.
Of course, Serge is gone, too, and Sherbie is still crying for him. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s sad, too, but my dog…I took my dog and had him killed. So much easier to forgive Gunner than myself. My chickens, sweet gentle birds who brought us so much laughter, my snuggly little cat who could head butt like no one’s business…I can forgive Gunner for killing them but how do I forgive myself for grieving him more than the innocents he killed? How do I forgive myself for letting him down in those last moments?
Surely the God who forgives me and loves me and has compassion for me walked with Gunner all the way back to wherever they took him. Surely the God who created him did not desert him. And surely God will help me use this crappy knowledge about myself to be a better person the next time I’m faced with something like this. He’s a big enough God to be God to animals, too, right? So maybe today Gunner is perfected. And when I see him next, I will be perfected. That’d be nice.