This is the first time I am publicly talking about Grit’s death. My colleagues know. My friends know. Her breeder knows. Some students who have had to face similar losses know because I told them when they confided in me. But the world at large? I didn’t share Grit’s story until I recorded this podcast episode, when I talked to Deb Jones after working through When The Loss Is Deep.
I euthanized Grit quite a while after Deb euthanized Helo – so I had vicariously learned the lesson of what happens when you’re public about such a thing in our little corner of the world. And I was not ready for that shit storm back when I decided that it was time for Grit.
Now time has passed, and I am ready – plus I’m also hoping that the weather has become a bit less shitstormy after Deb shared Helo’s story, and Trish McMillan and Sue Alexander have talked about the same topic quite a bit. So it is time for me to finally share Grit’s story as well. Let’s start with a few quotes from this episode:
“We don’t get what we want. We get the dog that they are.” (Deb)
“We don’t get the dog ‘we need.’ We get the dog we get.” (Chrissi)
“There’s enough pain for everybody.” (Deb)
(There really is. Comparative suffering is painful to the sufferers being compared – no matter whether they supposedly suffered less or more. “We all bleed / We all breathe / And nothing stays the same / …”)
Like Deb, when I made the decision whether or not to share Grit’s loss publicly, I knew I couldn’t lie. I decided not to share it publicly with anyone I didn’t trust though. Like Quest and Helo, Grit was a somewhat public dog. Depending on who asked, I told them that Grit had died and I was not yet ready to talk about the circumstances because it was too painful. Or I told them the truth (if I hadn’t done so already).
Unlike Helo, Grit’s situation was different. I did see all the signs and had the great fortune to have friends and colleagues to help me carry that pain and all the intents I made to re-socialize her. I did, of course, tell Grit’s breeder. While they weren’t supportive, they weren’t cruel either. They would not have made the decision I made, but they respected mine. Like Deb, I would of course recommend this breeder. They breed excellent dogs. I know about a dozen Belgians they have bred – Mals and Tervs – and each one of them is a fantastic dog with a HUGE personality, ultra worky and environmentally tough (i.e. they are ready to work through anything – rain, pain, cold, intense decoys). Each and every one of these dogs I have met is an impressive working dog, and a lot of these dogs have made it far in IPO as well as police work.
What would I do today if I saw the same behaviors I saw in Grit in a puppy of my own? I would probably return them to the breeder before loving them to the degree I loved Grit. While they are still a puppy, there may still be a chance for them. But it isn’t a chance I myself am willing to take again.
With Grit, I had this whole re-introduction protocol written up because the first time, I thought I was actually being successful. (Less so the second and third time I repeated it – but repeat it I did. I wasn’t done yet. I was stubborn and optimistic.)
I am not stubborn and optimistic anymore – not in that kind of situation. But back then, I had to be because that’s the person I was before losing Grit.
The kind of dog Grit was is extremely rare. Unless you specialize in aggression cases, you’ll spend years in the field as a professional trainer and may never meet that dog. I don’t specialize in aggression cases. I’ve been working with dogs full time for about a decade, and I’ve met that dog twice.
Grit was the first one, and the second one was a pittie mix a friend of mine picked up in the streets in Guatemala. That dog was incredibly sweet with people, but the moment my friend tried introducing her to their other two dogs, she tried to murder them. My friend – who is not a dog trainer – stuck their hand in the middle and the dog redirected on her. That friend is a fancy kind of person so they had a gardener who luckily happened to be there. They cried for help and the gardener helped get the dog off. Then they called me, we set up a mock encounter between the dogs with three layers of security, and I knew at first glance what kind of dog she was. Once you have met that dog, you recognize that dog. It is uncanny how good you get at recognizing that dog.
I told my friend (gently) and they couldn’t believe me. Of course not. They wanted me to work with the dog, and I referred them out to another trainer. I am telling myself I was being kind when I said, “I don’t see a good way out of here, but get a second opinion. Here’s a phone number; this person is an excellent trainer.” Maybe I wasn’t kind but just selfish. I didn’t want to lose my friend, and I was not going to let any of their two older dogs die on my watch. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say. That dog, by the way, did die. My friend rehomed her, and she got killed (she “disappeared” and my friend got ghosted) in her new home in Huehuetenango.
When I evaluated the dog, my friend was not ready to see her for who she was. Which is fair. Everyone is on their own timeline. My own timeline took almost five years – and I was already a professional dog trainer by the time I got Grit. Even so, I dragged her across three continents with me before I stopped trying. How is a pet person like my friend ever supposed to know who their dog is? They can’t. Not if this topic is not publicly talked about anyways.
I don’t wish that dog on anyone. And at the same time: I would not change my life with Grit for anything in the world. Grit was amazing. People didn’t see that because she wasn’t a social dog, and there were so many parts of her that only I knew. Her playful and snuggly and good-crazy sides that she didn’t show when someone else was around.
I knew all these facets and because no one else did … If you were to tell me this same story about you and a dog of yours today, I would think that you waited too long. That I waited too long with Grit because of course the signs were all there. But the thing is, it’s not about the signs at all. It’s about loving that dog with all your heart and knowing that there is nowhere else for them to go and not wanting them to go anywhere else anyways, and wanting them in your life, so you have to trie all that is reasonable for you to try. And only when you love that dog that much do you know how much trying you are capable of. The fact that no one else even really knows that dog just makes it harder and more lonely. So we try, and we try, and we try – for as long as we have to, and how long that is and if we ever stop? It’s different for everyone. Just like everything else in this world.
Some of my favorite memories Grit is an intrinsic part of: