One Wild and Precious, E24: Behavioral Euthanasia. A Conversation about Love and Loss with Deb Jones.

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:

16 thoughts on “One Wild and Precious, E24: Behavioral Euthanasia. A Conversation about Love and Loss with Deb Jones.

  1. Julie says:

    Thank you for sharing. Only 2 months ago, I had to make the painful decision to BE my rescued pit bull. She was so wonderful but there was an unpredictability that I just could not fix. 3 trainers, medication and a whole lotta love just weren’t enough. We had 1 bite/month and countless near misses. I really started to worry about the safety of my kids, our guests. It was like a firecracker would go off out of nowhere them, Boom, she was fine again. It was the hardest thing I have ever, ever been faced with. I’m happy she’s at peace and free from her demons but there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t miss her immeasurably. It is helpful to read things like this and know I’m not alone.

    • Chrissi Schranz says:

      I am so, so sorry you had to make this difficult decision, Julie. I feel what you are saying … we try everything we can reasonably try. Everything that for most dogs would make a world of a difference. And yet – for that one particular wonderful dog with so, so many amazing qualities … It just doesn’t help. She is free of her demons now because you were brave and made a very, very hard decision. You are not alone in this. <3 Thank you for trusting me with your story.

  2. J Ware says:

    I also had to make that decision with a young GSP. I set him free less than a week before my first child was born; his aggression was unpredictable and could be directed at other dogs or people, sometimes even me. He was one of my “heart dogs” but I could not risk his outbreaks with an infant in the house. He always seemed so upset after an episode-I told myself he was suffering and could not control it – was that true? I have to believe it to this day – it’s been 39 years and it still hurts.

    • Chrissi Schranz says:

      I am so sorry for your loss, J. Yes, taking the risk of an unpredictable episode with a baby or child is just not something you can do. Adults can opt into living with a dangerous dog, but an infant cannot. Was your dog upset and could not control it? I wish we could ask them! From the unpredictability you describe, it is hard to imagine him being able to control his episodes. In any case, we need to believe in order to keep going. And one thing I know for sure to be true (for me anyways): there are fates way worse than being set free.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your story, J. I appreciate it and I am thinking of your dog!

  3. Michele says:

    I guess I don’t understand, did Grit try to attack you or your other dogs? I had a dog that was not social and very civil. He never tried to bite me although he warned me a few times. He got along fine with my other dog but he did not like people. He could be very defensive. I learned to manage him.

    • Chrissi Schranz says:

      Grit tried to kill every other dog she saw when at liberty – housemates or strange dogs. No, she never attacked me and I don’t think she would ever have.

      Management fails sooner or later unless you are lucky. At some point, Grit would have killed another dog.

      The amount of management needed in a country of free-roaming dogs was making her life very small. The kind of person I am could not live with the fact that my dog has such a small life. I am sure other owners would have made different decisions. In the end, there are no objectively “right” answers. We do our best for our dogs. What that looks like depends on who we are as people.

      I am glad management worked well for you and your dog!

  4. Dawn Mlatecek says:

    I’ve had to make the same difficult decision. I’m sorry for what you had to go through. I still cry when I think of my girl but I know I made the best decision for all of us. It still sucks! Sending hugs & peace your way.

    • Chrissi Schranz says:

      I am so sorry about your girl, Dawn. Grief comes in waves. It never fully leaves (I think). It lives with us. Beside us. It is a part of who we are today. Not a “bad” part, but a part that gives us nuance and depth and, yes, sadness but also beautiful memories …

  5. Sheila Tatman says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I, too, made this most difficult decision with my young Newfoundland dog. I’ve had and worked with newfs for over 16 years and never come across one like this young boy. The decision to let him go was the only safe route to take and I’ll carry the scars…emotional and physical…for the rest of my life. The shit storms are real and they are painful.
    “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” Your words are so very true. Thank you.

  6. Patricia Lister says:

    You are very loving and very brave… Thank you for sharing… Sending you peaceful energy during this difficult time…

  7. Theo Jak says:

    Thank you very much
    for opening up by writing it down.
    So sorry for your loss.

    Great podcast with Deb.

  8. Tamara says:

    So sorry for your ordeal. I hope you have peace over the hard decision you had to make for the safety of everyone.

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