Two weeks ago, I received a call from my mother informing me that she was bringing her dog, Cooper, back to the rescue shelter.
Cooper came into our family on my birthday, February 8th in 2010. My mom and her husband fell in love with the adorable puppy and adopted him. They called me that day with birthday wishes and to tell me about my new little "brother." He was a mutt-brown-dog of undetermined origins with soft velvety floppy ears, webbed feet and a thin blue ring around the bottom half of his left eye. My kids called him "Uncle Cooper". He was a high-spirited little pup, so they hired a trainer to come and train him at their house.
18 months later, he still had the energy, vigor and mannerisms of a puppy on crack. But each time, we visited him at her house, I loved him a little more. He loved to run around outside and was miserable contained in the house, where he would jump on everything and bark constantly until someone would let him back outside. Once outside, he frolicked happily in the grass with his silly too-long ears flopping and bouncing with each step. He loved to leave presents for my mother and her husband of dead rabbits, mice and squirrels.
And then one day two weeks ago, Cooper presented my mother with her beloved dwarf Malaysian chicken in his jaws, lifeless. We still don't know how he got to the chicken, Lucy, who is normally locked in her coop, but the dog got her and was presenting her to my mother as yet another of his gifts. My mother was devastated. She called us to come and say good-bye to Cooper before she returned him to the shelter.
I placed the phone down on the counter and all I could see was that little blue ring, cupping the brown iris of his left eye.
I am not a dog person. I love cats. Cats are easy. Dogs are too needy, too high maintenance, too social, too much work. Dogs are like children. As I had three human children of my own to take care of, I swore that I would never, ever get a dog.
And then my fingers remembered how his ears felt so impossibly soft and smooth and how they looked so silly cause they were really too long and floppy for a dog his size.
My husband and I talked for two hours, vocally making pros and cons lists. We were honest and truthful about the responsibilities having a dog would entail. We honestly believed that all Cooper needed was a family with kids to play with him, a stay-at-home mom who could walk him several times a day and a household where he would get plenty of love and attention. We decided to care for him on a temporary basis, work with a trainer and consider officially adopting him after three weeks.
We were expecting a wild thing of a dog when we picked him up and brought him to our house, but he was a perfect puppy 90% of the time during the first couple of days. As he was new to our house and we didn't know how he would react, we were very cautious. We kept him in the laundry room with a baby gate when I had neighborhood kids at our house those first couple of days, but he seemed to love children and listen to my voice when I told him "down" each time he would jump. I slowly, cautiously let him out of the laundry room more frequently. If he started jumping or acting wild, I would immediately put him in the laundry room or his crate. His jumping was scary to the kids who would visit, especially because he would lick their little faces. I started affectionately calling him, "Wild Thing", when he would jump. I read the book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak several times to the kids at my house.
I wanted to train him to properly walk on a leash and follow my commands, so I walked with him 3-5 times a day, talking to him as we walked, the sound of his tags musically jangling together. It didn't take very long for him to relinquish his control on our walks. I began to trust him more.
I believe that my assessment of him was honest. As I mentioned, he was a dream dog 90% of the time during that first week. It was the 10% of the time that I was concerned about: he jumped and barked uncontrollably whenever he saw one of our terrified cats, he growled and showed his teeth whenever a grown man would come to our door and he wouldn't relinquish control on the leash when the kids or my husband walked him. But each day, we wanted to keep him permanently and forever. I called the trainer, who originally worked with him at my mom's house. She was on vacation, so we couldn't get an appointment until Monday, October 17. I talked at length with her about the behaviors and how I was dealing with them. She praised my efforts and gave me some additional tips. I had hope and visions of this year's Christmas card picture with the dog and our kids and maybe, just maybe, a brave cat. I bought him a Halloween costume.
At the beginning of the second week, he showed so much progress. He wasn't jumping as much, was listening to my commands and seemed to adore all of the children who came into my home. We now proudly told everyone that he was a perfect dog 95% of the time. I had started holding a cat in my arms while I walked with the dog on a leash in the house. He listened to my voice and wouldn't bark or jump to get the cat while the cat was in my arms. He was showing great progress in that area, but I was still nervous that he continued to growl at grown men. However, our trainer was scheduled to come work with us, and I reasoned that I would just put Cooper in the crate whenever a man came over. In fact, I felt so comfortable with him that I brought him to Phllips's soccer game on Saturday. Cooper was gentle and sweet as many children came over to pet him. Cooper docilely sat at my feet and let the kids pet him. When they left, he jumped in my lap and snuggled with me during the game.
Every day for two weeks was like Christmas morning for me. I have never been so adored by a pet. Cooper would sit at my feet while I cooked dinner, washed dishes, and worked on the computer. He followed me everywhere I went and would whimper when I closed the door to the bathroom. The first time I left him to go to the store, my husband saidCooper sat by the front door waiting and whimpering for my return. I was determined to continue training him. He was going to be my dog. He was going to be a dream dog. He was going to be perfect 100% of the time.
And then yesterday, I left my house for a couple of hours to visit my dad and run errands. My husband, Jeff, was cleaning the garage. My daughter was reading in her bedroom. Phillip was working on a school project. Brooks was playing video games with a friend. Another of Brooks's friends wanted to join the boys. Brooks told him to go home and get permission from his mom. The little boy, a boy I love, entered our house as he had many times before without knocking or ringing the doorbell. None of us were at the door to grab the dog, to calm the dog, to tell the dog that it was okay. Cooper jumped up and jaggedly bit the little boy's face, tearing and ripping his sweet, soft 7 year old flesh. Brooks and his other friend heard the child scream and ran to the door. Brooks yelled at the dog. Cooper stopped and just sat there. Brooks got Jeff from the garage, who promptly helped the little boy and called his mother, who immediately brought him to the ER.
My phone rang as I was walking back to my car in a store parking lot. And the nightmare continued.
Words just can't ever describe the overwhelming, suffocating guilt that tears inside me imagining the scene that I never saw or the burning feeling knowing that my dog hurt another child. I can't believe that I let myself love this silly, little dog with the blue in his eye and the soft, floppy ears and that I truly believed that Cooper was safe and he could be a part of my family. I still can't quite grasp that a beautiful, sweet, intelligent, loving 7 year old boy had to experience the horror and pain of being attacked in a place that should be a safe place for him to play and that this child had to have surgery last night and now will have to miss school and the rest of his soccer season and forever have to carry the scars inflicted by my pet in my home. I can't figure out how to make things right with my friend and her family, and I just don't know how to alleviate their pain and suffering after the trauma of yesterday.
While Brooks's injured and incredibly brave friend spent hours being assessed in the hospital and waiting for his 7:00 pm surgery with his concerned, loving, amazing parents, my husband and I informed our kids that Cooper had to leave our home permanently. We placed numerous calls to the shelter where he was adopted from, the Aurora Police Department and Will County Animal Control. The shelter explained to us that unless we euthanize the dog that by law the dog needs to be examined by a vet within 24 hours, placed in a quarantined environment for 10 days and then re-examined by a vet after 10 days. The shelter made it clear to us that they would not take the dog back, as it would be impossible to place him in a new home. The Aurora Police Department kindly referred us to the Will County Animal Control after telling us that they could not come and remove the dog for us. (We really wanted him gone ASAP. It was tearing us apart to have him in our home, especially because he was acting like a dream dog again with his sad little eyes, pleading for another chance that we could never responsibly give him.) After collecting all of our information and our friends' information, the Will County Animal Control refused to take him as well. We were given three options: send him to a vet in the morning for the 10 day assessment, keep him in our home for the 10 day assessment or euthanize the dog. Cooper could not stay here for even another 24 hours, so we had to wait until the morning to bring him to a vet's office.
We spent the night saying good-bye to the dog who had only been ours for 2 weeks. We hadn't realized how much we had gotten attached until it was time to say good-bye. Both boys alternated between lecturing the dog for biting our friend and crying and hugging their dog of two-weeks, their new playmate and companion whom they loved. Cassie cried like I cried: loud and messy with hiccups and a lot of snot. (I've never been a pretty crier like the actresses in movies.) Even Jeff kept wiping his eyes and petting the dog. Brooks cried himself to sleep in bed with me, both worried for one of his best friends and mourning his doggie. I, too, fell asleep with swollen eyes and puffy face and the weight of trying to find a placement for this dog that I couldn't keep and no one else wanted.
This morning, Jeff called several shelters and was told the same information as the original shelter that Cooper could only be placed in a home without children or other animals, that they would have to disclose all information about the bite to anyone interested in the dog, and that, yes, our dog was essentially un-adoptable. Jeff called our vet. Cooper was brought to the vet at 11:00 this morning after we all said good-bye for one last time. Jeff took our dog with his one blue eye and floppy ears to the vet, and I stayed home with our kids, packing all of the doggie gear into a bag for Goodwill.
And Cooper the-mutt-brown-dog stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye. He sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day to where the wild things are and he became King of All the Wild Things.
And now I have to finally stop crying and try to figure out how in the world I will ever make this right with my friend, her family and most of all her little boy, who I have known his entire life. I don't know how to make my house feel safe for him again, and it hurts me to know that it might never feel safe to him. That he might carry scars both external and internal from an animal that I brought into my home. I would never in a hundred million years let a child be harmed in my home or in my care. I am so very, incredibly sorry, and I will make this right for him and his family.
And, so, I encourage all of you to be careful about bringing animals into your home. If you are going to adopt a dog or any animal, don't accept 95% good behavior and pray for the 5% to work itself out. It's not worth it. No matter how cute his eyes are nor how floppy and soft his ears are. Remember the little 7 year old boy recovering at home with bandages on his sweet face and wait for 100% perfection.