Life Lessons

life-lessons-no-school-taughtToday, I feel like I need to sort out some of my feelings based on the decision I had to make recently. Yes, it has been about a month or so, but I’m not ‘over it’. I’m fine for a couple days now, and then I’m caught off guard by someone checking in. “Hey, how’s the training going with Ryder?” “I heard what happened with Ryder…”

So, I’m finding big decision quotes and how they relate to what I’m going through. It’s helping, because I feel like a bigger person for making this decision. Even though it sucks, it was right. I’m having dreams… and I wake up, thinking I’m boarding Ryder, and I actually walk all the way downstairs to the kennel he used to sleep in, and he’s not there. I think if he was actually there, I would check myself into a mental hospital, but that’s’ not the point.

So, here’s to you, Ryder. Because I did what was best.

 

“There must be a few times in life when you stand at a precipice of a decision. When you know there will forever be a Before and an After…I knew there would be no turning back if I designated this moment as my own Prime Meridian from which everything else would be measured.”
― Justina ChenNorth of Beautiful

This decision was life changing for me. It changed my personally, emotionally, and it has changed the way I see aggression. It has changed the way I train, and how I interact with people with difficult dogs. And it changes the way I evaluate dogs. I will not set myself or the dog up to fail by taking on a case too difficult for me for my current skill set. I am more reserved as a person, and I have taken a step back from the ‘Let’s go do this’ attitude I usually have.

 

“Waiting hurts. Forgetting hurts. But not knowing which decision to take can sometimes be the most painful…” 
― José N. Harris

 “It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.” 
― Elbert Hubbard

“When faced with two equally tough choices, most people choose the third choice: to not choose.
” 
― Jarod KintzThis Book Title is Invisible

All 3 of these quotes represent what I felt like before it happened. This is what I felt when we were weighing the option of rehoming or euthanasia. Waiting on the family to make a decision. Then, the procrastinating to make the appointment. Then, making the appointment and hoping a miracle would happen. Then, after it happened, the healing process. At least I made a decision.

 

“If you always make the right decision, the safe decision,
the one most people make, you will be the same as everyone else.” 
― Paul Arden

I am not the same. And I never will be ‘normal’. My experience with this situation has been life changing, and I will never be the same again, either.

 
“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.” 
― Shauna NiequistBittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

I have sacrificed time with my husband, my free time, and my mental health to make this transition. Not necessarily because of Ryder, but he helped me overcome this career obstacle that every trainer needs to go through. And going through this fueled my fire to not give up. I am sad and crushed that it had to come to this, but he is at peace now. I have given up sleep on weekdays, and sleeping in on weekends to be able to switch my career and do what I love. I love my husband for being so patient with me, as when I find something I want, I go for it. I can’t stop. It’s a curse, and a blessing.

So I’m still in the process of grieving. But I’m fine, and I’m healthy, and I will be ok.  I really miss him though. Sometimes, when I don’t have any boarding dogs, I feel like he’s at my house in his kennel. I wake up at nighttime sometimes and hear his bark. A few times, I have really thought he was there.

I’m able to talk about him more and more. People who follow me on my blog, or know me in person, people who love great danes, people who have been interested in hearing my progress with my new career… they ask about him. They sympathize and understand. People who have had aggressive dogs or dogs with mental illnesses have reached out and given me their support.

People who know me know this will haunt me for a while. Out of respect, out of love, out of concern, they won’t say anything, but they are thinking it. And I want all of you to know – I’m ok. I will be fine. Sometimes, I’m a rock. Other times, I’m so fragile, just a caring look will break me. Professionally – I am put together and you will not see this while I am working. Putting on this armor sometimes helps me take my mind off of it.

I write this blog and keep a log of how I feel for a few reasons.

1)       I want people to know I’m human too. I succeed, I fail, I feel. Just like everyone else.

2)      I have a mental disorder I have chosen to not be medicated for. I am an emotionally passionate person with bipolar Type II, so when I feel sad or happy, it’s on either side of the spectrum. When I’m sad, I’m devastated. When I’m happy, I’m annoyingly joyful (ask my husband!) I am living with this. It’s a choice I have made that I am proud of. I can do it without medicine.

3)      I want to help people realize they can do whatever they want. I want to train dogs. I’m doing it. I am changing my destiny and improving my quality of life.

4)      I use this as a therapy tool – it helps to put all these feelings somewhere. I choose to make this public. I am not hiding anything. I write about the good, the bad, and sometimes, the funny. Sometimes, it’s personal. Other times, educational. And occasionally, just downright sad. I  write about my journey. This is what my blog is about.

5)      Education. I do occasionally write educational articles on this blog about dog training. Many people can benefit from just reading about what I go through to learn how to better communicate with their canine friends.

6a0133f351a1fb970b0191030616ca970c-500wiSo, in short. Ask me, don’t ask me. Read, don’t read.  Love me or don’t. But if you get anything from the journey I have taken so far, please – get this: Live and be passionate. Life hurts and it knocks you down, and you are MEANT TO FEEL. So feel!! Crying, being sad, being joyful and being angry are all parts of being human. Embrace this, but don’t let it rule you. Get back up after you have been brought down. Don’t let it stop you from being a great person.

His story comes to an end

Hard decisions make us the people we are. We want to be the one to make the hard decisions and take charge of a difficult situation. Sometimes, this is easier said than done. Sometimes, we want to be the person who is being taken care of, instead of the decision maker.

You see, when you become a trainer, it’s not all about playing with puppies and teaching Sit/Stays. You have to work through the hard issues too. Hard issues like euthanasia of a difficult dog. Hard issues like the possibility of having an aggressive or dangerous, unpredictable dog in the presence of a child. Specifically a very large dog who is unpredictable.

You can work as hard as you can, but it’s not enough. Again, now is one of those times. I did everything I knew how to do and exhausted every resource. I made all the recommendations, and the family followed through with all the homework. They really did everything, too. But it comes down to how much progress has been done and how much more needs to be accomplished. It’s more than what I can do, it’s more than what the family could do. Even if he went with the best trainer in the world, I believe the outcome may have been the same. There was a ‘right’ family out there for him, but either it wasn’t the right time, they weren’t experienced enough yet, or they didn’t hear my cries for help. Either way, the decision has been made and the end has come. I also can’t think like that anymore – there is always something else to do. That’s a pet owner’s way of thinking, and I will torture myself thinking ‘What if?’. Thinking as a trainer, I exhausted all resources and didn’t come to this decision lightly.

The question needs to be asked, “Can you trust this dog to make the right decision?”. The answer was No. It has been no for the last 8 months, and I don’t see this changing. With dogs like this, you have to constantly be on your guard and be ready in case things go bad. The one time you let your guard down will be the one time something might happen. This dog was fine 95% of the time, but in those small moments when he wasn’t, bites have happened. A dog that gives no warning is the most dangerous kind of dog. A dog that is unpredictable makes this situation even worse. Even though he is sweet 95% of the time… the moment you let your guard down is when something will happen. This dog was not a monster, but sweet and confused. The product of a hard puppy-hood and negligence and malnutrition. He was a great dog.

It’s exhausting, and you don’t see an end. A decision needs to be made. Can you rehome the dog? Can you adopt them out? Is euthanasia the only option? How do you find the right home? What are the conditions of adopting out an unpredictable, dominant, possibly aggressive dog? What about liability? Is that a life for the family? Why should they have to do this? What kind of quality is that kind of life for a dog? And what if, at some point, he does finally get to be a decent dog? How much time will this senior dane have left? How much time will he get to enjoy his hard-earned freedom? How many people are willing to take on a project senior Great Dane who is likely to bite again? These were all things that we discussed. These were all valid points, and unfortunately, the answer was that in the most ideal family, and with the best training, he would still be a project dog and once the training was ‘done’ (because training is never ‘done’), he wouldn’t have much time left in his short life.

That’s always something to think about. At some point, you need to weigh the cost and quality of life for the animal. Euthanasia is a better alternative, and this way, he can be happy.

Sometimes, that means euthanasia is the best option. Weighing this option is never an easy topic. It’s never easy to think about or discuss, especially with a dog that isn’t yours. How do you even bring up this topic? What if you get attached and you don’t want to accept it yourself?

I have always been of the opinion that euthanasia was an unnecessary option. It was a ‘lazy’ option for people who didn’t want to fix the problem. But after seeing some of the best trainers in the United States have to make the same decisions, my opinion was swayed. I still want to do everything else to not have to make this decision, and I thought that when I had to discuss with a client, it wouldn’t be this dog. It wouldn’t be this client, and it would be years later in my training. But after exploring every angle, talking to the best trainers, and discussing options with the family, I am confident this is the right decision. Even though it hurts and feels like I’m being ripped apart. I know in my heart this is right.

What happens when you have to have this discussion, not only with a client, but with a friend? I handled it in a way that I knew how. I thought about how, if a trainer told me this was the best option for MY dog, how would I want to be told? These are my friends, and I love this dog. But that doesn’t mean it made it any easier. In fact, this made it harder. Part of the job – the hardest part. This is the part where trainers get judged the most, and where second guessing makes this decision even harder.

I’m trying to turn this around and think in a positive light. This will make me a better trainer. I’m sure I will have this same discussion again in the future. If I want to work with difficult dogs, which I do – this is not the last time I will discus euthanasia. I can do it, and I will learn how to better handle these situations. I can learn from this experience and I can learn from everything this dog had to teach me. I won’t forget anything, and I won’t tarnish his memory by making the same mistakes again. I will remember this dog and all the work the family did, the dog did, and how much I put into him. It’s not anyone’s fault it didn’t work out. I will get better, and just like Albert, I will learn from Ryder. To see all of Ryder’s progress, see his notes here.

I love you, kid.

R.I.P. Ryder
2010-2013

Taken on 7/24/13

Taken on 7/24/13

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