Dog Quest: Rehoming

We have a bit of a sad announcement to make. Some friends already know, but as I’ve been struggling to come to terms with it, and haven’t been prepared for any pushback to come my way, I haven’t put it on Facebook, so here it is.

We’re going to try to re-home Abby.

There are a few reasons for this, but before I go into it: this decision was not made lightly. This decision is heartbreaking. I question it every day when I look at her adorable little face; when her oddly truncated tail goes “thump-thump-thump” on the floor when she see us; when she cuddles into my lap; when she brings me the tug rope and shoves it into my hand because IT IS PLAY TIME NOW.

It all came to a head when Lestat died. Lestat died because Abby, while she didn’t get to do physical harm to him, literally scared him to death. He was too old and his poor ticker couldn’t take it. She got through the door while I was carrying something. She doesn’t do this to Michael, but I’m unsteady on my feet, and it’s obvious. After what happened with Jabba, there was a lot of self-recrimination. I was being careful. I was about to close the door behind me. She literally bowled me over to get to our old man cat.

We talked it over after the attack on Jabba, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.

Here’s the thing: Abby is a lovely dog in many ways. She is 100% a safe dog with people. As far as I’ve seen, she’s gentle with kids (very limited exposure though). She is very clever. She is trainable, learns readily, is eager to please, very playful and an enormously fun, loving dog.

But she has a very high prey drive; and she is very anxious and reactive. These are not easy things to deal with, especially in combination. She has attacked another dog. She has attacked cats. She is a gun dog in a Rottweiler body (with the possible exception that I don’t think she would have good retriever instincts – as a side note,  she would probably train that well. It’s very easy to take stuff away from her).

These don’t make her a bad dog. They don’t make her a dog that wouldn’t make someone a wonderful companion – but that someone needs to have no other pets.

We’re rehoming her for Ridcully’s sake; that doesn’t require explanation. As far as Abby is concerned, he is a fluffy edible toy. Amos does not have this cat-eating impulse.

We’re rehoming her for Amos’s sake; that does require explanation. While he loves to play with her, she bullies him. We’ve been told this is “normal dog hierarchy”, but this is by people who haven’t witnessed it. I have seen normal dog hierarchy: pushing and shoving and wrestling and jealousy. There is a level of antagonistic interaction that is perfectly normal. This is not that. Amos sometimes hides behind me when Abby comes close. He won’t play tug rope if she also wants to play. Some days he plays with her happily. Some days he actively avoids her. She causes him high levels of stress. When she gets frustrated or anxious, she basically starts fights with him, which end with him throwing her off, snarling, and running away. Actual fights, not playing. Sometimes these require intervention. I have stepped between snarling, furious dogs more often than I’d like. Professionals in the field have watched Abby’s interactions with other dogs very closely and have admitted that they can’t figure out her triggers. She is fine with them. She is happy. She is playing. Then she is not fine, is freaking out, and needs to be removed.

Yes, Amos will mourn when she goes. Yes, he will need a higher level of interaction from us to compensate. We get that. We still think, long term, he will be better off.

We’re rehoming her for our sake. We have tried a great many things to deal with her anxiety – exposure therapy, medication, carefully managed “working distance” – but it is beyond our skill level and available time. I could probably manage Abby’s issues quite well if I did literally nothing else with my life. I take my responsibilities to my dogs very seriously and the constant stress and guilt of trying to manage Abby and make sure she is feeling happy and safe is exhausting; it’s making me miserable. The constant stress of getting her away from the door that keeps Ridcully safe is exhausting. Distract her so she stops barking. Redirect her stress into play. Put stinky goop on her paws so that her anxious licking doesn’t give her yet another fungal or bacterial infection. It is constant. When we want to take Amos for a walk (Abby does not like walks; it took us a long time to work out that the extra stimulus freaked her out and she was always eager to get back in the car and go home), we always have to think about what we will do for Abby. Leave her in the yard? Risk of over-stress and abandonment panic. Put her in her crate? She will feel safe, at least, but that means we can’t stay out longer than a couple of hours (I refuse to leave her in there longer than that, unless it’s overnight for some reason).

Ultimately, we’re rehoming her for her sake. This is not rationalisation. This is just fact. Abby needs to be an only pet – no other dogs, no small fluffies. She needs someone who can make sure she gets lots of playing and interaction every day (i.e., someone who is home a lot, like me, but who is not dealing with the dramatically fluctuating energy levels of chronic illness. She’ll bring me the tug rope and I will be prostrate on the couch and… sigh). Maybe a family with teenagers who will romp with her. She needs a dog-experienced owner. She needs a yard that has opaque fencing so that she can’t see into the other yards and get stressed about it (this is actually an important tactic for anxious dogs).

Living in our house – where she is in competition with Amos for attention, where she can’t get the stimulating interaction she needs as a dog with a high prey drive and energy level, where we have post-and-wire fences that mean she gets worked up by anything that happens in the neighbours’ yards, where she is constantly aware of prey items she can’t get to – it’s not good for her. It might actually be making her condition worse.

There is a family or owner out there that will be delighted with Abby. She has an extremely sweet, loving nature. She is a fun, playful, snuggly dog.

She is just not right for us.

In terms of pushback: please don’t suggest we are “giving up” or doing this lightly. We fucking adore this dog and have had her for three years. Please don’t suggest we haven’t “really tried” – you have no idea I swear to god. Please don’t suggest that the Amos-Abby antagonism is normal dog interaction – you haven’t seen it (a couple of friends have), and you may not have a benchmark. Please don’t say we’re abandoning her or betraying her – I already feel like that is the case, and we have gone through this mental space so many times. Keeping a dog out of guilt isn’t going to make for a happy home either.

I wish things could be different. I deeply regret this, and the necessity of it, but when I picture her in a home with an experienced owner, as an only dog, happily playing tug and bouncing around in a yard that is all her own, I feel an overwhelming sense of happiness and relief. It will be hard to find the perfect home for her, but I’m sure it’s out there.

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