Monday, May 7, 2012

Before Juneau

It was October of the year we were married. I was cleaning our house thinking charley was out working late. The doorbell rang around 11:00pm and I jumped up from our couch frightened, because charley wouldn’t ring the doorbell.  I peeled back the paper slowly from the window on the side of the door and saw charley smiling back. I opened the door happy to see him and what should I see but charley …and a dog.

I went from excited to confused to excited again. We had talked over and over and over about getting a pet and he had always expressively said no. I think that from being around animals his whole life, charley wanted his new life free of kitty litter and balls of fur. I wanted a pet for company because I was getting used to charley’s late night schedule as a chef. But there he was grinning ear to ear with a small husky-Australian shepherd mix.

“careful, she’s really scared. She bit me when I got her in the car because she was confused.”

I watched our new girl cautiously enter our household. She had a bold stare but it wasn’t unkind. what was unusual was the lack of tail wag but I accounted it for the newness of everything.

Then charley spilled his saga. He had been keeping it a secret for a while so he was dying to tell me how it came to be. I was in shock, keeping secrets is no great skill of his. He had been searching for a rescue dog because purebred dogs are so expensive. He found her on craigslist and after a lot of emailing got some details. They said she was 2 years old, extremely friendly and that they found her someplace. Charley went to a run down house in the woods to pick her up and she was alone in the corner. The owner commented that “she just sort of does her own thing and keeps to herself”.


Little did we know that all of this was a lie.

After taking it very very slow, allowing her to get used to our scents and explore her new turf, I reached out to see if she’d accept a pat. She snapped suddenly, bit hard on my hand and then slank off. It hadn’t broken skin but I cried and ran my hand under cold water for a time. My newfound joy was replaced by fear. We decided to take it very very very slow.

We decided on the name Kira since we had recently been watching the anime series Death Note. She answered to a K sound well…we think her name was something with a K before.

the next morning I coaxed Kira into my car with some hamburger meat and took her to the vet. My wonderful mother in law met us there to help. we were taking her in because of her obvious affliction in the ears. At some point or another she had gotten in a fight and had scratches in her ears that were bleeding from infection. From there the vet was very troubled. She had some deeper unseen wounds and the exam could not be finished because she bit the vet and technician. We had to take her back and sedate her to finish. They shaved her matted thick double coat and found that she was badly injured. She had deep cuts all around her neck and the back of her head. Several infections, missing a large chunk of her ear…all hidden by her fur. This explained why she was so protective of her neck and getting petted. They bandaged and stitched everything that they needed too and we were told to keep her on antibiotics twice a day. I crushed them into hamburger meat because she was adept and spitting out pills.


The vet also informed us that she was not the young 2 year old we thought but a 7 year old. He warned us that she might be very set in her ways and beyond correction. He also told us that he thought she had been abused and neglected. Something in my stomach dropped…I had just become this dog’s mom …and I wanted her to be better, to heal, and be a happy dog.

We gave her the benefit of the doubt. We wanted to wait and see how she did as she healed. Anyone in as much pain as she was could be forgiven for biting. So we waited and we watched. She accepted us as her pack readily enough…she’d wait with rapt attention for charley to return home while ignoring me. We decided she must think of him as  her savior. Later we realized this was her respect for the alpha dog. what we didn’t know was that I wasn’t above her in her pack mentality. I was omega dog. This means that to put me in my place for doing anything that displeased her I needed a little snap. We researched as her behavior grew more and more distinct…she had an aggressive dominance issue. It began to dawn on us that perhaps she was alone in that yard and not with the other dogs …because in every situation she was going to force herself as the Alpha.

I was new to this behavior and Dogs in general. We’d always had cats. I though she was beginning to like me by little gestures. She liked to rush through doorways before I could get to them. She like to sit in my lap- not for affection but to claim me. She bit me again, this time on my thumb. I went to doctors care to get a rabies shot (we were unsure of the safety since we’d just gotten her). Her teeth had gone all the way to the bone in my thumb and they glued the incision shut. I had taken to wearing thick heavy coats around the house to ward off her bites. The strange thing is that they were given with no warning. As she healed she was perfectly content for me to pet her…she’d come ask me to do so…and then decide I was to close to somewhere she didn’t like.

One day I was watching a documentary on babies on netflix. Kira was curled up asleep on my feet. the babie’s cry woke her up and she started at the tv, growling like I’ve never seen her growl. Her fur bristled up and she looked a little like a bear. frightened I also tried to find the source of her aggression. I thought someone was out the window behind the TV. The baby left the screen and the growling stopped. She went to look behind the television for the baby…she was on the hunt.


Some time later my sister in law and brother in law had been visiting frequently to use our garage. We had some projects rolling for their baby room and Christine was 7 months pregnant. They had been introduced to Kira and all seemed fine, but that day I had to leave so I left them to work in the garage by themselves. Little did I know- I had just signaled to Kira that her pack was gone and she was in charge. Christine entered the kitchen (where Kira slept) to get some water and was immediately greeted by a snarling grin. She cornered her in the doorway and Christine yelled to Jeremy for help. He attempted to lure Kira out from the doorway using food, a poll, her toys everything but she didn’t budge….she just stayed there menacingly forcing Christine to climb on the counter….something no 7 month pregnant person should have to do. Jeremy was able to trap her in the kitchen with the baby gate and help Christine over the counter.

(I believe it was) the next day, Kira was back in her spot on the couch. I had been watching a movie waiting for Charley to come home when she decided to come sleep next to me on my feet. I reached for the remote control  and immediately felt her tense and bristle. Scared I jumped up to avoid her snap, but that was just what she didn’t want me to do. She lost it and lunged at me so fast and so ferociously that I screamed. I was wearing 3 thick sweaters and a waxed canvas outdoor utility coat but I felt her teeth sink into my arm  and lock. She dragged me to the ground and shook my arm around…I honestly didn’t know she was so strong. I remember thinking how wide open my neck was the entire time and wondering why she didn’t let go and strike again. She did once and then latched onto my hand. I took of the other sleeve of my jacket and threw it around her head, choking her until she let go and I could slip my other arm out.  While the blanket was over her eyes I ran to our bathroom and slammed the door on her. She had recovered quickly and kept up the chase.

She stayed outside the bathroom barking and growling and scratching for  some time. I was shaking in fear and my stomach hurt and then I noticed the blood and then I got a little dramatic. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t handle crisis or blood very well. My phone was in the bathroom (don’t ask me why) and I became panicky because I couldn’t get charley on the phone. I called and called and called like some sort of maniac person thinking “OMG I’m going to die”.  (again, dramatic). It was really really late so I felt terrible doing it, but  I began to call other people for help. Jeremy and Christine lived closest and after a few calls I got them. To this day I don’t understand how Jeremy understood me. I was crying and probably said something like “ I have to go to the hospital now!!! I’m covered in blood!!” . Jeremy rushed over and Charley arrived after him since he’d gotten my voicemail and told the restaurant he was leaving. 



Kira was caught and put outside. Charley had already called animal shelter on the way over. My arm was hurting badly but after cleaning it up, we didn’t need to go to the hospital or anything. I was calming down but when charley said that animal control was on the way I couldn’t handle it. We started a heated argument. I didn’t want to give up on her. I didn’t want them to put her to sleep…but there was no winning that battle- I had freaked Charley out to much.  I had lost on rehabilitating this poor dog….I wanted to fix her and make her better.

But Charley was right. she was dangerous and I was living in fear…she would never be a dog we could trust around our family of friends and especially children. We were told that she was most likely abused by a female…which is why when Charley left the house she was more difficult and why she only attacked females. That would also mean that if she was going to get the corrective training she would need- it would have to come from a man and charley didn’t have that kind of time. I felt absolutely miserable giving her up. I felt like a  rotten owner, that I had betrayed her…and all I could think about was that because I got scared- I couldn’t work with her to make her better. What’s worse is that I’d imagine her dying…after having such a rotten life..and I’ll never know what happened to her. I wrote everything down that I could think about her that would help someone who might want to work with her.  She wasn’t an evil dog, but people had made her untrustworthy.

I wrote all of this to say

1. Don’t abuse your dog. if you don’t have time for it and it’s specific needs, don’t get a dog. Don’t take out  your anger on them…they soak it up. It’s seems like such an obvious thing, but I’m going to take the time to say it.

2. I am extremely grateful for our sweet and playful dog Juneau…so glad we were able to be her owners for her whole life  and have a working relationship built on trust. While I retain a caution for strange dogs, my fear for them has been replaced since I know how a normal dog is supposed to act.

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