Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The First Morning Without Gatsby

Friday through Monday of this past week have been four of the saddest days of my life. That goes for my husband Mr. Y too.

Early Friday morning, our beautiful but unpredictable redbone coonhound Gatsby attacked Mr. Y as he was sitting on the edge of our bed in his underwear petting the dog. I was right behind him, and witnessed the whole thing. Gatsby didn't even issue a warning growl. He took a chunk of my husband's hand and managed to bite both arms and his right thigh, and clawed his torso, including a large gash on his chest. Our other dog Lily jumped in to protect Mr. Y and, of course, I flew to my feet and screamed at Gatsby. He stopped his attack.

It was so fast. Just seconds.

Blood was gushing from my husband's wounds and we rushed into the bathroom to administer First Aid. After applying Hydrogen Peroxide and Neosporin and securing bandages, we threw on our clothes and drove to our closest ER (actually, it's the only hospital in town) where Mr. Y's wounds were treated more extensively. We had to tell our shocking story to the triage nurse, the nurse technician, the attending physician and some other lady in scrubs who came in. The consensus among hospital staff was we had a dangerous dog that would need to be put down.

Our Gatsby.

After picking up my husband's prescription for antibiotics, we returned home. When I went upstairs, Gatsby was waiting at the doggie gate in the doorway to our bedroom. He was anxious to make nice and nuzzled my hands as I retrieved my address book so I could make some calls to deal with the situation. He was so gentle in his nuzzling. I ducked into our second bedroom and started sobbing. Honestly, I've hardly stopped crying since.

Being a stoic, my husband trudged off to work shortly after we got back, first courageously harnessing and leashing Gatsby and leading him and Lily out to the doggie yard. He didn't want me to have to do that on my own.

Because we had heard that dogs sometimes bite when they are suffering from an undiagnosed injury or even an ear infection, I called our vet to inquire. My answers to their resulting questions left little doubt that this was not the case. Gatsby had not been exhibiting any behaviour that suggested injury or illness. I made an appointment to have him checked out anyway. The earliest slot they could offer was 5:15 Monday evening.

I then called the shelter from which we adopted Gatsby last October. I hoped that they would be willing to take him in, maybe they knew more about behavioral issues and could handle a dog like him. I was deluding myself, but it did offer some brief relief to think that maybe he could still be saved.

But the verdict from the extremely compassionate woman who runs the shelter was the same. The only option was to euthanize. Once a dog has attacked a person the way Gatsby had, he will certainly do it again. And honestly, he'd shown aggression before. He constantly bullied Lily, was overprotective of his food bowl, lunged at me several times and nipped me on the thigh once. We'd just convinced ourselves that it was under control with hand feeding and night crating. And, certainly, his aggression had never reached this level before.

I don't want to just discuss his aggression, because this dog was also unbelievably sweet, gentle, funny, cuddly and smart as a whip. So expressive, as hound dogs are, he could wring your heart with a look over his shoulder. He was stately and athletic and always ready to GO! We had at least a dozen nicknames for him: Mr. Wiggles, Houndini (escape artist), Moosh, Cinnamon Dog, TK (short for teakettle, the noise he made all the time) and more. When either Mr. Y or I would come home and approach the doggie yard, Gatsby would run to the gate and excitededly leap straight up and down like a giant amber frog. We loved this dog. He was part of our family.

We'd been advised that the best way to get through the weekend with him was to keep our distance and try to segregate him best we could, so that neither we nor Lily would be at risk for attack. We modified our behaviour, we were careful, but we couldn't make his last days that grim. We put ourselves at risk.

Sadly, he showed us that the experts were right. Sunday evening, Mr. Y put his guard down and allowed Gatsby to lie on the bed next to him while watching a hockey match. At one point, Gatsby lunged at Mr. Y and started growling at him for no reason. My husband wanted to spare me this information, so I unwittingly let my guard down the following morning -- yesterday morning, the morning of the evening that he would be leaving us -- and I encouraged Gatsby to cuddle up to me in bed one last time. He did and was his sweet, gentle self, all soft amber eyes and nuzzle nose. Then, just like that, he made a quick move for my hand, I pulled it back and he started growling at me. It was heartbreaking.

All day yesterday, we were zombies. But we wanted to make his last day as nice as it could be. My husband stayed home from work, we took the dogs on several walks around the neighborhood and into the woods. We fed Gatsby as many Mother Hubbard cookies as he wanted. He was served a special grilled hot dog meal. And we, as a family, got into the car at quarter to 5 and drove to the vet. We walked the two dogs around the parking lot and surrounding area to help calm them both, and entered the building at 5:10 p.m.

There was paperwork and payment and waiting. Lily was extremely nervous and high strung (she has a lot of experience at the vet), but Gatsby was mellow. He stayed close to us, let me give him a little puppy massage and did that unbearably endearing thing where he buries his head into my leg while I scratch his ears. The vet opened the door to the room and Mr. Y and Gatsby went in while Lily and I waited.

It was so fast. Just seconds.


Anonymous Tallu said...

Oh my darling Yaye, I am so sorry that you had to experience such a horrible thing. It's one of those life lessons that is so painful and will stay with you for the rest of your life.

I love you and Mr. Y very very much.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous yaye said...

I know you've been through this yourself, Parco. Tell me it will get easier.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Tallulah said...

Yes it will...I swear it will

8:43 AM  
Anonymous lyford said...

I am so sorry to hear this story - it is devastating. Having been there with 2 pets so far, doing the right thing is very challenging (though ours were for health reasons, which seems an "easier" decision)

I must say there is something very odd with the cosmos this last week or two. Lots of conflicting energy bouncing around amongst many of my friends - happiness, chaos, terror, sadness, all mixing into an emotional goulash of uncertainty. Times of loss, change, joy and rage. I find myself unsettled.

But I wish you peace and hope Mr. Y recovers quickly.

7:12 PM  
Anonymous yaye said...

Thank you for your compassion, Lyfie. Mr Y and I appreciate it. Luckily, flesh heals quickly. The rest takes time.

Here's hoping that happiness and joy kick ass and take names.

8:27 PM  

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