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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Strength from Suffering

Again, it’s been awhile. And something horrible and tragic happened a week ago, and that is what brings me here tonight to write. When something big happens, I know I am going to write about it, but I put it off because I don’t want the pain to feel fresh again, and inevitably it will in the writing process. I feel the raw feelings in my fingers while they are typing and sometimes knowing I have a story to share just brings tears to my eyes. 
So let me start by saying that we, as a family, are on the mend. In a family, it seems like something is always broken and in need of mending. But I think that being broken is a sign of being vulnerable, and being vulnerable is a sign of being able to love. So in every situation, I want to try and look for the love that streams into those painful moments, like a flower that grows in a crack on the cement. Just by virtue of the fact that we can hurt means we are open to being hurt. And our family has been hurt in the past seven days.
On Friday the 29th, I got a call from our neighbors that the dogs were out again. By “dogs” I mean our two pound rescues, Otis and Susie. We had been a 3-dog family again for over a year since we adopted Millie, our second Rottweiler. I wasn’t sure I could have another Rottie after losing Porky, but she has been wonderful, and just as stubborn and faithful as her predecessor. Unlike Millie, Otis and Susie had a wild streak that caused them to always look for a way out of the house. Two years ago, Odie (as we had started calling him) got out the front door of the house and killed our cat. Thank God Cody was here because it was a vicious and horrible death for the fourteen year old cat who was just minding her own business. I was sickened by it and wasn’t sure how to continue caring for a dog that had killed another family pet. But weeks went by, and I read many articles about this behavior and I accepted it for what it was: a dog being a dog. Since that time, Odie and Susie have found a multitude of ways to get out of our house. They learned how to open windows with their teeth. They learned how to unlock windows with their teeth. And they learned how to get out of the six-foot tall backyard fence. John was constantly using pallets and landscaping timbers to cover holes the dogs had dug, but they always found another way out. Generally, if the dogs ran off, they were gone for an hour and always returned. What they did on their excursions, we may never know. Friday morning I had not put the dogs in their crate because the older boys were home and I figured they would keep an eye on them. Sadly, I was mistaken. 
Shortly after our wonderful neighbor, Gin, called to say the dogs were out, an officer from Animal Control called. He was young-sounding, and polite, but he called to tell me that our dogs, our “pitbulls” as he described them, had attacked and likely killed a very small dog in our neighborhood. From the description, I was sure that the dogs had gotten ahold of one of the many tiny dogs belonging to one of our retired neighbors. We have neighbors with Pomeranians, Poodles, and other small breeds. I became sick immediately at this news, and my eyes filled with tears while I saw at my desk at work. 
I asked the officer what needed to be done and he replied that we should keep the dogs indoors. I told him that we typically kept them in a crate indoors because they were able to get out of the house, and that my teenage stepsons were home. He replied that the boys had come outside and taken Odie and Susie back into the house. He told me that several neighbors had seen the attack, and the smaller dog had “dragged” itself away from my dogs when a neighbor yelled for them to stop. At the time, he was still searching for the tiny dog, and for its owner. 
John and I talked briefly, but we didn’t know what to do. We told the Animal control officer to let us know when/if the little dog was found, and I told him we would take care of the veterinary bills. I called Samuel and told him not to let the dogs out of his sight. The day stretched on. 
When I got home, I still had not heard anything else, so I walked across the street to talk to Gin, and ask her what I should do. While Gin and I were talking, another neighbor called, very upset, after finding the little injured dog under her camper. She knew the dog needed immediate attention but didn’t have the means to take care of it, and didn’t know who it belonged to. Gin took me on her golf cart around the neighborhood where several people were unhappy with me, because of this terrible attack. After a series of conversations, we located the lady who had possession of the little dog. Nobody seemed to know who he belonged to, but his injuries were very bad. I really fell apart that night, thinking about how this little dog had suffered all day. I was horrified and couldn’t even bring myself to look at the poor thing, all wrapped up in a towel in a storage container. Sobbing, I called John and told him to bring the car and to leave the kids with Mitchell, that I would be there in five minutes to take over. John then took the little dog to the 24-hour emergency vet, where it was determined that it must be euthanized. There was nothing that could be done, although for a few minutes I imagined finding a home for this supposed stray and helping him recuperate from his injuries. But, nothing could be done. John paid the vet bill and brought the little dog home, and buried him under a tree in our backyard. In the meantime, I was online talking to every animal behaviorist, vet, rescue group, and expert I could find. I asked everyone for help and suggestions, but one by one, each option was eliminated. I knew that if I simply re-homed the dogs, I would still be responsible if they continued to be aggressive. John and I talked in whispered voices in our room after the kids were in bed. We knew what we had to do, but we had to get through the night, regardless. Then we heard the saddest little cry coming from the baby monitor in the boys’ room.
(Okay, yes, we have a baby monitor in our 6 & 8 year old sons’ bedroom. We have to listen to them at all times. It is part of the life we live as parents of children adopted from foster care. But that’s just a sidebar.)
At first I thought the crying might be Lizzie, and it was just coming in loud and clear in her brothers’ bedroom. It’s not that unusual for her to wake up and start crying when she has wet her pull-up or needs Mommy or Daddy. But the closer I walked toward the kids’ rooms, the more I realized it was Camden. And he was curled into a ball on his bed, hugging his knees and sobbing. I noticed the curtains were opened to the backyard. Sliding into his bed beside him, I wrapped my arms around him and asked, “Buddy, did you look in the backyard when Daddy came back from the vet?” He shook his head with giant tears rolling down his face. “Mommy!” He cried, “I saw Daddy burying that little puppy, and I just feel so sad for that little puppy!” Soon I was crying too, the events of the entire day laid out before me. 
The next morning, we explained to the kids in the only way we knew how, that the dogs were sick and probably needed to go to Heaven. We knew what had to be done, but it didn’t make it any easier. Gin was kind enough to watch the kids so John and I could take them together. I felt like a murderer, and I tried to remember all the reasons why we had to do this. Our dogs had become dangerous, they had snapped at the kids a few times before. They had attacked and killed another dog. Although the little dog was a stray, we were responsible for this horrible scene that had taken place - and responsible to the neighbors who had seen it happen (including one very young boy who was outside with his grandmother). 
I still can’t believe we did it. 
We took our pets to the vet, (our pets we rescued who trusted us) and had them put to sleep. I clung to their necks and told them I loved them, that I would always love them, and that I was glad we had these past few years together. 
John was braver than I was. I couldn’t stay in the room while the procedure was done. I said my goodbye and went outside to sit in the car, and he stayed until the bitter end. While people came and went, walking their own pets in and out of the animal clinic, I bawled and howled in the car and screamed and cried and asked God why all the suffering. An awful lot of suffering had taken place in the past 24-hours. A kind technician that we have known for years came out to let me know things we going very smoothly and it would be over soon. I sobbed and asked him if we were doing the right thing. He assured me that it was our only option. What if someone’s child had been attacked? What if our dogs had killed a person instead of a stray dog? Gently, he told me that viciousness is like mental illness, and it rarely if ever goes away on its own. I begged the technician to keep Otis and Susie together as long as possible, and he assured me that he would. Soon John came outside and all I could ask him was if it was peaceful for them.

We went to get our kids who were eating all of Gin’s candy and terrorizing her two poodles. Lizzie asked if Otis and Susie were coming home, and we told her that no, they were not. We explained that they had gone to Heaven with a lot of other dogs, and that although we would miss them, they were better off. And we came home to a slightly quieter home. We loved on Millie, the lone pet in our house, and we loved on each other. 

In the past week, I also saw something scrawled on a dry-erase board at the gym and I latched onto it. The sentence read: “Suffering leads to Strength.” And although I know this was intended to encourage all the weight-lifters and beefcakes who are trying to build bigger muscles, it really spoke to me. I had been pondering the whole issue of suffering all week. I hated that the little dog had suffered all day from a viscous attack. I hated that we had to suffer through the whole ordeal and through losing our pets and making what seemed like a horrible decision. I hated that my children were suffering the loss of their pets and on some level, the loss of some of their innocence. Suffering was at the forefront of my mind but I realized, yes, suffering does lead to strength. Suffering through a failed first marriage, infertility, pregnancy loss, and other challenging situations have yes, made me stronger. 
And our family will be perhaps just a little stronger through this suffering. 

Rest in Peace, Otis, Susie, and “Little Cutie” (named by Camden).