It's been a while since our last post. One reason behind not writing for some time was related to having to say goodbye to our foster dog, Maddie. Unfortunately, it wasn't the happy goodbye that we all hoped for. We both loved Maddie for who he was, and treated him as though he was one of our own. Unfortunately, a few weeks after making the video to help him find a permanent home, a number of worrying behaviors started to show.
Before going in to detail on what happened, it's important to understand where Maddie came from. Maddie wasn't a fighting dog, he wasn't a bait dog, he (probably) wasn't an abused dog, he was a dog that had been passed around between several families before finally ending up at the HSSV Humane Society of Silicon Valley). We didn't know Maddie when he first entered the shelter, we came to know Maddie by way of the training class that we attend with Jake and Abbey. A number of volunteers would bring Maddie to the training class as a way to improve his chances of getting adopted. At the training class Maddie would occasionally have moments where he would breakdown and react to the other dogs around him, but overall he did well at these classes. One thing to say, Maddie was a definite people pleaser. However, as time went by, shelter life took it's toll on Maddie. At the shelter he was starting to react with ever increasing intensity. An amazing group of volunteers worked tirelessly to keep Maddie's spirits up and keep him adoptable.
After about eight months of living at the shelter we were asked if we would take Maddie as a foster. We knew that if we didn't his days would be numbered at the shelter. We agreed to give it a try. This was our first foster and being a little naive we didn't ask all the questions we probably should have.
Maddie's spent the majority of his first week with us sleeping in his crate. He was exhausted and needed time to de-stress. Over the coming weeks, we spent time introducing Maddie to Jake and Abbey, although at the shelter he was reactive to other dogs, we didn't see any reactivity towards Jake and Abbey. After several weeks of working with Maddie, Jake and Abbey behind a baby gate we took the next steps and moved on to face to face introductions and play sessions. Whenever, Maddie played with Jake and Abbey we were careful not to leave anything of high value lying around. Maddie progressed from just being in the yard with our own dogs to being able to play tug with both Jake and Abbey.
One thing we noticed in the early play sessions was that Maddie would occasionally react if Jake or Abbey encroached on his space. Sometimes, Maddie would stiffen and give a glare to Jake or Abbey, at other time it would be snarl. One problem we have is that Jake and Abbey have no boundaries in terms of personal space and are quite happy sleeping on top of each other. For Maddie, it appeared that he liked his personal space and didn't like our other dogs being so close to him. We spent time working with Maddie and over time it appeared that he overcame his space problems and would from time to time snuggle up to Abbey on the couch.
Even though we were working with Maddie on a daily basis we couldn't overcome his reactivity to cats, other dogs, squirrels and really anything that moved. But we loved him. On walks he would be constantly on guard, never relaxed, as though he was looking for the next thing to react too.
After Maddie had been with us for a little over six months we started to notice changes in his behavior, subtle at first, a glare (or snake eyes) at either Jake or Abbey when they came to close to his crate. We didn't see these behaviors initially, they were very subtle, but both Jake and Abbey could read the signals and luckily they made the smart decisions and would walk away (submissively). By chance, we stumbled over the fact that Maddie had started to resource guard his food. While he was eating you would start to pet him, Maddie would stiffen up, if you continued to pet him, his lip would curl and a low growl could be heard. At this point we still wanted to work with Maddie and sought advice from our trainer. For the next couple of weeks, whenever we fed Maddie we would offer words of encouragement and drop pieces of bacon or cheese into his food to show him that when we were with him (at feeding times) good things would happen.
If this had been the only problem, we would have kept working with Maddie, but as we started to watch Maddie more closely, we started to pick up on the subtle behaviors that Jake and Abbey had probably been observing for some time. On one particularly occasion, a freshly washed and dried cat bed was on the floor our breakfast area. Maddie claimed the bed for himself. Abbey happened to walk in to the same area as the cat bed. Maddie probably saw Abbey coming for the cat bed and let out a loud snarl, alerting Abbey that she should stay away. As you can tell by reading this blog, what started out as a dirty look had escalated to a growl and a snarl. Maddie's behavior started to make us feel uncomfortable in terms of the safety of our own dogs and also ourselves.
Taking everything into account, including, the time spent in the shelter, his reactivity levels, his resource guarding to both humans and other dogs, and that only a single couple had paid any attention to Maddie in the seven or eight months he was with us, forced us to make (what was probably the hardest decision of our lives) and say goodbye to Maddie. It's a hard thing to say that Maddie had become un-adoptable. We questioned ourselves constantly as to whether we made the right decision, we could have quite easily have kept his guarding issues to ourselves and not told our trainer or the HSSV and life could have continued on as normal. However, neither of us wanted Maddie to become a headline in terms of a pit bull biting someone (whether and adult or small child) and we certainly didn't want Maddie to be returned to the shelter if a new owner couldn't deal with the reactivity issues.
It's a horrible thing to say, but Maddie's last day was probably one of his happiest. In the morning we took him to the coast. I doubt Maddie had ever walked on sand or seen the ocean. In the afternoon one of the volunteers who had spent many hours with Maddie while he lived at the shelters came around and played with him, and fed him lot's of cookies while he laid on his back having his tummy rubbed. I hope this is wat he remembers. I'm not sure how either of us kept it so together that day, but when it was over, it was clear that Maddie was a much bigger part of our lives than we realized. For days, well more like weeks our house felt empty. Maddie had the biggest, brightest smile, he was always so happy to see you and no matter how bad your day was going, Maddie would be there and everything would seem so much easier.