On Fences & Fixing Things

“That they may have a little peace, even the best dogs are compelled to snarl occasionally.” – William Feather
      We met as girls. I was a college-kid, an almost-adult who drank a lot, and she was a one-month-old who liked to growl a lot . I was a human and she was a dog. Now I am a stay-at-home-subdivision-mom and she is six-and-a-half. I’m still pretty much a person and she is mostly still a dog. We are both, eternally,  idiots. I fell in love with the little Chow mix because she had a broken leg and beaten body that broke my heart. As shown by my choice of college beaus, I was a sucker for sad stories and saving things. I would like to believe that she fell in love with me because of something romantic, kindred spirits and such, but know that her affection for me was most likely based in the need to get the hell out of that dirty pound. Also, college was a fat period for me and I can bet that my greasy co-ed fingers probably smelled of Taco Bell and fries. What pound puppy could resist such deliciousness?
      I realized immediately that I had no business caring for the dog. Scout Finch was a feisty puppy, full of bark and also piss and probably vinegar. She didn’t much like people, or animals, or even really wind. Despite my mild (and mostly half-drunk) attempts to train her, she refused to come or sit or dance or like me. But she loved me despite my being a shitty owner, so I loved her despite her being a shitty pet. And I got what I would later discover was my first lesson in motherhood: You suck. But I’m your mom. I will fix it. The “it” that needed handling changed as quickly as the little puppy grew. I resolved that I chose her as mine. The fixing had to be mine, too. So I fixed “it” when “it” meant “chasing dog through dark Memphis alley” or “buying dog thirteen harness and collar contraptions to control the breaking free and constant barking” or “walking dog before or after sunlight hours so she wouldn’t bark or attack people” or “avoiding having friends over because dog doesn’t like friends” or “paying full price for human anxiety pills to calm dog’s soul because the vet doesn’t think animal meds will cut it” or “rebuilding a fence because it tasted good so dog ate it” or  “apologizing to new neighbors when dog picks up little Pomeranian in mouth”. But mostly and most desperately I tried to handle making Scout happy.
     I’m sure there were easier ways to accomplish this, but growing and vaginal birthing a 10-pound baby boy seemed to do the trick. When my son was born, I saw a joy in this typically grumpy girl. Scout, who most feared would harm our newest family member, relaxed inside our house. Scout and I seemed to grow more gentle, more content. The lines blurred between species and most days I felt our mothering skills were equal. My dog and I comforted and soothed, cuddled and enjoyed. She gave me what I gave my son. We were some zen bitches for a moment, and I felt a sense of relief that maybe I really could fix it all.
     But then a neighbor’s dog would bark. The fenced yard I finally gave her after years of apartment dwelling grew too small for her. While Scout loved and we loved and all was lovely inside our small walls, I could not seem to ever convince her that she had a lot to be happy about. And this was a mother’s worry. What if I do my best and you are still bad? Will anyone see what I see in you?
Because my girl gave the sweetest licks and paw hugs. The girl I raised laid in a semi-circle so carefully around a human son. The girl I knew had the softest fur, the most wonder-filled eyes, the most charismatic tail that I could read like a smile on a face. My girl had the loyalty few friends have ever shown, came back from running free and loved me for no reason at all. Can I make the scared and annoyed neighbors understand that when my girl barks and growls, escapes and darts, she is still so much good.
        I would, I decided, simply keep fixing:  new bark collar, windows with views of  pets being walked conveniently draped and covered, a giant yard at our new house, a metal fence around that yard so Scout might not chew through it. I would, as mothers do, keep giving my dog child whatever she needed.
     Last week, Scout got out of her big backyard. We were baffled to discover she had not dug beneath it, not slithered through it, but jumped clear over it. I worried, then, because our new neighborhood mandates what type of fence we can have. This is the biggest, tallest, most chew-proof fence, and if it is not enough then what can we do?  Before I could formulate a plan for fixing, Scout got loose again. This time I chased her in loops around the front yard until, quickly and without making a sound, she darted towards the neighbor’s house. She pushed past my friendly neighbor, nearly knocked over his friend, and attacked a shih tzu. As the neighbor rushed to the small dog’s aid and I hoisted Scout off the ground, I knew.
       And so in a strange moment of forgetting who the victim is, I stood right there, right there, and cried. The man was horrified, kept assuring me it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. And I cried. And I apologized for my dog, to his dog’s punctured lung, for sobbing uncontrollably. And I cried.
        Weeping in front of strangers into the fur of my rabid-looking dog seems crazy. I know this. But I also knew at that moment why. After nearly 7 years, so many miraculous remedies to the dog daughter’s various troubles, so much love and growth from little girls to women, so much, so much, so much, I could not fix this. 
      That night, Scout slept on the rug, and I wished everyone who’d ever heard her bark could just see her. This was my girl, this was the sweet and the good in her. I laid on the floor with her. I’d like to say something romantic like our bodies formed the shape of a heart and it was all really a big metaphor for love and loyalty and all that. In truth, I got to cry and stroke that precious face I’d known for a long time, and  hold that sweet paw that guarded my son but also scratched through fences, and get a sleepy lick from her little tounge that also licked blood from innocent dogs and bunnies.  Then she woke up, realized that I was invading her space, and went to snooze more privately in the empty guest room.
The next day, hunched on deck where she was chained to a table, I slumped over her. And for a minute I didn’t really care that my ass was hanging out of my PJs or that my loud crying was echoing through the neighborhood. Because this, after all these years, would be my last minute with my Scout. And, in a move that surely irritated God, I prayed some hugely beggy prayers. Just “bless this girl, bless this girl, bless this girl” over and over until I realized how obnoxious I was even to Christ. We packed her up, bound for a rescue farm out in the country. And then she was gone.
      I wake early in the morning before the boys are up. Still groggy from sleep or still in denial, I pass by her favorite spots or wander onto my empty porch and my breath catches. I am slapped by it. Completely, all at once and all over again shocked that she is not here and is not mine. Because I don’t know what to do if she’s not my dog. If I’m not her mother then who is? Mostly, I am sad that for a long time I was really good at fixing things until I wasn’t.  For now I’m going to cry some more. I’m going to keep beggy praying to God that she be blessed until some little kid’s whining prayers for a Barbie out-ridiculous my demands that Jesus take personal interest in my dog. And then I’ll cry some more still. And then I’ll find some silver lining, that maybe, just maybe, if I am so distraught over my Scout things are good. Maybe so much sadness for a dog means I have lived a pretty sheltered and wonderful life.   That maybe Scout is already so happy. That crueler neighbor’s could have demanded Scout be put down. That having  her for a friend, a rotten, barking, biting friend, was more good than bad. That someone will see her good like I did.

32 thoughts on “On Fences & Fixing Things

  1. Wow, tough to do, my friend. I feel your pain. I took our Aussie to the Humane Society and because she had nipped at a child, they had to put her down. I think you made the right choice by taking Scout to a farm. Much better for her. My thoughts are with you T.

  2. I’m sorry. About a year and half ago, we had to say goodbye to our dog too. It was tough. My kids make it even tougher, even now. I am sure she will go to a very good, loving home and live happily ever after.

  3. OMG I”m crying. That must have been SO hard. I’ve had to put pets to sleep, old sick cats, but never forced to give them away. I’m so sorry! I’ve been obsessed with getting a hypoallergenic dog (a small one) and wonder if I’d know anything more than you did what to do with it. You were a good loving mom. And still are.

  4. Ugh, this is such a loving and tough situation. I feel for you. I’m hoping with you that someone finds her and gives her the unconditional love that you did. I’m sure she’ll never forget you.

  5. This breaks my heart. I’m so sorry you guys had to go through this. Your beggy prayers are not obnoxious to God. He cares about the things you care about. I hate feeling like you can’t fix what is going on and I hope this transition goes smoothly for you guys. I know that Scout is happy where she is and will always remember you.

  6. So sad for you and your family, but maybe giving Scout the space he needed was the best gift you could give him? Hang in there, and soak up lots of love and support from this blogging community in the meantime.

  7. Oh, dear Tori, what can I say. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I know your heart must be breaking. I know it’s painful. But good for you. She’ll love it there. She can run and play and be her bad girl/good girl self. Hang in there. We love you here in Lexington. ANd if you need to get away, you know you and that little man of yours are welcome!

  8. Sorry you had to go through the heartbreak of sending Scout away. It might not help, but I did just post something on my new blog, called “Ode To Absent Friends”. Though it was written as a farewell to canine friends who have died, it might (just barely) help.

  9. Oh, sweet girl! I am so sorry to read this. I know that many don’t see our pets this way, but I see my own furry girl as my child. I can’t imagine your pain right now. Just know that you have one other woman with a naughty furry girl of her own crying right along with you.

  10. I am sorry that I am not more conversive on the topic,, however I feel every ounce of your remorse, just as I shared every bit of love for our Scout. I take great comfort in her resolution and in the fact that you gave her 6+ years of love and tenderness that she may have never have known. I heard of the “incident” while I was working in East TN and I actually told people I had to get back to check on you. However my stiff upper lip quivered and my eyes watered as I told the story. I quickly decided I had to keep the story to myself. After all I am a dad and I have to put a happy face on things. My prayer is that through living in this new environment Scout can adjust socially as well as find her place. We have to believe that! If it weren’t for that litlle T at college she would have never had the wonderful love and care she has known. You made the best decision and I am keeping a stiff upper lip and my eyes dry for you.

  11. This post made me cry. I’m so sorry with the choice you had to make, but you did what you thought was best. In this litigious society, you can’t take a chance on Scout biting another dog, or worse, a child. I am praying that Scout is shown mercy and finds love and compassion in a new environment. I wish you the best and my thoughts are with you.

  12. Oh, I am wiping tears. I love dogs so much. I can’t imagine what you are going through. I am so sorry. Scout knows how much you love her. There is no doubt. You gave her a home and raised her for all those years. Hugs to you and begging God to bless that girl.

  13. Oh Tori, how sad. I feel so, so bad for you and for Scout. What can I say.. The love for an animal runs as deep and as strong as for a human. The lost is felt just the same too.

  14. Oh girl I’m so sad for you. But- I know it will be ok for both of you. Hang in there. It’s hard to give up a dog child. We just put one of ours down because she bit a child. Sometimes it just sucks to do the right thing.

  15. I am so sad for you, and for Scout. As the owner of a barking, digging, 95 pound lump of furry small-animal-destroying canine I worry that such a day will come to us, too. I am so sorry that Scout had to leave, and I’ll pray some beggy prayers on her behalf (the Lord is used to this from me). I hope she is happy and loved.

  16. I’m so sorry but it was for the best. I have a little 2 year old Lhasa Apso who is the best friend I will ever have, even if he does eat my bacon sandwiches and chew my shoes.
    For a picture and more information about my silly doggy and my life as a British teen, go to uniquelysophie.wordpress.com

  17. Oh, Tori. I’m finally getting around to reading this post, and (if I wore mascara), it would totally be streaking right now. I love dogs SO MUCH, and it breaks my heart to hear that you were put in a position of having to make such a tough (although probably right) choice. 😦
    Scout was blessed to have you as a mother for all of those years, and I’m sure she is loving the farm, where there are plenty of innocent animals to chase around and bite. My heart breaks for you– I know this couldn’t have been easy. xo

    1. Thanks, Dana. It sucked. It still mostly sucks. I know we did the right thing. The next time she decided to bite she could really injure a dog or a kid. I just miss my girl. There was a long time before babies and husbands and such when it was just the two of us. Definitely feels like losing a friend 😦

      1. You know what, Tori? I lost my Border Collie AND my absolute best friend in the world (two different events). Losing my “boy” Red hurt more – and I knew my best buddy Jon from fifth grade to ten years after we both graduated high school! (‘Course, it didn’t help that Red was our wedding present, either – best dang present we got!)

      2. I guess I was taken off guard by that, realizing how much I considered her a real, legitimate friend/ part of my family. I felt silly, being as emotional (even still) about letting her go, but at the same time I understand. I’ve had few friends as loyal as Scout. It was a crazy, stressful, great, sweet 6-years of my life for sure.

      3. I won’t say Red’s death was the only thing that threw me into 3 years of depression, but it was a major part. Granted, with me, Red (and the soon-to-be-infamous Zingo) was our “child”, as health problems had required my wife’s … “plumbing” to be removed (forgive the gross image), and hence we were unable to have kids.
        But all rationalisations and excuses aside, it hurt like I’d lost a child. Still does, 3 dogs (2 passed) and a houseful of cats later. Scout was a big part of your life, as Red was of mine. She deserves to be mourned, and you deserve your sorrow, number of feet be damned. But you will find another four-footed friend to love, as I have, and they’ll find you at the right moment. And don’t worry, just because you love another animal won’t diminish your love for Scout.
        At least, that’s my grizzled old wisdom for ya. 😉

      4. Really wise wisdom… I guess the wise part is essential! For now I’ve been the creepy neighbor, spending a little too long petting people’s dogs when we cross paths on walks. I think I’ve offered two different families to let their dogs play in my giant fenced yard. Their dogs are normally on leashes… and my yard is feeling a little sad and empty. It was just overly nice enough to weird them out I think 🙂

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