Wednesday, February 8, 2012


On Monday, we made one of the most difficult decisions we've ever had to make.

You may not know, because for the most part we've been dealing with it quietly. I've alluded to Piper's reactivity in a few blog posts, but honestly, I never wanted to taint anyone's image as her. I wanted to see her as the dog that I knew she could be, and I never wanted anyone who reads this blog to see pictures of Piper, or hear about Piper, and think of her as some vicious dog when we were working so hard on her issues.

The day we brought Piper home at 7 or 8 weeks old, she tried to attack Violet, and not in a puppy-playing kind of way. I spent 6 years in veterinary medicine and grew up in a family involved in rescue, conformation showing, and breeding, I've heard a lot of misguided clients and pet owners say that their poorly socialized, scared, or simply playful puppies were "mean," when reality was another thing entirely, misunderstood. This was similar to resource guarding, only her "resource" could be the whole entire room, and she would lunge, snarling and biting, at Violet for invading her personal space. Thankfully, we got this under control fairly quickly, but it does not bode well for a young puppy already doing that.

We were aware of her "issues," consulted a trainer, took classes, sought advice, had the usual medical screening processes done to rule out a medical issue. It was determined that she had a genetic psychological problem, weak nerves, bad reactivity - issues, which we would continue to address and work on. We put blood, sweat, and tears into this, Eric in particular, over the last year.

We realized that we could no longer take Piper places, after a while. In a basic training class at an appropriate age - 10 weeks? 12? - she was a quick learner, but we had to keep a very wide berth. Even then, she tried to attack several other puppies with no provocation. She seemed to dislike white dogs, but it was erratic. We stopped being able to take her to the dog park. If another dog got too close, ran too fast, startled her, touched her in any way, she would lose it, and hold a grudge, taking it out on other dogs that may pass her. There were several incidents at Petco, so we stopped taking her there. There were a few incidents around our own neighborhood, so we restricted the times and ways that we walked.

We thought that we had things under control. We'd learned about her issues, observed her behaviors, identified the things that pushed her over her threshold, decided to maintain her as well as we could. She was perfect with us, was now thoroughly bonded to and patient with Violet, and we'd found ways to exercise and stimulate her safely. We'd talked about rehoming, we'd talked about euthanasia, but it was clear that rehoming was not an option (she only accepted strange adults with our explicit endorsement, and her triggers and restrictions were so specific and obscure that it seemed massively irresponsible to send her to live somewhere else), and euthanasia would not be an option unless it was the only one. She briefly (a week or two) tried living with Eric's brother, who she loved and trusted and who knew her issues in depth, and she couldn't handle it at all. She rebelled massively, having accidents almost hourly in the house despite flawless potty training, vomiting on people's belongings, becoming extremely depressed. It was a no-go.

She started to show some very troubling behaviors with children. She'd charged two little girls, both around 8, but they were strangers to her and we rationalized that they'd both been behaving distressingly, and she didn't know them - she's never very good with strangers. We were very concerned by it, talked to a behaviorist, talked to a trainer, talked to a veterinarian, talked to experienced GSD people, and decided to take it one day at a time, and work our asses off with her.

At the same time, she started some troubling behaviors with us. Occasionally, we would walk into a room, shift spots on the couch, even just turn around, and she would seem to forget who we were for a moment, and charge or lunge at us, barking aggressively. At first, the triggers were not okay, but clear cut enough. If we came in from getting something out of the car, if someone put sunglasses or a hat on. Eventually, it stopped making sense and went from rarely to weekly. I turned around from the stove while cooking one day, and she charged me, even though she'd been watching me cook for half an hour without issue and nothing about my appearance or demeanor had changed. This became a frequent and unsettling thing.

Sunday night, we took her and Violet to a friend's house to watch the Super Bowl. They were friends that the dogs liked, and they had one, small dog. Piper is strangely always fine with small dogs. Unexpectedly, our friends had a friend of theirs stop by with her three year old. All was well, until Piper unexpectedly and entirely without provocation lunged to bite the girl in the face.

This was far, far, far beyond her third strike. We put her in the backyard to collect our things after apologizing to the mother and making sure that the child was okay (she was, thank god), and Piper (for the first time) cleared a 5 foot fence to come to the front door. It was all in all a very scary experience.

We got home and talked for most of the night about what to do. It was obvious that despite our best efforts, we'd been deluding ourselves in thinking that we'd made headway with her - we'd only made headway with learning how to identify and avoid her triggers. We'd been completely pretending that her episodes with lunging at us weren't an issue, and they were. Together we decided that euthanasia was the only appropriate choice.

After a very bad night, we woke up in the morning and called our regular veterinarian to make the appointment. We got a technician who said that we should make an appointment to discuss a plan for rehoming her and that "it would just suck to euthanize right away" - are you kidding me? So someone else can be attacked? So she can make herself sick with unhappiness? Right away? A year of work is right away? Attacking a child's face is not enough? Does she have to seriously hurt someone for this to be the right choice?

Feeling like a monster, I called a clinic that Eric had gone to before we met and made the appointment. I got there, and was crying fairly profusely before I'd even checked in at the counter with her. They had a lobby full of clients, and Piper was well-behaved. It would've been much easier if she hadn't been. The appointment before ours was a maybe four month old GSD puppy, and as we walked to the exam room with Piper at a perfect heel, the owner commented to his dog, "See? That's how you're supposed to act, like that dog." Before the door was closed, I absolutely broke down.

I talked to the veterinarian at some length, explaining in detail everything that had happened since the day she came home. He unequivocally assured me that this was the right decision.

It was the hardest, saddest day of my entire life. I stayed in the room with her for a very long time, before, during, and after she was sedated, crying and telling her how much we loved her and what a good girl I know she tried to be. She died peacefully at around 5:15 on Monday evening.

I don't know what it says about me that I have never grieved like this before, even for a human family member. Eric is handling it differently, he's grieving but stoic, and very out of sorts, having never not had a dog before. He'd seen this as an inevitability before I did - he's known GSDs for his entire life and has seen this story play out more than a few times. I think that he will be considering a dog to fill his time with before long - Piper was primarily his. Violet is doing poorly, she's visibly depressed and troubled. I hate seeing it. She's never done well as an only dog - she needs a friend. I called in to the daycare and missed a class, it was all I could do to maintain even at home yesterday. I feel like I desperately need a week off to recover from this, and after I get through mythology tonight and math tomorrow morning, I'll have a few days. Tomorrow will be a very gloomy birthday.

The whole house feels wrong without her in it.

Rest in peace, Piper.


  1. Rest in peace Piper...she was so beautiful. Will be thinking of you and your family.

  2. I am so very, very sorry. As I was reading through this I was going to ask if you ever tried classical homeopathy, as it's pretty clear to me she was suffering from vaccinosis. However, that's a moot point now. I hope that the good memories you have of Piper will help you through these sad and painful days. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  3. Dianne - thank you for your comments. I can see similarities between rabies vaccinosis and a few of her behaviors, but I think that since all but one of her problem behaviors had thoroughly and repeatedly shown itself a full month before her first rabies vaccine and two weeks before any vaccines, I'm not sure that it's as clear to me. All of her later problems built on and stemmed from the ones that had become clear from her first days and weeks from us, with the notable exception of the mysterious "forgetting who we were" episodes - which, true enough, can be associated with rabies vaccinosis. That's the only behavior that was never explained and developed inexplicably, several months after she was vaccinated, so I would say that if it was related to vaccinosis, it probably had little bearing on the issues that she was already facing. Thank you again for your thoughts and concern and taking the time to comment.

  4. Sadly vaccinosis is an inherited issue too--with dogs' DNA being affected.Dogs who have never been vaccinated can still show various signs of vaccine damge. The commonly held thinking is that it takes from 5-6 generations of no vaxing on both sides and treating any symptoms that arise, homeopathically, before the effects of vaccines can be eliminated. I know, that right now, this doesn't help you much. I can't imagine how hard this was for you and you have my deepest sympathies. I also hope Violet will be okay. Dogs mourn the loss of their friends--whether human or animal.

  5. I'm so very sorry to read of Piper's problems and her passing. She was a lovely dog, but must have been frightened at times by all this. You did the right and reasonable and responsible thing, but that doesn't make the loss of her any easier. When we lose a pet, whether due to age or sickness, or a crueler problem like this they can never be replaced. Each one is special and individual. I hope you will get back some peace of mind in the days and weeks and months ahead. All my sympathy to you and Eric and Violet and RIP sweet Piper.

  6. So very sorry, :( Sometimes, there is just something wrong. Something missing.... She had a good life with you, and its better for her sake that you let her go peacefully, rather then re home her, where who knows what would have happened....

  7. Thank you guys. Your comments truly do mean a lot.