The topic of responsibility has been covered many times in my life regarding many issues: school, money, work, relationships, to name a few. Some of my lessons in responsibility have been difficult, but none as tough as my current one, which is about responsibility for another life.
No, I am not about to become a father, if that’s what you’re thinking. Now that I think about it, though, I already am a father of sorts. My “child” just has four legs, fur and a tail. And like a father to a human child, I am responsible for my canine child.
Of course it’s not the same. Raising a human is vastly different than raising a dog. I wouldn’t insult people who have children by arguing that the two are the same. But my current situation got me thinking about the similarities and differences.
Let me give a little background: I have a 6-year-old dog named Lucy. She was adopted from a shelter in California at 6 months old. She has aggression toward other dogs, though she did live with another dog of mine for about four years. When my ex-wife and I split up, she took both dogs but later brought Lucy back because the two dogs started fighting in their new surroundings. When my girlfriend moved into my house with her dogs a year later, I had to build a separate area for Lucy because I couldn’t curb her aggression. I knew for a long time I needed to find Lucy a new home, but I procrastinated because I love my dog.
I made attempts to socialize them, but to no avail. Then, about three weeks ago, Lucy accidentally got out of her pen. When my girlfriend went to corral her, Lucy started a nasty, bloody fight. Something in Lucy’s little dog brain thinks she is defending her humans from these intruder dogs, though this time Lucy managed to sink a tooth deep in my girlfriend’s leg as she tried to break up the fight.
Essentially, that was the last straw. Lucy had to go to a new home immediately. The folks at the Nevada Humane Society told me with much regret that Lucy is too much of a liability for them to adopt her out. With her bite history, the shelter opens itself up to a lawsuit if Lucy were to hurt another person or dog after being adopted through the organization. This leaves the task of rehoming her entirely to me.
In human terms, Lucy is an unruly teenager. She causes trouble and puts others at risk for reasons that defy my explanation. I have tried some training with her and tried easing her into a new situation, but both have failed. She at once brings me great joy and great frustration.
At the same time, I love her to death. She’s mine and she has many wonderful moments with me and other people. She is great 99 percent of the time.
Sound familiar, moms and dads?
When a child can’t be controlled, parents use expressions like, “I could just kill that kid,” or “I wish I could get rid of that kid.” When a dog can’t be controlled, those are more than just expressions. In severe cases, children who are neglected or cause trouble get second and third and fourth chances with foster homes and rehabilitation. Dogs are not so lucky.
Sometimes, the child’s or dog’s behavior is their parent’s fault. Many parents are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges and imperfections that come along with that other life for which they are responsible. But there is no test to pass or license to carry to have a child. Whether human or canine, our society has determined that everyone has the right to at least try.
Many of my friends have started families. Going down my mental list of friends, I can only think of a few who do not have kids. Through life’s circumstances, I am not among them (sorry, mom, I know you want grandchildren). Even though my dog children have not been products of my own genetics, it is hard to imagine the attachment is any less than if they were. Especially now that my child is facing death. I could sentence Lucy to a lifetime in “jail,” which is essentially what dog sanctuaries are since they just sit in a cage with little or no human contact, but that is no kind of life. I’d rather be dead than live like that. I wonder if that is what prison is like and if I’d feel the same if my human child were to go to jail.
Did I do all I could for Lucy? Where did I go wrong? Could I have done more? I don’t have an answer. Does any parent?
Right now I am looking for a suitable home for Lucy where she will be with someone who will love her as an only pet. But I don’t have much time to look since I will not let her rot away in a cage at the shelter for very long. Maybe this shows I’m not ready for human children. If things got too hard, maybe I would just ask everyone I know, “Would you like to take my troubled child off my hands?” The only thing I do know is I can’t imagine hurting any more than I do now.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a home for Lucy. Let me know if you have any ideas.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at 775-358-8061, ext. 233, or by e-mail at email@example.com.