It has been almost a week now, and the house is deafeningly quiet.
On Monday, we made the hardest journey we have had to make for a long time. A few things have changed for us in the past couple of months, and after much discussion and heartache, we made the very difficult decision of rehoming Toby and Tootsie. After 7 months of pats, snuggles, training, licks, walks and eternal feeds, we finally said goodbye for the last time to team Toto.
The main thing that has changed for us is this:
But that is a story for another post.
The thing about being pregnant, however, is that you are suddenly gifted with the unwanted superpower of a heightened sense of smell. This has made Karen really sensitive to the dogs around the house to a point where she can’t even pat them without rushing to the toilet for an almighty spew. Which meant that for the last 2 months I have had to be both the breadwinner and caregiver to both a really ill Karen and these two dogs, and I must say, it nearly broke me.
There were some nights when I would wake up at 1 am, make Karen something to eat after she has had a big vomit, wake up at 4 am to deal with the mosquitoes that were eating us alive in the summer heat, and then be woken up by the dogs again at 6 am to feed them and train them before heading off to work. This went on for a few weeks, and it really started to take its toll on me.
Toby especially was confused by the sudden change of attention from Mummy, who could no longer reach down to pat him or lift him up for a customary cuddle, and he became really sad and a bit withdrawn. You know he is love-starved when he suddenly comes to me for attention. This translated into him peeing anxiously around the house, and our couch in particular which meant that Karen could never come downstairs due to the noxious mix of dog urine and laundry smells (you would understand this as a vomiting pregnant lady), which made us captives in our own house.
He was still the baby of the house, the more sensitive of the two, and Toby would lie outside the toilet door, watching on with what I can only imagine is a mix of pity and disappointment as Karen emptied her guts into the toilet bowl from all the smells in the house.
Tootsie, on the other hand, was oblivious to everything. One thing I have come to realise about her is this – Tootsie could only love one person, and that was herself. I didn’t know any different at the beginning because this was my first time owning dogs, but it has been pointed out to me that as a dog she doesn’t really give all that much emotionally. What I had taken for insanity was actually a little more complex than that.
She was the Narcissist of the doggy world – everything Tootsie did was driven by the need to soothe her own anxieties and fulfil her own agenda, be it pushing Toby aside in the competition for pats, forcing herself onto your lap for a cuddle, barking at you to wake up because it is time to play or lunging at other dogs to defend her territory.
The most dramatic of walks happened about two weeks ago – twice Tootsie slipped from my grasp and faced off against two dogs. The first one was a boxer cross who towered above her. I rushed down the road to catch her leash but I also watched to see what would happen – a friend and fellow dog owner told me that he let his new little dog loose in a dog park and the dog started barking annoyingly at other dogs. The other dogs barked back and gave a warning bite which caused his dog to stop barking or annoying them. That is how they learn to play well with other dogs.
This boxer cross barked back at Tootsie and started attacking her; the middle-aged female owner yelling at it and pulling it back violently to keep it in check. Instead of backing down, however, Tootsie stood her ground and started going even harder at the other dog. She is a fighter, is our dear Tootsie. I managed to scramble and get Tootsie back after a couple of attempts, and walked quickly away, the angry stare of the lady owner burning into the back of my head.
I don’t even remember how she slipped away a second time, but this time Tootsie took down a small spitz and continued attacking it even though it had turned onto its belly in submission. I apologised profusely but once again the owner did not take too kindly at how our badly-behaved dog had traumatised hers. 7 months of daily walks, and I am certain we were developing some kind of a notoriety around these parts.
The thing that worries me the most is that I have seen Tootsie heighten and bark at little children as well, and there is no way we are going to be able to manage her and a little child safely at the same time.
It is not that Tootsie is beyond salvation. We have seen her in the hands of a competent experienced dog trainer who was not afraid to discipline her to reduce her negative behaviours and reward her positive ones. It is just that I won’t be able to consolidate her learning by myself in this season.
We have tried our best with these two, truly we have. We have gotten in two separate trainers to try and work on their issues as rescue dogs – Toby’s anxious need to mark everything around the house, and Tootsie’s immense self-gratifying behaviours. Add to that caring for a very sick Karen during a tempestuous first trimester, and well, I was truly at breaking point.
It was Karen who was able to take a look at the big overall picture and it was she who had the courage to raise the very difficult discussion that I was not willing to have – we had to rehome Toby and Tootsie – both for their sakes, and ours. To be honest, I was very conflicted at this point of time, not wanting to give up on the dogs, but also realising that they were not happy and that we could not train them in a meaningful fashion during this unexpected season of our lives.
I was most frayed on the Monday when I had to go for the surrender meeting. We were returning them to Second Chance Animal Rescue – we had to go in for a session to explain why we couldn’t look after these two any further and for the rescue to see if they could be rehomed. I feared to think what the alternative was, because we were clear that we could not look after them anymore.
Karen had said initially that she would follow me in for the meeting, but then things unfortunately cropped up at work which she couldn’t get out of, and I had to bring the dogs in by myself.
I tried to hide it, but I must say that this really upset me. Toby whimpered the whole way to the shelter while Tootsie just enjoyed the car ride, but there was a storm of emotions brewing inside of me.
The folks at the shelter were nothing but kind and amazing, and understood our need to rehome the dogs. They heard our problems, and came to the same conclusion that we did – that Toby and Tootsie would do well in a new environment but also away from each other. I feel like Tootsie needed special 0ne-on-one attention from an experienced hand and Toby needed to be away from her so that he could grow in confidence. She told me to bring them back next week and they would look at rehoming the dogs.
Later that evening after dropping the dogs home, I picked Karen up from work. I was still very angry about the whole thing but I felt I could not yell at my pregnant wife about how I was feeling. How do you negotiate your anger when the person who has always been your Safe Space was now the Object of your Wrath? All this negativity translated into a certain passive aggressiveness – I was very abrupt in the way I spoke to her, and once I even thumped the car door in anger when I almost took down a speeding cyclist who had beaten the lights while turning up Victoria Street.
When we finally sat down to dinner, I could not take it any more. I felt like I had to speak up what was inside of me or it would continue manifesting in all these unhealthy ways.
And so I spoke as calmly as I could about how I was feeling. That I promised that the dogs would be our idea and not hers even though she was the one who wanted them in the first place. How unfair it was that I was the only one looking after them for the past two months, (even though, of course, Karen could not help it). How alone I felt when I had to go in for the surrender meeting by myself today.
Karen took everything that I had blurted out serenely, although I think she too was a whirlwind of emotions but tried her best to speak calmly back to me.
‘You know, I am upset too that we are having to give up the dogs,’ she said. ‘I have loved them as much as you have but you know that we are doing this for them, and for us.’
And then my wife, the love of my life, the woman whose wisdom continues to astound me says this –
‘You know, I think you are grieving for the dogs.’
In that one simple sentence, she disarms me.
She stands her ground as I charge at her in full Hulk mode, and she stops me dead in my tracks with a gentle raised palm against my forehead. That one phrase unlocks me, and I lay down my weapons. The heavy gloom that has been hanging heavy over my head lifts in the light of this revelation.
Of course I was grieving the dogs. These past two months I have been the one to play with them, walk them, feed them and cuddle them. My heart has filled with actual joy when I was playing with Tootsie at home or cuddling Toby. And now, after 7 months of being family – of loving them, being angry and impatient with them sometimes, feeling so proud of how far they’ve come – I now, – we now, – had to say goodbye to these dogs.
These dogs have certainly turned our worlds upside down. They have shown me that I could actually love and care for dogs when I was so clumsy and uncertain at the start, they have taught me the meaning of unconditional love, they have given us the joy of coming home to such eager, anticipating faces and they have instilled in me some confidence of being a parent. Toby and Tootsie certainly will have a special place in our hearts and in our family story.
Thank you all who have shared the journey with us. Thank you for those who have read and encouraged us in our hardest times, thank you for your kindness and understanding when we first considered rehoming the dogs, thank you especially to those who have had the privilege to play with, and taken the time to look after Toby and Tootsie. We are grateful for all your love, and we know you share our grief.
Right now, Tootsie has been rehomed with a lady who has no little ones and who is an old hand with dogs, while Toby has been placed in a new family already. I would like to believe that they are in a happier place than we could provide them in this season of our lives.
Their absence is already felt so strongly in this household but they will live on in our stories and our memories. It is time now to remember, but soon it will come a time for new stories – and new adventures.