A friend suggested I write this down, so I will--maybe it'll help me make sense of it. Sometimes I feel sick with sadness, and I start to cry. This is a tragic story with a sad ending. It all takes place over the course of a few days, but the heart of it starts at 10 am on Sunday morning and ends thirty hours later.
I own a Labrador retriever, eight years old. He's a big field lab, bred to be a hunting dog, and he weighs in at about 105 pounds. I'm fearful of the day when he won't be with me anymore. I can't imagine the sorrow; I can't imagine him not being there when I come home from work. As a bulwark against this grief, I've been thinking for a while about getting a second dog. Thinking there would still be somebody to greet me if - no, when - I lose Saint. Saint Anthony the Abbot, that's my dog, his real name, named by my son during a short-lived but pretty intense religious phase.
My son Mike is one of the people in this story; his actions provide the bookends, in a way. He's 27 years old, and he's my only child. I live in Alexandria, Virginia, and he lives in Fairfax, about twenty-five miles away, where he works as an attorney. Mike knew I'd been thinking about getting another dog, and he sent me a link to a rescue dog he found on a website. The website has links to many rescue organizations, including the one I'll call Big Rescue Organization, or BRO. Nobody was to blame in any of this, so with the exception of Mike (and Saint), I'll change the names of all those involved.
Anyway, Mike found this beautiful dog that was in need of a home, and he sent me the link, with the message "OMG", so as to say, what an incredible dog. He seemed perfect: lovable, cuddly, a perfect dog-park dog, loved to ride in the car, would love a doggie sibling to play with. A couple of cautionary notes: he chases bicycles, and he'd be better off in a home with adults. It's been a long time since there has been a child in my home, so I filled out an adoption application and waited. A few days later I received a phone call from Catherine, the head of the Connecticut branch of BRO. She mentioned the issues. I can't remember the words she used regarding children, but the situation didn't sound serious; I told her my own dog hasn't spent much time around children either. She mentioned bicycles--and on the phone she used the word "lunges". I told her it sounded potentially dangerous, and that I would take the dog to Excellent Dog School (not its real name) and have him trained. I knew they could break him of the habit.
I waited some more, and then I got a call from Dave. Dave was Bailey's foster dad. I'm using the name Bailey for the dog because that's what I decided to name him--it's wasn't the name he came with. It's okay, changing a dog's name--sometimes it's even recommended. Dave told me my application had been accepted, and he was very excited that Bailey was to have a new, permanent home. He called me on Thursday, and to my surprise he wanted me to take Bailey that weekend. Another dog had been left with him, and in his small apartment he could really only manage one at a time. We talked about transporting the dog, and I decided while on the phone that I would drive to Connecticut to pick him up. I wanted to spare him the stress of transport, and a car ride would be fun--a road trip! Dave thought it was an excellent idea and he was grateful.
On Saturday I packed a pastrami and Swiss cheese sandwich in one of those soft padded lunch buckets, along with a granola bar and a bottle of soda, and I drove to Connecticut. I had all kinds of stuff for the dog in the trunk: food and water dishes, a four-foot leash, two gallons of water, a bag of kibble, and a very large bone-shaped dog biscuit. It was a 324 mile drive according to Google maps, and I made good time: with one stop for gas and ice cream it took six and a half hours. Along the way I ate the sandwich but not the granola bar. I took pictures to document the trip. When I hit the toll plaza at the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike (NJTP), I pulled out my iPhone and played a turn of Words with Friends with Mike. Getting through the toll plaza involved a long, tedious wait. Still, getting on the turnpike is the easy part: no money changes hands. You roll past the booth and grab a ticket. All of the exits are listed on the ticket, and next to each exit is the price you'll pay if you get off there. The farther you go on the turnpike, the more you pay. I took a picture of the ticket.
I decided to document the trip with photographs and set them to music. For the drive up I'd use Willie Nelson's On the Road Again. For the drive home with Bailey I'd use some syrupy love song; I couldn't decide which one. In New Jersey the display on my dashboard said the outside temperature was 104 degrees; I took a picture of it.
I spent the night at a Days Inn in Connecticut, very close to Sleeping Giant State Park where Dave and I had agreed to meet at 10:30 Sunday morning. At 9:30 I checked out of the motel and went to the Dunkin Donuts nearby, where I bought a cup of coffee and a muffin. After eating about two-thirds of the muffin I checked my phone and discovered I'd missed a call from Dave. He was on the road and traffic was lighter than he'd expected--he figured he'd be at the park by 10. I tossed the rest of the muffin in the trash and took the coffee with me. I wouldn't eat again for twelve hours.
I was so excited when I arrived at the park that I didn't notice the park ranger in the entrance booth and I was almost past her before she shouted at me to stop. Embarrassed, I explained that I was just there to collect a dog I was adopting. There was a fee for entering the park: $9 if you were from Connecticut, $16 if you were from out of state. She let me pay the smaller fee and wished me luck with the dog.
A few minutes later I met Bailey. He was an astonishingly beautiful dog, a blend of Golden Retriever and Great Pyrenees. He was a very large dog: at two years old he weighed eighty-five pounds and was not yet filled out. He would eventually be 100 pounds, I had no doubt. His coat was long and beautiful-- his tail alone was wonderment. His most striking feature was his eyes: one warm brown, the other icy blue. This discrepancy in eye color was oddly discomforting to me; I can't explain why. It was as though he were two dogs in one, so different was the effect of his eyes. I tried to focus on the warm brown eye, but it was hard not to have my gaze drawn to the blue one.
I didn't fling myself at Bailey; I approached cautiously, speaking in a calm and friendly voice. I didn't see the warmth in Bailey's eyes that I look for in a dog's eyes, but Dave said Bailey was aloof with strangers: once he got to know me he'd never want to let me out of his sight. I shrugged off the odd feeling, telling myself I'd just have to get used to the slightly unsettling eyes. I'd had a tag made for Bailey that I'd intended to put on his collar as a ceremonial first act. I showed it to him and told him that it had his name on the front, and on the back it said "Please Call 123-456-7890" - my cell phone number. I told him that if we were ever separated someone would call me and I'd come for him, no matter where he was. When I searched for a ring on his collar I discovered he didn't have one--he wore no tags--and there was nothing for me to do but put the tag back in my pocket. Still, I knelt in front of Bailey for a few minutes, petting him. I told him he was beautiful and scratched behind his ears. He took a step closer to me and pressed against me lightly, his big head next to mine, until the shoulder of my shirt was wet with drool. It was a good introduction.
I'd brought a short leash with me and I immediately attached it to Bailey's harness, which he wore because Dave said he felt like it gave him more control. I wanted to spend as much time walking him as possible while Dave was there to take over if necessary--I'm not a strong woman and Dave was a big guy.
My Lab is a mature dog now, and he's a joy to walk. But it took years, years, to get to this place. He's always been a typical Lab: lovable, loyal, and a lunatic for the first three or four years of his life. He lunged after squirrels, he towed me across the floor at PetSmart, he darted in front of me causing me to trip over him, become airborne, and make a one-point landing on my left knee. So with two-year-old Bailey on the other end of a short leash, I gripped it firmly. This proved almost immediately to be good instinct on my part. While we were still standing by our cars, a golf-cart bearing two park rangers went by, and Bailey lunged at it with everything he had. I managed to hang on, to get both hands on the leash, and to brace my whole body against my car. I held him back until the cart passed and he lost interest. I wasn't shaken--I'd been down this road before, but I thought hard about the trip home. If I hadn't been able to brace myself he'd have dragged me, and I couldn't risk not being able to control him at a rest stop. I'd planned to stop a couple of times, to walk him if I could find grassy spots, but I decided that I would not let him out of the car. Dave said Bailey could go twelve hours without being let out, so I knew he could "hold it" for as long as it took to get home.
We spent about forty-five minutes at the park. While I walked Bailey I learned a bit more about him. Dave said Bailey had come to BRO in Connecticut from Kentucky, and neither Dave nor Catherine knew much about his history. On the phone Catherine had said that Bailey had been rescued from a hoarding situation where he'd suffered extreme neglect. Dave described Bailey's reaction to children: if a child approached the fence while Bailey was playing in the dog park, Bailey would charge the fence and bark ferociously, scaring the child away. Along with the bicycle chasing, I decided this was something I'd have a good dog trainer address.
Whenever Bailey pulled on the leash I stopped and braced myself as best I could, and I only let him continue to move forward when he let up. It's pretty effective if you're consistent, and after forty-five minutes it actually seemed to be getting through to Bailey--he was a smart dog. Dave complimented me on my technique. I knew better, though, than to think it was that easy--I did not change my mind about letting Bailey out of the car during the trip home.
Finally we put Bailey in my car, and I took a picture of Dave standing next to the car with Bailey smiling through the window. Dave had brought a small amount of kibble in a plastic bag--it seemed he kept kibble handy to entice Bailey to behave. While we'd been walking in the park I'd reached into the bag a couple of times to reward Bailey with kibble, which he'd eaten politely off the palm of my hand. Dave tied a knot in the bag and handed it to me.
Dave got into his car and I got into mine. Bailey had been in the back seat but now he put his forepaws on the center console and leaned into the front. I wanted him in the back but had no way to secure him, so I decided to toss a handful of kibble into the back. I fumbled with the knot Dave had tied on the bag. Bailey, interested, leaned in to watch. Still I fumbled. I tried to push him back so I could see what I was doing, and he lunged. In the blink of an eye he was attacking me, biting my arm and then snapping repeatedly at my face. There was probably some snarling, but all I remember hearing is the snapping of teeth.
Thoughts flew through my head. I thought about tossing the whole bag into the back, but I didn't want him to eat the plastic. (I'm actually amazed that this concerned me, under the circumstances.) I wasn't immediately aware that I'd been bitten hard enough to break the skin; I'd felt pressure but no pain. The attack lasted a few seconds. When Bailey stopped snapping I tried again to pull on the knot and suddenly the bag was open. I reached in and grabbed a handful of kibble and threw it into the back seat, and it worked--Bailey retreated. I threw a second handful after it for good measure.
Sitting in his car, Dave saw Bailey lunge but couldn't tell what had happened. When I didn't get out of the car he assumed I was all right. I can't explain my reaction. Dave was still there--I could have gotten out and said "Take him back," but I didn't. I did not, at that moment, make the decision to take Bailey home to Virginia. The decision had been made days earlier. To change course would have required that a new decision be made on the spot, and I was badly shaken and not really thinking past Holy Sh*t He Bit Me. In the absence of a new decision, the only possible course of action was to stick with the plan.
Shaken, I backed out of the parking space slowly and turned toward the park entrance. Before I reached it I noticed blood on my arm. I pulled a tissue from my purse and wiped it, and when I stretched out my arm I discovered a half-inch slice that gaped open on the inside of my elbow. Nasty-looking bruises swelled near it. When I reached the entrance the woman I'd spoken with earlier was still there, along with a young man--both park rangers. They were waiting to greet me on my way out. I rolled down the window and they asked me how it had gone. I said "Well, we've gotten off to a rough start," and nodded toward my arm. They were shocked--they told me to pull over and said they'd bandage it. I pulled over and got out of the car. The young man put ointment on the slice and wrapped a gauze bandage tightly and heavily around it, which turned out to be a good thing. They could see that I was shaken and they were concerned but tried to be reassuring--it's all new to him, they said. They urged me to accept a bottle of Gatorade, and I got back in the car. With Bailey.
Before I continue with the story, I want to say that no one involved in this adoption had ever seen Bailey react with that kind of aggression. He had never stayed with Catherine, but she'd had him evaluated by a renowned dog trainer, who'd given him a good report. Later I was told that the trainer had tried to elicit an aggressive reaction from the dog, and had failed. Dave had brought Bailey's medical records with him, and included was a "report card" from a kennel where Bailey had lived before Dave became his foster dad. It could have been my own dog's report card from Excellent Dog Kennel: hand written, littered with smiley faces and hearts, it said the whole staff loved Bailey; he was a real sweetheart. He'd earned an A+ and was welcome any time!! He played well with others; he was a happy, lazy, dog.
I also want to say that I had never in my life had a dog react aggressively toward me. I'm by no means an expert or even an experienced dog handler, but I like dogs and dogs like me. I've had some remarkable experiences with dogs. When I was twenty-three a large shaggy black dog walked along the beach in Santa Barbara with me one night, staying by my side for at least an hour. I'd never seen him before and I never saw him again. A couple of weeks before my trip to Connecticut I'd been in a pet food store when a large black German shepherd-mix on a long leash had come up to me, smiled at me, and leaned against my leg.
Anyway, back to the story. Back in the car, I was still shaking and I questioned my ability to drive. At the same time, I wanted nothing more than to get home. On the way up I'd strategized to take the shortest route; now I hit the "Home" button on my navigation system and then turned on voice guidance. I didn't want to have to think--I just wanted to follow directions.
The first couple of hours on the road were uneventful. Bailey seemed to be calmed by the motion of the car when it was going fast: as long as I was doing 60 miles an hour or more he laid on the back seat and napped. While I was being bandaged by the ranger Bailey had gotten into the front seat, found the bag of kibble on the floor, and eaten the rest of it. He left the plastic bag. I told myself the attack was food aggression, and I calmed my nerves by telling myself that with no more kibble in the car there would be no more problems. I turned on relaxing music. When Bailey had lunged forward he'd stepped on the Dunkin Donuts coffee cup in the cup-holder, mashing the lid. It hadn't spilled though, and I picked it up and drank some. It was still warm.
After a while I noticed my arm swelling above the bandage and I knew I needed ice. I decided to keep going until I was on the NJTP, then stop to use the restroom, try to find an icepack, and fill up the gas tank. When I slowed to collect a ticket at the NJTP toll plaza Bailey stood on the back seat and looked out first one window and then the other. Once I had my ticket and was back up to speed he laid down again.
I pulled off at the Vince Lombardi service area--the first rest stop on the NJTP after the George Washington Bridge, and parked. As soon as I stopped the car Bailey was on his feet again. I was feeling pretty relaxed by then and it didn't bother me. I noticed a trash can next to the car and decided to throw the rest of my now-cold coffee away, so I picked up the coffee in one hand and my phone in the other, and opened my door. Before I could swing a leg out Bailey jumped over the console, across my lap, and out the door.
It hadn't occurred to me, or to Dave, to take the leash off Bailey when we put him in my car. It was a short leash--only four feet long. About two feet of leash trailed on the ground as Bailey trotted away. Panic-stricken, I got out and ran after him, leaving the car door standing open, still holding coffee in one hand and my phone in the other. Bailey wasn't running, just moving fast enough to stay ahead of me and out of reach. I regretted that I hadn't been able to put the tag I'd brought on his collar--if he got away from me he was lost. He trotted across the parking lot and two lanes that were ramps to the service area for trucks and cars. Having reached a spot of grass, he slowed to sniff the ground, and I was able to plant a foot on the trailing leash. He started to move off, felt the leash jerk, and stopped. He could easily have pulled free, but he didn't. I'd already shifted my phone to the hand with the coffee, and now I reached down and grabbed the leash, faint with relief once I had it in my hand. Heart pounding, I walked Bailey back to the car, pausing once to let him pee. No children, bicycles, or golf carts went by, just cars and trucks, and we made it to the car without incident. Bailey jumped right in.
I closed the door and went in to use the facilities. I searched the first aid rack in the Travel Mart for something like an icepack, and found nothing. I gave up and walked back to the car. I got in and started the engine. Bailey again had his fore paws on the center console, but there was nothing I could do about it-- I didn't want to try pushing him back. I turned to him and let him sniff my nose and mouth, and he licked my chin, which made me happy. As I shifted into gear and released the brake, Bailey lowered his head, sniffed the bandage on my arm, and attacked it. This attack was an exact replica of the first: manic, ferocious, biting my arm, then snapping repeatedly at my face. This time the thick bandage on my arm protected me from his teeth, although a couple more nasty bruises would eventually appear. Again I felt no pain, only pressure.
Pulling my face away from Bailey, I realized that the car was rolling backward. I'd inadvertently eased the pressure on the brake in response to the attack. Now I slammed my foot on the brake, and at the same time Bailey stopped snapping and retreated to the back seat. The car had rolled about half a car-length, and in the busy parking lot it was just dumb luck, or the nick-of-time blessing of a distracted god, that nothing, and nobody, was behind me.
I'd been able to explain the first attack as food aggression. Later Dave said he'd never seen a hint of food aggression in Bailey even though he'd had another dog part of the time, so I don't know, in retrospect, what it was. I do know that the second attack couldn't be explained in the same way. There was no explanation. Bailey seemed to have attacked in response to sniffing the bandage, which was bloodied from the small but deep slice in my arm.
Again, all I could do was stick with the plan: now fill the gas tank. One benefit of filling the tank in New Jersey is that I didn't have to get out of the car again: it's illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey--no one seems to know why. I pulled into a long line of cars at the gas pump. Twenty feet away a family with a child came out of the Travel Mart. Bailey, standing on the back seat looking out the window, began to growl. At that moment Bailey was one scary dog.
This second, unprovoked attack changed the whole picture. What would trigger the next attack? Would it come while we were barreling down the NJTP at 80 miles an hour? If that happened, it was highly likely we'd both be killed. Yes I had been driving that fast--sue me. But I never hit that speed again on the trip. With traffic, random brake pockets, and toll plazas, in particular the toll plaza at the end of the NJTP, the rest of the trip took another six hours.
I put my purse and lunch bucket on the center console to discourage Bailey from resting his paws there. I lowered my bandaged arm and held it against me, out of sight. I was hungry but I couldn't eat: I dared not eat in the car in front of the dog, and I couldn't leave him in the car while I ate in a restaurant--it was way too hot outside. Predictably, once I was going over 60 miles an hour he dozed on the back seat. I feared hitting a traffic jam or back-up of any kind: every time I slowed Bailey stood on the back seat
After a couple of hours we came to the end of the NJTP. A sea of cars waited to get through the toll plaza, which is huge. There are many lanes, EZ-PASS-ONLY lanes and EZ-PASS OR CASH lanes, alternating in what must be a pattern but seemed random, with occasional barriers between batches of lanes. Without an EZ-PASS, I pulled into a lane that took cash, where I sat at the end of a long, long line of cars. Bailey was of course on his feet again.
I didn't move at all for five minutes at a time. After a while I realized why I was progressing so slowly: the two lanes to the left of me were EZ-PASS ONLY, and there was a barrier on the other side of them. Hundreds of idiots without EZ-PASSes had pulled into those two lanes, and they all had to merge into mine. There were many polite people in front of me, not in any hurry on a Sunday afternoon, letting them merge. After watching this process for a while I realized that virtually all of the cars in both of the lanes to my left were merging into my lane. EZ-PASS holders knew better and headed toward the lanes at the far ends of the plaza, which were too obviously set apart to draw the moderately confused.
The number of cars that would go through the booth before me had no upper limit, since new idiots continued to pull into the lanes to the left as the Sunday drivers in front of me let the idiots who came before them merge over. Making matters worse, every car took time, and some cars took a long time. Unlike most toll booths, there was no posted price: every driver had to pay according to how far they'd traveled on the turnpike.
I'm not usually this impatient with my fellow humans, still, as I sat in the car with Bailey standing on the seat behind me, I imagined the scene taking place as each car pulled up to the booth. Rather than do the math and have their fare ready, even if "the math" meant finding their entrance on the ticket and reading the number to the right of it, I imagined each car pulling up and handing over their ticket, then waiting to be told how much they owed. The amounts were odd; my own fare for driving from one end of the turnpike to the other was $13.85 each way. I imagined each driver digging through wallet, pocket, purse, bills and coins, trying to decide if they could pay with exact change--Martha, do you have a nickel?--and then giving up, sorry, hang on, here I've got a twenty. Then waiting for change.
It took an agonizing half hour to get through the toll plaza. From time to time I tried to speak to Bailey in a light-hearted and calm way, but I could hear the fear in my voice. I'd lost my confidence with this dog and I knew he knew it. A couple of times I mustered the courage to speak in a commanding tone, and was relieved when Bailey sat in response to my command. Before long though, he'd be back on his feet again. "What ifs" worked on my fear--what if a car pulled up next to me with a child in the back seat, face in the window--Mom! Look at the pretty dog! I didn't want anything to set Bailey off--I didn't know what he would do if he went nuts in the car.
Eventually we made it through and I accelerated quickly. Bailey laid down, and it could have been smooth sailing for a few hours. That kind of fear gets to your stomach though, if you know what I mean. After a while I needed to stop again to use a restroom. I debated. It wasn't absolutely necessary, but if I could figure out a way to distract Bailey while I got in and out of the car and back on the road, it would be a huge relief. As time went on I wanted more and more to stop. I still had a granola bar in my lunch bucket. I could give it to Bailey--Saint loves them. I'd have to unwrap it-- I didn't want him to eat the foil. Again, this concern amazes me under the circumstances. I thought about trying to hide it in my lap while I unwrapped it, but if he saw what I was doing it might bring on another attack like the first. I decided I'd hold it up in front of him, unwrap it as fast as I could, and toss it in the back seat. As for getting back in the car, I remembered the big bone-shaped biscuit in the trunk: I'd open the door just enough to give it to him, then get in.
I surreptitiously unzipped the lunch bucket and slipped the granola bar into my lap, where I hid it, still wrapped, until I came to the next rest stop. It was one of the Chesapeake House rest areas: I was in Maryland now. I parked as close to the entrance ramp as possible for a quick return back onto I95. Immediately Bailey roused himself and stood up on the seat. As planned, I held the granola bar in front of him and unwrapped it as quickly as I could, but I sensed that he was calm and instead of tossing it in the back I simply held it out for him. He sniffed it, then took it from my hand ever so gently.
While he ate it I got out of the car as quickly as I could and headed to the rest area. When I walked back to the car Bailey barked ferociously as I approached. This was intimidating but not all that scary--I figured he didn't recognize me and was just defending the car. Saint barks ferociously whenever he hears someone at the front door, but it's just a big show. Let him sniff your hand, greet him in a friendly voice, and in a minute he'll dash off and come back with a ball in his mouth, ready to play. I opened the trunk and found the big dog biscuit. It was a really big biscuit, one of those individually-wrapped biscuits on display near the cash registers in PetSmart. I'd already unwrapped it before setting out on the trip. I opened the door about six inches and handed it to Bailey, who took it gently and retreated to the far side of the back seat to tuck in. I slipped into the car, started the engine, made a beeline for the onramp, and was going 60 before the biscuit was gone.
A few minutes later I got a text message from Mike: "Wow, huge storm brewing," to which I responded: "Just what we need." At almost the same time I received a "Severe Weather Advisory" email from the Fairfax County Community Emergency Alert Network. I didn't know how Bailey would react if the storm hit before I reached home; I couldn't remember if Catherine had said anything about loud noises when I'd spoken to her on the phone. According to my navigation system I still had 95 miles to go.
On most Sundays traffic into DC from any direction is a nightmare, but with the exception of a couple of brake pockets it wasn't bad, and the next 45 miles went by quickly. The navigation system in my car thinks the exit to the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore is on the left, and I realized too late that it's on the right. The navigation system recalculated my route and added a disheartening seven miles to my trip.
The final toll plaza was in Baltimore--it took about ten minutes to get through. Rain was starting to spatter the windshield. It was about 6 pm by that time. Mike and I had planned to meet at Fort Hunt Park--he would bring Saint so we could introduce the dogs on neutral territory. There would still be plenty of daylight, but I had no backup plan in case of bad weather.
I took 295 South through DC. The last time I'd traveled that route I'd gotten a speeding ticket in the mail a couple weeks later: cameras are used to catch speeders, and they'd captured a clear photo of my license plate. I'd been going 66 in a 55 zone, and it cost me $150. This time I watched my speedometer closely, walking a tightrope to keep the dog asleep by driving over 60, while trying to avoid a ticket by staying below 65, based on the assumption that they only ticketed drivers who were going more than 10 miles an hour over the limit. I had no way of knowing that was true, but it was worth the risk.
I'd been dreading the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, but I sailed across it. The first exit and a right turn put me on the George Washington Parkway, and then I was just a few miles from the park. I told Bailey we were almost there, and he became excited in a way I can't explain. If you didn't know better you'd have sworn he recognized the place and knew he was home. He pawed at the door a couple of times. He stood with his hind feet on the back seat and his forepaws on either side of the head-rest on the passenger seat next to me, his head against the roof of the car. He whined. He had to have been reading my mind--there's no other explanation. The closer we got to the park the more excited he became.
It was raining lightly when I pulled into the parking lot at picnic area B, per Mike's instructions. There was no one else around. I decided to let Bailey jump over my lap to get out of the car, as he'd done at the rest stop. It was the best way to make sure he wouldn't get away from me again. I grabbed his leash and then opened my door, and sure enough, he jumped over me and was out. Once I was out of the car and had Bailey on the leash, my fear drained away. As soon as Mike showed up with Saint we traded leashes. We introduced the dogs and it went well. Bailey lunged after a bird that swooped by at low altitude, but Mike held his ground. Immediately, it seemed, Mike loved Bailey and Bailey loved Mike. From that moment on Bailey was a happy dog.
Mike wanted me to take Saint in my car for the ride home--he'd take Bailey. After rupturing the ACL in one hind knee and tearing the meniscus in both, Saint had had three knee surgeries and didn't have the legs to jump into Mike's Ford Explorer--Mike had had to lift him. Bailey had no trouble hopping in. I followed Mike out of the park. He lowered the back windows just enough for Bailey to stick his head out, and Bailey seemed to be enjoying the ride. A bicycle went past and Bailey went nuts and tried hard to get out of the window, managing to get both fore paws out along with his head. Once the bike was past Bailey retreated into the car and the windows closed.
At the house Mike took both dogs into the back yard. The dogs ignored each other; Saint was more interested in playing with a ball than with Bailey, and Bailey just wanted to explore. Three sides of the large yard are straight, but the fourth wraps around the house and has many corners. Bailey explored every corner and peed in all of them.
Back in the house, the dogs got along well. We fed both of them at the same time--each dog had his own bowl. Saint wasn't interested in eating and we put his dish on the counter. Bailey ate all the food in his dish. He knew there was more food on the counter but made no attempt to get to it. I didn't see a hint of aggression in him. After eating they played. Saint was the first to roll over on his back; minutes later Bailey did the same and let Saint chew playfully on his throat. Mutual trust had been established.
I hadn't eaten since the muffin that morning and Mike hadn't eaten all day, so at about 9 pm we ordered pizza. Mike had brought a large crate for Bailey and we put both dogs downstairs in separate crates. Most of my house is on one level, but the ground slopes beneath it and the garage is below the main house. On the garage level there is a large family room--that's where the TV and computer are, and the two crates were set up on either side of the computer table. Saint was used to being crated while we ate, but Bailey started to whine. Mike shouted "Bailey, quiet!" and Bailey quieted.
We finished the pizza and let the dogs out of their crates. Saint stayed inside but Bailey went out to the yard. I'd thought we'd have to teach him to use the doggie door, but he went through it as though he'd been using doggie doors all his life. Mike had to leave--he was taking care of his roommate's dog and needed to let him out. He hugged me and walked out the door. A minute later I heard him shouting. As he'd been backing down the driveway he'd seen Bailey walk past his car. Mike hadn't fastened the gate securely, and Bailey was proving to be an escape artist.
Mike came back inside and grabbed a leash, and we both went out looking for Bailey. We could see him until he entered a woodsy area behind the house across the cul-de-sac, then we lost track of him. We jogged back to the house and got in Mike's car. I drove while Mike shouted "Bailey!" out the window. On the next cul-de-sac over a neighbor shouted back, asking if we were looking for a dog. A family came out and greeted us, father, mother, and teenaged daughter. The father was holding Bailey by the collar. They'd taken him in and, thinking he might be hungry, they'd fed him. He had eaten a whole bowl of food. They admired him, asked what breed he was. When Mike said he was a mix of golden retriever and Great Pyrenees, the father said "That's exactly what he looks like." They said he seemed to be a real sweetheart.
Mike put the leash on Bailey and told me to take the car back to the house; he'd walk Bailey. When he got back to the house he put Bailey in the yard and after making sure the gates were secure, he left.
I checked my phone and read an email from Dave: he wanted to know how the trip had gone. I debated what to say and decided to tell him what had happened--any insight he could give me into Bailey's behavior would be helpful. I told him it hadn't been the fun trip I'd hoped for. I told him Bailey had bitten me twice and I told him about the two escapes. I also told him that Bailey loved Mike and the yard, and that the dogs were getting along well. I told him that I was leery, though, and that I wanted to get an assessment from a good dog trainer. I sent him pictures of Bailey with Mike and Bailey with Mike and Saint. Lastly, I sent him a picture of the arm that Bailey had bitten, with the comment "this was no joke." The phone rang immediately. Dave was aghast. He said I couldn't be expected to adopt a dog that had bitten me. He said he would call Catherine and tell her what had happened. He said he thought BRO would take Bailey back.
The next couple of hours are kind of a blur. I hadn't yet decided that I didn't want to keep Bailey, but at some point between my second or third phone call with Dave I made that decision. It happened when my mother decided to go to bed. She uses a walker, and Bailey was lying on the kitchen floor, blocking her route to the hallway. It had taken Saint a while to get used to the walker, but his reaction to it had been pretty cute: there are tennis balls on the ends of the front legs of the walker so it won't scratch the floor, and Saint wanted the balls. I knew it would be an adjustment for Bailey too, but Bailey's reaction wasn't cute--he barked at my mother angrily when she tried to get past him. She backed away, frightened, and Saint growled at Bailey, just a soft low growl deep in his throat. That incident helped me make up my mind, or it may have been the excuse I was looking for to give in to my own fear and give up on Bailey.
When I next spoke with Dave he said he had spoken with Catherine and that someone would come and get Bailey. He told me to put Bailey in the crate and not let him out no matter what. Dave's fear for my safety was contagious and it spooked me. I decided not to let Bailey run free in the house again. After the phone call I tried to get Bailey in his crate but failed. Mike had brought a huge crate for Bailey--bigger than Saint's, and I wasn't used to it. The door lay on top of the crate when it was open, and had to be raised and slid into place to close it. It took a few seconds, which was more time than Bailey was giving me. He was adept at grabbing a treat I'd thrown into the crate and backing out too quickly for me to get the door in place. After the second or third try he ran up the stairs and out through the doggie door with the treat in his mouth. That works too, I thought, and I slid the panel that blocks the doggie door into place, shutting Bailey out.
Dave called again; we spoke two or three times that night, the last time just after 11 pm. I told Dave that I hadn't been able to get Bailey into the crate but that he was in the back yard and the gates were secure, which was just as good. Dave disagreed: Bailey had already escaped from the yard once and Dave thought it was too risky. He urged me to try again, and suggested I put something really enticing like chicken at the very back of the crate. I didn't have any chicken but I had almost a whole package of pastrami left over from the sandwich I'd made the day before. I crawled halfway into the crate and spread the pastrami all along the back so it would take Bailey a few seconds to eat it all. Then I opened the back door and called him in, with a treat in my hand. He came readily and followed me down the stairs. I tossed the treat in and as before he went in after it, grabbed it quickly, and started to back out of the crate. I saw the instant his nose caught a whiff of the pastrami. He changed gears from reverse to forward, went all the way in, and I closed the door. I sent Dave an email: Bailey is in the crate.
Bailey was solid gold in the crate. I went downstairs one more time before going to bed and he wagged his tail, happy to see me. I turned out the light and didn't hear a peep out of him for twelve hours. The thunderstorm hit during the night and I was glad I'd gotten Bailey into the crate; I'd have felt terrible if I'd left him out in the storm. Even through the storm, I didn't hear a peep out of Bailey.
I spoke to Catherine at about 9am the next morning. She said that after what had happened, BRO could not place Bailey with another family, and the only solution was euthanasia. I was stunned. She said BRO handles a lot of dogs, and this happens once or twice a year. She asked for the name and phone number of my vet, and said BRO would make the appointment and pay the fee. The vet would email me a form that I'd have to print and sign, and I'd have to take Bailey to the vet. Dave had hoped someone would pick Bailey up and drive him north so he could be with him at the end, but no one was available to do it. Catherine and I both cried. I did not want to get in the car with Bailey again. I sent Mike a text message and explained the situation. He replied: I can take him to the vet.
I'd gotten Bailey into the crate at about 11pm Sunday, and he started to wine at around noon on Monday. I'd taken the day off from work and the whining was heartbreaking. I decided to let him out of the crate, certain that he'd go right outside. The first place he went, though, was to the water dish, which he emptied. It made me sad to think he'd been so thirsty. Then he went outside, and I blocked the doggie door. Bailey spent a little while in the yard, then came back to the doggie door and tried to get inside. Finding it blocked, he laid down next to it, and every few minutes I heard him test the door gently with his nose to see if it was open. It made me sad.
The saddest moment was yet to come, and then it got sadder still. After a while I realized that Bailey wasn't lying outside the door anymore, and I was glad--I hoped he was enjoying his last few hours, free in the yard. Then I walked through the dining room and glanced out at the porch and there stood Bailey, looking in at me through the French door with a smile on his face. He was the first dog ever to discover the doggie door that opens from the yard to the porch. I knew Bailey wanted to come inside--wanted to join us, to be part of the family, and it broke my heart.
I had to let Bailey back in the house when a guy came to mow the lawn. I heard ferocious barking and looked out the kitchen window to see the man backing out of the back gate with fear on his face. I'd bought a large bone for each of the dogs and hadn't yet given Bailey his. I grabbed it, quickly cut the plastic off it, opened the door, and called to Bailey. I didn't expect him to come and I wondered what I'd do when he didn't. He came after the second or third call. I let him sniff the bone then tossed it down the stairs, and he went after it. I blocked the doggie door and put a gate at the top of the stairs.
The appointment with the vet was for 4pm; the quietest time of day at the animal hospital. Mike came at around 3:30 and said he'd take Bailey for a last walk. Bailey followed him up the stairs and we removed the gate and let him into the kitchen, where we let him eat the food in Saint's dish--still untouched from the night before. For the first time, he left food in the dish, as though he was finally sated, or finally confident that there'd be more food to eat when he was hungry again.
Mike took Bailey for his last car ride. At the request of the vet he put a muzzle on Bailey right before he took him inside. In the animal hospital, whether it was because the muzzle frightened him or because he knew what was happening, Bailey lay against Michael and trembled. I hope he didn't know what was happening, I really do, but in the short time I'd known him I'd already started to think he could read my mind--he may have been the smartest dog I'd ever known. If he did know what was happening, he can't possible have understood why.
My thoughts range from the angry to the pathetic to the resigned and back to the sad. This is the angry: Who broke this beautiful dog? Who robbed Bailey of his trust in humans and me of a wonderful companion? Did a woman my size or age mistreat Bailey? It seemed possible that he liked men but not women. Bailey was okay with me so long as Dave was there; as soon as he and I were alone in my car he attacked me. He was okay when Mike was with us, but barked at my mother after Mike left. He hated bicycles, and he didn't like children. Did a child taunt Bailey when he was chained to a stake, flea-bitten and covered with ticks? A child on a bicycle? When Bailey was hungry, did a child hold food in front of him, just beyond his reach, and then eat it himself?
This is the pathetic: Why Me? Why me? Why was I the one to whom Bailey immediately showed his worst side, a side no one at BRO had ever seen. Maybe Bailey knew I'd come to take him away from Dave--did he sense that he would never see Dave again? The small bag of kibble was Dave's last gift--maybe he fought for it in a panic. Would any of us do less?
Mike believed the attacks weren't food aggression, but fear; maybe he was right. Everyone told me that I'd done nothing wrong, that Bailey was unstable, that if it hadn't happened he might have hurt a child someday. Catherine said she wished it had happened to her, or to Dave, but since it didn't, she was glad it had happened to me. Plenty of other people would have let Bailey out on the New Jersey Turnpike and driven away.
This is the resigned: Whatever the cause, the dog-human agreement broke down. You can be a member of my family, you can eat the food off my table and sleep on my bed, but you can't bite me, or anyone else, ever. If I did something wrong, I am so sorry, I'm not perfect--nobody is. Perfection can't be required from us: we can't read your mind. You have to be more forgiving than we are.
And back to the sad: I feel so sad for Bailey. I feel sad for myself too. I feel sad that the trip wasn't what I'd hoped it would be. I'd planned to walk Bailey; I'd planned to buy us each a cheeseburger along the way. We'd have a meal together, and maybe even some ice cream.