“Save them all” has long been a slogan for rescue groups and while I absolutely respect so much of the rescue community and all the blood, sweat and tears they put into saving countless dogs. There comes a point in which “saving them all” puts people in dangerous and draining situations.
I want to tell you about Hilo and how despite our best efforts surrounded by an insanely knowledgeable dog community we couldn’t save him.
Hilo came to us as a foster after living a rough life. His original owner admitted to putting him on a chain when he was just a pup and he spent nearly his whole life attached to it. Hilo’s rescuer relayed that she saw kids throwing rocks at him on several occasions. He was outside no matter the weather, and for a short coated dog I can’t believe he survived the winter. His rescuer begged and pleaded with the owner for weeks to surrender Hilo. When the owner finally agreed Hilo ended up in boarding, while the rescue group that agreed to care for him scrambled to find a foster.
In the boarding setting Hilo again faced harsh treatment from people. He was handled rough because he was a pitbull and he was not doing well emotionally or behaviorally. Then some fabulous people stepped up to get him out of boarding. (You know who you are)
He had and a huge network of people behind him before we became his foster home.Not just dog people, really skilled trainers working with him almost daily. I am so grateful to that team who supported us in so many ways.
When Hilo came to us, we took introductions with the other dogs slowly and his transition went relatively smooth. He got along well with the other dogs and people at first.It felt like we might have found our next full time resident. I think that all fosters consider adopting and we were totally in that boat. The first month was great, he went hiking with us. I started taking an agility class with him. It felt like everything was in order.
After a few months things started to come up. Hilo and Sunny got into a fight, which happens but there was minimal damage and they were able to coexist again after the fight. Then another fight happened a few weeks later and there was more damage this time. There was a lot of blood, but thankfully it only turned out to be one puncture wound on an ear but this time Sunny and Hilo couldn’t go back to co existing. . Now, Hilo and Sunny couldn’t even look at each other without trying to fight. I can vividly remember having to slam a door in Hilos face because he saw Sunny and was ready to attack. That is when we transitioned to full time crating and rotating and if you’ve ever had to do it, I commend you. It really fucking sucks, constantly having to be vigilant that the dogs don’t see each other. Not to mention the toll it took on my relationship with my husband, the toll it took on my relationship with all the dogs and the toll it took on my ability to function in my day to day. Then Hilo attacked Tiva, which was such a shame because they had played some nicely together before. I didn’t want Tiva to get hurt so now Hilo had to spend more time in closed off rooms or in a crate.
Hilo came to us with intense resource guarding issues that we worked day in and day out to change. Hilo would bite anything that tried to touch his food bowl, or anything he perceived to be his.We got to a point where he would let me take the food bowl away, it felt like we made progress at first and then it started to get worse. One day my husband went to feed Hilo and before he could get the food down, Hilo had bit his hand. Thankfully I was able to intervene with a gate, if i hadn’t been there it would have been much worse. But still we pressed on, hoping the perfect home would be available to Hilo.
Then one day when I was going to feed Hilo, he bit me. He looked me in the eyes and it seemed as if he left his body and some inner demon took over. He bit my hand and if i hadn’t slammed the crate door in his face, it would have been much worse. Tears are streaming down my face as I type this because I knew what it meant. I knew that we couldn’t be his foster anymore.
The rescue didn’t have any other foster options and we knew how quickly he would deteriorate in a boarding setting and deep down I think we all knew that it wasn’t safe for Hilo to live anywhere.
After so much agony, guilt, feelings or failure and consulting with trusted dog professionals, we then made the choice to humanely euthanize Hilo. On his last day with us he got steak, and ice cream, both of which he guarded from me and bit me one last time. He was surrounded by many who loved him and he went peacefully.
I tell you his story because while it feels like we should be able to save them all, we can’t. Hilo lived with us for 9 months and in that time he had an amazing life but too many humans had let him down before he came to us. There was something wrong with the wiring in his brain and no amount of love, training or medication could fix that. While I still long for him in so many ways,(he once told an animal communicator that he wished it could be just him and I, we really adored each other ) I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we made the right call.
So I think we need to empower rescues to save dogs that deserve loving homes, that they can safely live with people and empower them to know that some dogs aren’t safe to live with. It’s not the dogs fault, it’s not the rescues fault, it just is.