Those who follow us on social media and subscribe to our site via email already know that our long-term foster dog Forest got adopted, returned a month later, and required immediate behavioral euthanasia on July 7, 2023. As a dog attack survivor in late 2021 and a lifelong dog lover, you can imagine the avalanche of emotions about his death. Let's look at such decisions because they're more common than you might imagine ... as reflected by the size of this FB group for people who've experienced behavioral euthanasia with their pets.
Quick FYI - Some of the people who post in that group say derisive things about their dogs' victims, which is upsetting for me, so I might not stay in the group long.
Also note, I turned off commenting for this post. I don't need the drama.
Behavioral Euthanasia - Prior Experience
Around 20 years ago, we made a similar decision with a Doberman we adopted. He stayed with us 10 days before the danger he posed became clear and unacceptable. His name was Gilbert. We were his last chance. The shelter opted for a behavioral euthanasia for him as well.
Hard as it was, it was the right decision.
The lesson I learned from Gilbert is that I cannot live with a dog I don't trust.
He never hurt me or anyone else, but he scared the heck out of me with silent, almost-murderous intent (much like the 2 dogs who attacked me and Mr. Stix). Had he attacked me. It would have been very bad.
Noisy Dogs vs Silent Ones
I've always said that silent aggressive dogs scare me more than noisy ones. My thinking? Noisy dogs often offer some sort of warning, a preamble to action. Not always, but often.
Over the years in our rural Colorado mountain neighborhood, around a dozen dogs came well off their property and threatened me and my dogs on our walks on the road. I managed to keep myself and my dogs safe all those times. Maybe pure luck, but I like to think I understand dogs closer to the normal end of the scale enough to avoid a bite even if the dog is so inclined.
The 2 dogs who attacked me and Mr. Stix from behind without warning remained deadly silent throughout the attack. No barking. No growling. Just repeatedly biting and shaking us.
Because the dogs live 1/3 mile up the road and because the courts placed ZERO sanctions on them despite the defendant accepting a plea deal and paying court-ordered restitution, I no longer walk the route in our neighborhood that I walked for nearly 20 years, with 2 generations of dogs.
My recovery from that experience is ongoing. It affects all areas of my life, including work and income.
Forest's Behavioral Euthanasia
Forest never once showed any aggression towards us. Heck, he slept in bed with us toward the end. I even told my therapist (who I've seen regularly since the dog attack) that I'd forgotten what it felt like to have a BIG dog at my side, like our old boy Ginko. One night while walking Forest in our back pasture in the dark (with a flashlight) I felt a flash of something I hadn't felt in a long time. Safe.
When he saw neighbors during our laps around our property, he did react and bark. When I took him for a hike, he did bark and strain toward people he saw. At one point, though, I chatted with neighbors on the hiking trail with Forest right there catching treats I tossed him. He barked at first, but with the neighbors about 15 feet away, I got and held his attention with food.
His adopters knew all this and even witnessed him barking pretty wildly at people. One of them grew up with German Shepherds, so it seemed like a good match, until it wasn't.
I'm not privy to all the details of Forest's behavior in his urban home, but I do know he injured both of his adopters repeatedly. I also know that he became a threat in public toward others.
Despite working with a trainer they hired and then also the behavior staff at the shelter, the adopters returned him for behavioral euthanasia ... and rightly so.
As much as the outcome devastates us, that does NOT mean it wasn't the best decision. The lesson I learned from Forest is that I cannot be part of putting / keeping a dangerous dog in the community. Especially as a dog attack survivor, where the defendant never said a single word to me about what happened and where I'm forced to see the dogs go by our home often, I don't want anyone hurt or having to go through the seemingly lifelong trauma of a dog attack.
We cannot save all dogs, and we shouldn't for their emotional health and the safety of our homes and communities.
We declined the chance to see Forest before his behavioral euthanasia. We're told he was "unrecognizable" from the dog we knew during his 3 months with us. We wanted to remember him as we knew him.
Also, clearly, Forest was suffering. Pain is pain. Behavioral suffering is still suffering. As hard as it is, he is now at rest.
I worry a little about saying that because of how people struggling emotionally might feel triggered.
Sad P.S. Our plan to get Forest's ashes, like we did after foster puppy DREAM died suddenly in September 2022, failed. Miscommunication or glitch of some sort, but his body did not get tagged for private cremation. It's heartbreaking, but it's the kind of mistake that can't be fixed. Doing my best to sit with all the feelings ... and not, say, shave off my long hair.