Jeff – The Dog… A Saga for the Ages

It’s been over 18  months since this happened – I was so traumatized by it that aside from some short Facebook posts I couldn’t write this story. I started writing this months ago – months after it happened – and as I enter the process of finishing this I’m still not sure I can. Sometimes the lessons are obvious and other times you are left thinking “REALLY?! DID THIS NEED TO HAPPEN?!” So I am on occasion left with the following – the times when you feel you are most prepared the Universe will throw you a curve ball. Once you’ve unfurled yourself from the fetal position life goes on – windows or not.

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He was big and dark – handsome and distinguished…a man’s dog. We turned the corner and the moment he saw us he began hopping up and down and talking to us.

“Hello!!!!” his happy face said.

“Here I am. THE ONE you’ve been waiting for all these years!”

Here he is in the little room at the SPCA.

Here he is in the little room at the SPCA.

You see I told my daughter when she was 3 that we would get a dog – when she was 10. I held firm to that promise over the years. When the promise was made I was certain that we would be done having children by that time, and unlike so many other things I was certain of in my 20’s, this was actually true. We were a month away from the little woman’s 11th birthday so she was still 10 but time was running out. We piled into the car the day after we had returned from a week at the beach. We were just going to look at the SPCA – just see what was out there.

“We are NOT getting a dog today!” I told them all before we went in. Famous last words…

So when we turned that fateful corner and saw that happy boy the children got very excited.

“Can we visit with him?” they asked.

“Please!!??”

Keith and I looked at each other – each of us reticent but also a little smitten.

“Did you see his name?” I asked quietly through my teeth as we conferred.

“Yes” he said “I saw.”

“Seems kind of serendipitous – huh?” I said

“It would be pretty funny” he replied.

Why you ask is his name of any significance? Well his name was Jeff – my husband and I each have a brother named Jeff. His older, mine younger but Jeffs nonetheless – and we couldn’t help but get a little giddy at the silliness of the whole situation. We were being worn down.

We requested a visit with “Jeff – the dog” as we quickly began referring to him. We entered one of those small rooms where all of your little doggie dreams flash before your eyes. My husband – who was the least ready for the dog – immediately began thinking aloud of the Santa hats Jeff would don and this man’s dog sleeping by the fire (on a bear skin rug no doubt, followed by “Tim Taylor” style grunts of manliness). The children were immediately won over. The moment the dog arrived in the room he began licking the children’s faces and snuggling up to them. We were pretty psyched to have found this loving guy.

When the adoption counselor came into the room she said a lot of vague things – that looking back were probably warnings but not very effective ones. She said that he was only interested in people – he didn’t seem to want to eat or play with toys but he was motivated by interactions with humans. She told us that because he had only been with them a few days it was likely because he was confused about why he was there and feeling afraid. The thing is when you decide on a rescue animal you have to be prepared for a certain amount of uncertainty because you have no real idea of the animal’s experience prior to meeting them. But I was raised on rescues – my mom has been rescuing animals for more than 20 years. We had dogs that ate entire sofas, hid under beds for months at a time, 20 cats with feline leukemia that had been abandoned on the side of the road. We rescued them and they lived in the garage. Our house was a revolving door of animals in need of homes. Some came and went quickly others stayed permanently. I was not some naive first time pet owner who didn’t realize how much work an animal is.  I was confident that with this rescue training we could handle any eventuality.

The Universe responded to that confidence with hilarious fits of laughter.

Seeing Jeff in action he appeared perfect. He was affectionate and obedient. He loved the children and they loved him. They all looked at me with big begging eyes.

“Can we get him?” they said.

“We weren’t going to get a dog today” I replied “We’re just looking.”

I looked over at my husband who was pretty smitten and we sat there looking at each other trying to be responsible, trying to make the right decision. I was concerned that he was too big – at that moment it was my only concern. We live in a small house that is not really big enough for our family of 5 but he seemed so sweet and it’s not easy to find a pet who meshes so well with three lively children. AND his name was Jeff – I mean seriously – JEFF! After all the years of waiting until the right time to get a dog we seemed to have stumbled upon the perfect one for us. So we said yes and we took Jeff home.

He immediately fit in. We made him a spot on the floor and gave him his food and water bowl in the kitchen by the table. He really listened, was house trained, loved the kids, and seemed very mellow – for 18 hours. We brought Jeff home at 4:30 pm on Sunday. The kids started camp on Monday morning at 9 am and I had to go to work. Now my husband works from home so he would be able to be with Jeff during the transition period but on this Monday morning I had to be at work early. We were just returning from vacation and I had a meeting. So I left and Keith took the kids to camp. He was gone for about an hour. There was a short conversation about not loving the idea of leaving the dog alone as we hadn’t gotten a crate yet but Keith would only be gone for a little while and whatever mess Jeff made we would deal with.

At 9:30 am I get a call at my desk from the SPCA. I answered the phone.

“Hi Erin, this is ‘Allison’ from the SPCA. Do you know where Jeff is?”

“Hi Allison – what do you mean? Jeff is at home.”

“No – he isn’t. Someone found him wandering down the road. I have the man’s name and he says Jeff is fine. Can you go get him?”

“WHAT?! He’s been alone for only a few minutes – I don’t understand. I don’t even know how he could have gotten out. He was in the living room. My husband just ran the kids to camp and to the post office I’m sure he’ll be home any minute.”

She gave me the man’s phone number and I called Keith. “What do you mean he got out?! How did he get out?!” he said when I called.

“I don’t have any idea. Can you call the guy and go get the dog?” I replied – both of us near hysterical.

Keith went and got Jeff and called me immediately to report that Jeff was fine and the man who had him was our neighbor down the street. The guy mentioned that Jeff seemed to be bleeding a little bit but he couldn’t tell from where. He suggested that we take him to the vet. Keith said he was on his way home and when they got in the house he would call me back.

Crisis averted I thought. Back to work.

No more than five minutes later Keith called back. “You wanna know how Jeff got out of the house?”

From the tone of his voice it didn’t sound like I wanted to know but he told me anyway.

“He jumped out of the living room window.”

“I’m sorry, what?” I replied

“The window, he jumped out of the living room window. Through two pains of glass. Chewed up the window sill and the front door frame. And there’s blood everywhere.”

I sat stunned as if I was there but not there – this out-of-body-ness would become my state of being for the next several days.

“You said the neighbor said he was bleeding. Is he bleeding? We need to take him to the vet. Do you see any blood. We don’t even have a vet yet. Did you find the blood?” I just rambled everything that I was thinking while my husband searched the dog for blood and no doubt cursed the entire process.

Did I mention this was our second day back from a week at the beach?

“There’s a little blood but I’m not sure where it’s from. He must have cut himself on the glass from the window.”

“Ok, let’s just run him over to the vet at the SPCA and maybe they will be willing to look at him – or help us – since we just brought him home. I’ll meet you over there.” I hung up the phone told my colleagues the quick version of the story and ran out the door. I got to the SPCA and asked for the girl who had worked with us the day before. She was glad we found the dog and sympathetic but they weren’t thrilled to help us as this isn’t what they do. But before Jeff got there they agreed to look him over. That flew immediately out the door the second Keith arrived at the SPCA with the dog in the back seat of the car. When I ran out and flung open the door it looked like the car in one of those old gangster movies where someone gets shot and bleeds out in the back seat. There was blood everywhere…I ran inside and asked for a towel, ran back out and got the dog from the car walking him in holding the towel under his face. The blood was coming from his face.

All the while he was smiling and happy looking at me as if to say “Hi!! I’m so happy to see you! I really missed you! How has your day been?”

The second we walked into the SPCA clinic they explained they were not equipped to accommodate this situation and sent us to the veterinary hospital a few miles away. So we took the dog and the towel and got back into the car. We ran him into the hospital and they took one look at him and rushed to get him back. We spent the entire rest of the day there. In a state of utter shock, fear for him and deep sadness. I was very, very sad. Just so sad.

While I sat alone at the veterinary hospital all day I just kept saying over and over again to myself “We waited until we were ready.”

WE WAITED NEARLY 8 YEARS!

I mean, shit!

The kids were all old enough to help. They were willing to walk him, feed him, play with him, even pick-up his poop! We had given them trial runs with cousin dogs and their grandmother’s dogs. We had a yard and a quiet cul-de-sac. I cried a lot that day.

When he finally came out all stitched up – 14 stitches in his right cheek – we went home. Thank goodness for generous parents who offered to help with the massive vet bill! I dropped him with the family and immediately ran to buy a crate. I got the biggest one and went home. We put it together and he immediately – as if this was what had been missing – hopped inside and fell asleep. Our first 24 hours with Jeff the dog had come to an end. It seemed as if we were going to be ok.

The kids were terrified and saddened by this turn of events. Our daughter was so upset she couldn’t look at him without crying. The other two gently petted and hugged him. They all wanted to understand why he had done this. We tried to explain that sometimes dogs, and people, don’t get what they need from the people who are supposed to take care of them and when that happens it can make them act out in scary or dangerous ways.

We went to bed that night exhausted but hopeful that though our beginnings with Jeff the dog were rocky we would be able to find our footing and go forward on the road to pet ownership with all the bad behind us. I was raised by a mom who rescued animals. I had spent my youth and young adulthood dealing with dogs and cats that had many different emotional challenges – a lot like the people in our family. They found their home with us. Maybe we understood them. I felt like they got what they needed from my mom who just loved them all to pieces. I was sure that I was prepared for a life as a rescue parent.

 

The next day Jeff laid around and seemed to be getting used to us. He was very nervous and would whine when we left the room even just to go to the bathroom. The kids were very anxious around him but they really loved him and wanted to help him to feel comfortable. We were feeling more hopeful – cautiously optimistic. We reinforced the crate with zipties and Jeff seemed really comfortable in it. I had slept on the sofa since the accident in order to help him get comfortable with his new home, his crate and the many staples in his face complete with a cone of shame.

On Wednesday morning I left for work and took the kids to camp. My husband put Jeff inside his new crate and left for less than an hour to run some errands. Then I got the call…again.

“Hello” I said.

“He did it again.” It was my husband on the other end of the phone this time.

“What do you mean? I left him in the crate. I tied the thing together!”

“He broke out of it and he jumped through the other window.” My husband informed me.

“What?!?! How?!?!” I screamed.

“I don’t know. I don’t have any idea. The crate is completely bent up. I don’t know how he did it.” he replied.

“We can’t do this. We have to take him back, Erin. We aren’t prepared to care for  this dog. He needs another dog. He can’t be left alone ever – not even for us to sleep or go to the bathroom. It’s not fair to him or us.”

He said it and I knew he was right but I just started to cry. I felt like a failure. It was awful. I worried about what to tell the children and what this would mean for future dog ownership. I went into a friends’ office at work and told him what was happening and about my concerns regarding what to tell the kids.

“Harry and the Hendersons” he said confidently as if I was supposed to know what that meant. Obviously, I remembered the movie from my childhood but, though Jeff the dog was unstable, he wasn’t big foot.

“Huh?” I asked.

“Harry wanted to be with the Hendersons and the Hendersons wanted Harry but it couldn’t work. He was too big and unpredictable and they weren’t equipped to meet his needs. The best thing they could do for Harry and their family was to let him go. It was awful and hard but in the end it was the only choice they had.”

“Woah. That was the best thing anyone could have said to me right now. Thanks man” I responded to his perfect insight. It made me feel better. Not completely better, but better. Someone else could make it work. I still think that. I just wish I was the person who could have made it work but I’m not. We have three kids and full time jobs. I thought I was ready – we were ready. I was wrong. What a way to learn that lesson. I still feel a little like a failure, like I let that poor guy down. That probably won’t ever go away.

Almost a year to the day passed but the opportunity arose once again to grow our family with a dog. This time a friend of mine’s neighbor had puppies she was trying to find a home for. There were two left, a boy and a girl. When we went to visit the kids sat in the driveway. The little boy puppy barked and yapped at us the entire time but wouldn’t come near. The little girl calmly walked over to our middle son and curled up in his lap. We took her home with us that day. A sandy, scraggly, 8 pound little mut that wouldn’t get much bigger and puked in the care on the way home. It couldn’t get much worse than Jeff but I was hoping she wouldn’t prove me wrong.  It took almost the entire day to agree on a name but when I (*note: my husband insists it was him) said “What about Kismet?” everyone said “That’s it!” even though they had no idea what the word meant. Kismet means fate, destiny. She was certainly meant for us.

We're meant to be.

 I was taught growing up that a pet is a member of the family. The responsibility to care for them is as big as it is for any human – maybe even more. I never thought I would have to return a dog. This process was beyond anything I could have imagined. I wasn’t sure we would ever be ready to be pet parents again. This was just one of a thousand times during the course of life as mom, wife, person on the planet when I have expected one thing only to be faced with something entirely different. We tried, as we always do, to make the right decision. Some decisions are easier than others. When you’re a grown-up you have to make the hard choices even when you don’t want to.

Even though Jeff the mostly free dog from the SPCA cost us over $3000 and long lasting emotional scars in the 55 hours he was a part of our family I am still glad we decided to bring him home with us. I could have done without all the blood and the staples in his face but in the end we all learned some pretty valuable lessons about ourselves and our family. Sometimes things aren’t right even when we really want for them to be. Jeff the dog will always be listed among our family pets. He made a lasting impression and we only wanted the best for him.

 

 

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