I have a habit of writing about the rescue horses and donkeys and dogs that have come through Infinity Farm to be evaluated, fostered, and trained over the years. In a seemingly contrary way, I hope to encourage people to bring rescues into their homes but at the same time debunk romantic notions about rescue. It can be a pretty complicated topic.
Mostly, I think an abused pony or a rescue dog deserve to have their story told as much as equine Olympians and beloved family pets from reputable breeders. I write about rescues because I believe their lives matter.
People remind me that “you can’t save ’em all” but I’ve known that in a profoundly literal way since I shoplifted a dying cat back in my teens. I’ve second-guessed myself about writing the final chapter in Seamus’ short life dozens of times. Maybe I shouldn’t continue now.
The first time I wrote about Seamus was when he came to Infinity Farm to be fostered/evaluated at 13 mos. old. He was on Prozac and in a shock collar. By the second post, he’d become a different kind of “foster fail.” Usually, foster fail is a clever way of saying that a foster human fell in love and adopted their foster animal. In Seamus’ case, it meant he would never be adoptable. He had no other place to go. Readers were kind; glad that he landed with me. And again, I thought perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned him publicly.
“Her life was ok. Sometimes she wished she were sleeping with the right man instead of with her dog, but she never felt she was sleeping with the wrong dog.” – Change of Life by Judith Collas
I’ve had this quote tacked up on my wall for as long as I’ve been sleeping with dogs. It just makes me smile. And I’m grateful for a few generations of dog-piles that helped me find some rest during the rough times in my life. Recently the quote took a different twist.
I’ve always appreciated challenging dogs. Seamus fit the bill. He had good moments but more commonly, he had a snarling sideways glare. He’d bite at unpredictable times, both dogs and people, and seemed to have no knowledge of his name. Sometimes he could be coaxed with treats and sometimes he attacked us. His extreme destructive behaviors had gotten him crated full-time previously; now he needed to be out to decompress but I wondered how much of the house would survive.
After a few weeks, I thought Seamus was almost leveling out. Not quite improving; there were still dogfights and tense separations and extreme anxiety, but less of a scorched earth policy from him. We’d managed a vet visit by giving him a tranquilizer first. It didn’t work well, but with a muzzle, we were able to sedate him for blood tests and x-rays.
Not surprisingly, his little body was a painful, complicated mess of health questions, lousy joints, and fear… along with the affliction of bad training. Who knows what else?
Then a turning point: Construction workers came to repair hail damage on the farm. I took the time off work, staying with the dogs every minute. A four-day ceiling repair took two weeks. The house was cut in half for asbestos abatement. The tools were loud but the workers were louder and Seamus just came apart. His eyes changed and his anxiety exploded like a virus.
Seamus had loved the boarder who always took the time to talk to him. He’d roll over, asking her to scratch his belly through the fence and it was a happy habit. Until he bit her mid-scratch.
The next week, another boarder was talking with me in the house. Her toddler was standing by her chair when Seamus broke down a gate. A strong gate. The boarder picked up her toddler immediately; she knew Seamus’ history and didn’t hesitate. She was miraculously calm, the right answer as Seamus leaped up, nipping at her little girl. I knew I couldn’t correct him without making it worse, so I used treats to try to call him off. It took cheerful coaxing but finally, he turned to me and the aggression stopped long enough to get the little girl out of the house.
We all felt like we were living in a war zone. Maybe Seamus most of all.
At night, I’d lay down and he’d leap the edge of the bed, dropping his belly crosswise on mine, and falling immediately asleep. I matched his breath. His weight on my heart was undeniable, as I considered the unthinkable for the millionth time.
My vet wasn’t surprised when I called. She’d broached the subject of euthanizing Seamus the previous month when I brought another Corgi, Preacher Man, in with a facial abscess from a dogfight. It’s times like this that having an honest vet means the most. We had a complicated conversation about how to euthanize an aggressive dog in the most kind and compassionate way.
On the morning of his final appointment, I gave him a special breakfast. Special because it was his favorite raw meat with a nice fried duck egg on top. Special because it contained an overdose of meds to quiet him. They had the opposite effect.
We did our best for Seamus his last day. Sometimes your best looks ugly-bad. Seamus was one month short of his second birthday.
When things come apart like this, there’s some unbalanced equation of physical issues and bad history. Pain and anxiety. I believe that animals can have similar mental health issues as humans. Some find a way through it and some just can’t. Again, like humans.
I tried to make sense of backyard puppy mills and shock collars and professionals who give bad advice, as I felt despicable for appreciating the peace. Trust me, I know you can’t save ’em all but that’s no reason to quit trying.
There’s been a horrible quiet in the weeks since Seamus has been gone. It’s as if the house got stuck in an exhale. The daily “accidents” inside stopped in a while. The Dude Rancher’s dog, Finny eventually trusted the backyard again. My elderly dog came out of her Thundershirt and Preacher Man is trying to be less defensive. I realized that the reverse of that old quote mattered to me just as much. I hope the dogs always felt they were sleeping with the right human.
And this boy, Seamus. Some of his trouble he was born with, and some of it was done to him. In the end, it doesn’t matter how it started. I think he tried his best to fight it but that got turned around, too.
If Seamus finds redemption, I doubt it will be waiting at a mythical rainbow bridge. He might prefer a place that doesn’t allow humans.