Not This (Wo)Man’s Best Friend

The other day I started cleaning out my e-mail inbox and found an e-mail dated back to 2007. I was caught off guard, as this particular e-mail showed the correspondence between the woman and me who helped us find a home for Baxter. I hadn’t thought about Baxter in a while, and even three years later, I had trouble reading the e-mails.

Looking over this lady’s note, a flood of sadness and remorse filled me, and I instantly remembered crying on the phone to this women whom I didn’t know. When I first called her, I could hear the judgment in her voice-to her I was just another mom who didn’t realize that taking care of a dog was work. But after a few minutes of listening to my story through my tears, her voice softened a little.

I had tried everything! Baxter had always been peculiar; when we were crate training him, he would run out of his crate and zig-zag his way past us, avoiding any contact within the realm of the door leading to the outside. We’d have to pull him out from under our bed and carry him outside so that he could pee. When he was a puppy, we thought his peculiar behavior was cute.

But then started the psychotic episodes. Baxter would sit and suddenly start shaking. I never knew the reason; he would just shake like a leaf. I asked the vet about it, and she said he probably had anxiety. Some dogs were just the nervous type. He had a roof over his head, food to eat every day, and he didn’t need a job to pay for these necessities-I couldn’t quite figure out over what he was anxious….

When he was no longer a puppy, he still wouldn’t go outside. In fact, as I would try to carry this dog out the door, he would spread his legs apart trying to keep from fitting through the doorway. I would literally have to throw him out the backdoor. This routine was especially fun when I was pregnant, trying to carry a squirming dog on my belly and then heaving him out the door.

But he just wouldn’t let me win. Oh, no. He had to start jumping. To this day, even though I repainted the it, one can still see the worn path Baxter made from his claws going up and down the door. In his defense, our other dog, Scout, learned that his behavior got results, so she, too, started jumping.

One might ask why I didn’t just leave him outside. I tell you the truth, I had no choice but to bring him in when he started jumping! When I tried not to, when I tried to stand firm that Baxter must stay outside until he peed, he showed me how foolish I was. That stupid dog jumped until his little paw pads were rubbed raw. I remembering opening the door to the outside one afternoon, and I saw my neurotic dog shaking, breathing hard, and standing on a blood-stained patio. I swept him up in my arms and called the animal hospital since it was after hours. At the time, I wasn’t even sure what had happened-I just saw blood and a shaking dog. The nurse on the phone assured me he’d be okay-he was probably just having a panic attack.

I was about to have my second baby in 17-months; there was no room in this family for a dog with psychological issues. If anyone was going to use Prozac, it would be me.

At the advice of the vet, we took him to obedience school. He won most-improved dog. That accomplishment wasn’t hard to achieve since he spent the majority of his classes sitting and shaking. Everyone felt sorry for him, that is everyone except for me. At this point, I was near my limit. It was now summer, and I was nine-months pregnant trying my best to imitate the methods my instructor showed us for the training collar.

Yes, the infamous training collar. In theory, the owner only needed to pull up on the leash once, and the dog would instantly obey, not enjoying the discomfort of the collar. In theory. The other dogs may have responded to that uncomfortable feeling, but not Baxter. Oh, no. The number of times I had to keep pulling up on that leash to get him to respond-why I probably looked like I was churning butter more than training a dog. Did I mention I was nine-months pregnant?

The instructor assured us we were not hurting our dogs. And when Baxter had a nice red streak on his neck from where the collar had been repeatedly tightened over and over, the instructor was adamant that he wasn’t in pain. I think that instructor was as stupid as our dog.

The baby arrived, and my ‘most improved’ dog quickly returned to the Baxter that I knew so well, even though I continued practicing with him. He would still refuse to go outside the back door, although he loved to run away out the front door. He gave me the pleasure of visiting the pound with an infant and a toddler, experiencing the fear of not knowing if he were alive and the guilt of hoping he found a nice family of psychiatrists. He, unfortunately, found a nice family in our neighborhood, and they didn’t want a dog.

I would communicate telepathically with Baxter: “If you want to run away so badly, then go-but find a good family-if you can do that, I won’t take you back, I promise!”

But he wouldn’t listen. He would continue his runaway attempts and refusal to go out in the backyard to pee. He would then wait until the exact moment I went to nurse the baby or change her diaper to pee on the floor. I couldn’t win.

My Bible doesn’t have a back cover. Baxter ate it. Matt doesn’t have an MP3 player, anymore. Baxter ate it. Matt used to have a few belts. Baxter ate them. I used to have nice base boards. Baxter ate them.

I made one final effort to salvage our relationship. I called some in-house-dog-whisperer-guru recommended by our vet. He charged $500. I really didn’t think Baxter was worth that kind of money, and apparently neither did this guru. After I explained our issues with Baxter, he informed me that he might not be able to help him, but he would give my information to his son. Maybe we could work out a plan. Neither he nor his son called me back.

I had tried everything, hadn’t I? I told myself this sentence over and over as I dialed the number for the canine rescue. That phone call led to the trail of e-mail correspondence that I had just recently rediscovered. The women on the other line agreed that Baxter needed a special home, and she placed him with a wonderful foster family who had already fostered and adopted three other Boston Terriers-they couldn’t let them go. Until they met Baxter.

They found a home for Baxter, a nice married couple who worked out of the house and didn’t have children. A nice couple whom Baxter wouldn’t have to share with other pets. A nice couple who wouldn’t have to fear destruction or urine because they could put Baxter on a leash and take him for a walk, not having to worry about bundling up a toddler and a baby in the winter to make the long trek to the backyard. Baxter, I sincerely hope you and your new family are happy.

As I scanned these e-mails and dealt with my emotions of a (very) little sadness and remorse, I had to reassure myself again that I had done that right thing, that Baxter was happier. I had done the best I could, but our family was not the right family for him. But then I had another thought that caused me panic: My children have pooped in our shoes, peed in the trashcans, in addition to numerous other places. They have made their own runaway attempts out the front door. What if the problem is ME?!!!

Darn you, Baxter. I have already dealt with guilt from you; you’re not going to convince me I was the problem. No, Baxter. You will not haunt me. YOU are the crazy one, not me!

Originally published at https://jennifervdavis.com on October 18, 2010.

Wife and mother of four; Former Children’s Ministry Director, 12Stone Church. Current High School English Teacher.