SURRENDER: a Reluctant Rite of Spring

Spring is a time for renewal and rejoicing. But rejoicing was the last thing my wife and I did on the first day of spring in 2013. For it was on that day when my wife and I surrendered Louie, our beloved Boston Terrier/Boxer mix, back to the rescue agency where we’d adopted him from ten months earlier.

Sometime after our first few months of living together as a new, happy family, Louie began to bite. His first target was a passing stranger in front of our condo complex. Then, it was my father-in-law who trailed my wife through our front door as they returned from grocery shopping.

Finally, a well-meaning elevator repair man working in the building next door cornered Susan and Louie as they were about to enter our side gate. The man reached his arm forward, wanting to pet Louie. Before my wife could warn the man and command Louie to stay, Louie lunged at the man, chomping deep into his left forearm.

My wife and I tried everything. After two trainers, a behaviorist and a $15,000 claim against our homeowner’s insurance, my wife convinced me that that we had no choice but to give Louie up. All our love, devotion and perseverance could not seem to overcome Louie’s diagnosed fear-based aggression. And our condo complex – with its maze of blind corners seeming to invite a startle response – was the worst environment for our beloved, but troubled, Louie.

I fought this decision all the way. Louie was our baby, after all, and families do everything they can to stay together. At least in my idyllic world they do.

But I could not deny the events, our Herculean efforts, or the fact that it was my wife who’d been on the front lines during every attack. It was she who sucked up her growing terror each time she took him for walks. And it was she who denied her own truth in the face of my weeping pleas each time she suggested that we surrender Louie.

What kind of responsible, caring man would hesitate to make the right decision for EVERYONE in his family, even if it meant searing pain? Evidently I would. I did.

If someone were to have shared this anecdote with me five years ago, I would have scoffed and branded the man a neurotic wuss. But back then, I had not loved – and let go of – a fur child.

That spring day two years ago was the worst day – ever.

Worse than the childhood day when my parents announced their plans to divorce. Worse than the day I learned my beloved uncle took his own life. Worse than the day I learned that a long-lost sweetheart had died in her youth.

I’ve learned a lot about myself since then: some good, some not so much. I’ve second-guessed myself as a loving husband and responsible pet “parent” at least a dozen times. What I’ve learned, by sharing our story with others, is that my wife and I were not alone in our feelings of attachment, struggle and grief.

I also knew that I wanted to create a safe, nurturing place for those who’ve endured the pain of surrender. And a place where we could all learn how to become more responsible pet parents so that surrender is all but banished. Every day with our pets should hold the promise of renewal.

No one can ever guarantee a forever home for a pet. But with equal parts of awareness, knowledge, persistence and compassion, we can dramatically increase the chances that pets and their human families can stay together – forever.

What’s your story?