Love is not enough.
It cannot heal all wounds, the ones so profound they change the very makeup of one’s being.
These are the ones you can’t see. They are buried like fault lines deep inside the earth. You don’t know when they will erupt or why, only that, eventually, they will.
These wounds? Come from being starved to death. Or beaten. Possibly both. They come from being used and then discarded like you don’t matter. They come when there is never a gentle touch.
That is Lucy, the dog we rescued a month ago. And why she is no longer in our home.
Thursday, as she slept on her dog bed, Sawyer, as he does almost every night, sat next to her and pet her as he watched TV.
She went after him. With absolutely no provocation. No warning. Just paws and teeth and one very scared boy.
This was not a mauling or anything close. I did not have to pull her off him. There was no blood. He was not bit nor did she grab ahold of him. His face was scratched in several places, most likely from her nails, and there was a large lump near his temple.
Make no mistake: it was terrifying and beyond unacceptable. This was a dog reacting to something – perhaps a dream? – that upset her enough to make her feel she had to protect herself. And Lucy knew she did something horribly wrong. She padded over a few minutes later and put her paws gently on the edge of the couch and looked at us, her head down. She slunk awhile later into the kitchen as I grabbed a treat to get her into her crate – where she spent the rest of the night and most of the next morning.
I used to judge. I wondered how anyone could ever return a rescue dog. When you adopt a dog, you make a commitment. For life. You do whatever it takes to fulfill your promise to it. Right?
We tried. We tried.
We hugged her and rubbed her behind her floppy ears and kissed the white stripe on her forehead. We gave her a soft, safe place to sleep and healthy food to eat. She could lie in the sunshine in the grass outside or curl up on the futon in David’s office or sit next to me so I could scratch her broad chest.
She had children who adored her and to whom she gave wet kisses. She went on walks where she could fill her nose with whatever scent she could inhale. She wagged her tail when Sage came running down the walkway of the school to the sidewalk to greet her and when she was hugged by Sage’s friends. She loved rides in the car and games of tug with her rope bone.
No one yelled at her. No one scared her. No one touched her with a heavy hand.
Slowly, she gained confidence.
She snapped at Gable. Over food. Water. When he sniffed her as she slept.
He didn’t want to go outside if she was out there. She pushed him out of the way if I petted him.
She was a bully. And he was miserable.
Still, we wanted to make sure we did everything possible to help the situation.
A trainer came to our house to observe. He didn’t like what he saw. We sent her to him for a full day and an overnight so he could evaluate her.
“I worry for your older dog,” he said. “He’s clearly distressed. His ears are back and he looks upset. Her behavior will escalate. I think she will eventually hurt him.”
Gable is 11 1/2. I couldn’t have him live the rest of his years like that. And I absolutely couldn’t live with myself if Lucy went after Gable - or, worse, hurt one of my kids if they happened to be in the way.
And so, with tears, we called the rescue. Lucy had to go back. Only there were no foster homes available. So we said we’d keep her for another week or two, and then she’d have to go.
We questioned ourselves. Maybe she and Gable could learn to work it out? Did we try hard enough? She’d had such a horrible life. She deserved to be happy, didn’t she?
And, we thought, she was so good with kids.
But that all changed in an instant. The attack on Sawyer served to cut my emotional ties to her. I no longer felt guilty for returning her. I drove her to a boarding place Friday morning and I didn’t let myself think about how they had to drag her away from our car and into the building where I dropped her off, how she’ll be living in a cage until a foster or an adopter is found for her.
When I learned Sunday that she was not doing well at the kennel, that she was shaking and scared and could barely stand up, I discovered that hardening my heart hurt almost as much as breaking it.
But all I can think of is my beautiful, brave son. Who understands he did nothing wrong. Who gets that I have his back and I will do anything to protect him, that no animal is more important to me than he is.
A pet is not the same as a child. It just isn’t. We took Lucy in and made her part of our family, but she was not an equal member. We opened our home to her. She did not uphold her part of the bargain.
She is a good dog in a lot of ways. A calm, sweet, loving animal. She will make the right owner a wonderful pet. But she has demons that we can’t know. And when you are a 70-pound pit bull, and there are little kids in the house, you don’t get a second chance.
My son is safe.
And that is all that matters.