Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Unfortunate Occurance

Full disclosure: This is still not about coffee, but I promise that post is on the very near horizon, like tomorrow or Monday. I was going to it today, but then this little heartbreak happened...

Nebo bit the water guy yesterday.

Nebo is our nearly seven-year-old German Shepherd mix. We've had him for about four and a half years. We love him very, very much and he is apart of our family. And, he's a biter.

A little back story on the News (his pet name): We adopted him in 2005 from a fantastic no-kill shelter in DC. We got him three months after we got our first dog, Valentine, when we determined that she needed a dog companion.

We brought Valentine when we went to select Nebo. We originally had no interest in him because in the shelter, he was a barker. But the staff pushed him - he was very submissive (which we needed because Valentine is dominant); very dog-bonded; got on well with cats; rated as good for a family with children.

And Valentine LOVED him. Nebo came to the shelter from another shelter in North Carolina that had be flooded by a hurricane the previous year. Many of the dogs, who were housed in outdoor kennels, had drown. He was one of the handful of survivors. He'd come to the shelter as a puppy; Nebo had never had a real home.

I knew we had to take this dog. Nebo deserved a family.

The shelter had been having trouble placing Nebo because he needed to be in a multi-dog household and he needed an understanding family that would not ask too much of him. The adoption counselors told us he would likely never be a social dog and would probably only ever bond to Nelson and I and our immediate family we were okay with that.

He had a rough two weeks, but after that it felt like Nebo had always been with us. He was sweet and affectionate; he slept on the bed, in between us; he licked the cat; he worshiped Valentine. We were very happy with him.

Nebo was by my side during my labor with Oscar. My labor support dog. I leaned on him, stroked his fur, clung to him. He was only second to Nelson. He barked a greeting to Oscar when he came into the world.

It is hard to know how your animals will react to a new baby, but Nebo was great. Excited and interested, but not too much. We could not have asked for a better reaction.

As the months following Oscar's birth went on, there was a noticeable change in Nebo. He began barking more. Much, much more. Instead of just jumping on the door when someone arrived he would throw his whole entire body at the door. We had to put up Plexiglas to protect him and the door.

He'd always stood sentry at the foot of the stairs, looking out the window at the street, watching for intruders. But now he was obsessed with it. All day, he'd sit there, growling every time anyone so much as walked by our home.

Then he started growling at visitors. Now, he'd always been nervous but never growling or barking at people once they were in our home and clearly welcomed by Nelson and me. In Oscar's first six months, he nipped three people. All had gotten too close to him after he sent clear signals that he did not want to be bothered, but we didn't like where things were going with Nebo.

So, we started putting Nebo in his crate whenever a new person came over. Both of our dogs are crate trained, so they don't see their crates as a place of punishment; they see them as a place of comfort and saftey. We'd put him in there for the first thirty minutes or so; so Nebo could relax and feel the safety of his crate; so Valentine could get adjusted to the company. Then, we'd let him out and he'd be fine. We've always told guests to steer clear of Nebo; he will come to you when he's ready.

And this worked well. Really, really well. Nebo seemed to calm down. He was welcoming more people into his circle of trust. He seemed less anxious and much happier.

Then, Miles was born. And things have been getting steadily worse.

He's gotten even more anxious. He still holds sentry at the window, but goes completely berserk when someone so much as walks down the street ACROSS THE STREET from out house. When someone comes on to our porch, it's as though he's trying to go through the Plexiglas. Even when it's someone he knows. If he is outside in the front yard when someone walks by, he goes ape shit. Like Cujo - growling barking, drooling, jumping, snapping.

We were (are) pretty upset by this change. We addressed this with our vet at his check up last month. She suggested we try using the crate again like we had before, or that we try behavior modification training.

And we though, "Yeah, yeah, we'll do that." But, you know, life happens and we never got around to it.

Then, yesterday, I saw the guy from the water company go into my neighbor's yard and drop off a notice. So did my dogs, and they did not like it. Valentine is much more calm and social, but she's not too keen on strangers either (although her reaction is not nearly as visceral as Nebo's.)

I saw that he was headed to our house. I was out with all three boys and the dogs. Miles was on the grass, so I picked him up and walked to the fence to intercept the water guy. Nebo was jumping and barking and growling and snapping, hackles raised. I knew if I could get to him and the water guy, every thing would be fine. Nebo would calm at my touch; I could take the notice; the water guy would leave.

But that stupid fucking water guy. Do you know what he did? DO YOU KNOW WHAT HE DID? He stuck his fucking had over the fence into Nebo's face. His SNARLING, BARKING, TOOTH-BARING, INSANELY JUMPING, HACKLES RAISED, FACE, so Nebo could sniff his hand.

And (SURPRISE!) Nebo bit him.

"OW! Son of a BITCH!"

"OH MY GOD! Are you okay? I was trying to get over, trying to tell you! He's really nervous! I'm so sorry, I'm so, so, sorry! Did he break the skin? Are you bleeding? Do you need first aid?"

The water guy looked at his hand and showed it to me. The skin had been pinched but not broken.

"No, no, I'm okay."

"I'm so sorry! He gets so protective with the boys out here-"

"No, no it's my fault. I shouldn't have done that. I trusted him, and I shouldn't have. I didn't think he'd bite."

"I know, because he's out playing with the kids, you probably though he was friendly. And he is, but not to strangers. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, I'm fine. Have a good one."

And that was it.

And, yes, it was totally the guy's fault for not asking me if Nebo was okay and for approaching an obviously distressed animal. And the bite was not bad. And Nebo wasn't ATTACKING anyone. He clearly felt threatened and was scared when the guy put his hand over the fence (which, OHMYGOD STUPID.) He was not trying to take the guy's hand off; just to warn him to back off.

But, I can't take a chance. I can't take a chance on having a biter. Not will all the kids around here. The bite wasn't very damaging to the water guy, but it would have been to one of the boys.

We've hired a dog trainer and our first session is this weekend. It's very expensive, but she thinks she can help Nebo. We made a commitment to him when we adopted and we don't want to get rid of him because he's having difficulty controlling his anxiety now that we have children.

We feel just awful. We should have dealt with the situation sooner and we let it get out of hand. We knew it would be a tough couple of years on the dogs when we started having kids, but we also knew once our kids got older the pay off would be huge. Now that Oscar is older he's starting to interact with the dogs in a meaningful way. And Nebo is good with them - gentle and patient and affectionate.

We promised Nebo a home and a family so we are trying to do the right thing. The shelter will take him back, but how likely are they to find another home for a seven-year-old dog that has a history of biting? He'd have to live out his days in the shelter. And he'd be devastated without Valentine. I don't want to do that to him.

I hope things go well this Saturday. We don't want to lose our dog, and we don't want to exile him from his family. Wish us luck.


Greg Minah said...

This would be a perfect episode for "The Dog Whisperer,".. but I guess you guys don't exactly have enough time to apply to the show and wait to see if you get on...

EllenMarie said...

After Steven was born we had to give away my tiny Boston Terrier Mimi. I tried EVERYTING to make Mimi a more happy dog (antidepressants, fucking dog aromatherapy phermones, a dog behavior consultant,etc.) But nothing worked enough. With kids it just wasn't possible for me to spend enough time with him. Sooooooo - I gave him up to a rescue league. To this day I feel terrible and still miss him, but I tried EVERYTHING besides giving away Steven. The thing that pisses me off is that the rescue league promised they would keep him local and that I could still see pics of him and get updates, but after the first month, they stopped answering me e-mails. :( I miss the bugger and I hope his new family is able to give him the attention that I did before kids. Jesus, I sound like I am talking about a person - but that dog was my baby before I had human babies.

Casey said...

Argh, Jenni. I could have written this post. We have a Nebo (Chloe) and she's been getting progessively worse these days. Over the weekend, she nipped Elliot's FACE. My daughter's FACE. The dog is on my last nerve and although I know it's OUR fault, she's lucky I didn't kill her that day. Let's make a pact to step it up with the dog training, both of us.

blissfully caffeinated said...

I've drilled into my kids heads that you never, never, never approach a strange dog without talking to the owner first. The water guy should have known better. I hope it works out Jenni, and that you get to keep Nebo.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry...this sounds devastating. I'm really glad that Nebo is sweet to the boys, but it is scary knowing that he *could* bite anyone if it came to that point. I really hope that your trainer can help. You sound really dedicated and that's what matters.


Debby@Just Breathe said...

The guy was at fault for sure. You do need to post a sign on the gate as a warning. I will pray that the classes work.

Sprite's Keeper said...

Damn straight the water guy is an idiot! Poor Nebo. Poor you for loving Nebo and seeing this change.
Our beagle Blue has been showing signs of dementia in her older age, we've had her nine years, but she still will do anything for Sprite.

Keely said...

ugh, I feel your pain. Ours is a very 'guard-y' type dog, too. We had her on anti-anxiety meds for a while until we could work with her enough to calm her down. Sort of as a stop-gap measure. She's better now, but still a pain in my butt.

Mrsbear said...

At least the guy wasn't seriously hurt. And you're absolutely right, he should know better than to put his hand in an anxious dog's face. What a dummy.

I hope training works for you guys. He sounds like a great family dog and a perfect guard dog as well. In between catch some episodes of the Dog Whisperer. Maybe you can pick up on some of his "calm assertive energy" tips. ;)

Good luck!

Jamie said...

Ugh. My heart hurts for you guys and Nebo. I am sending happy thoughts your way. We did training with our golden retriever before Man Cub was born, and while he could be much better, it definately helped us gain control over some of the craziness.

Stimey said...

I'm so sorry. That is super stressful. We had a dog who was a resource guarder when Sam was born. She was nothing but good to him, but with kids she went from being a manageable dog to one was not. She went to live with my sister for a long time. And when my sister had kids, she found a home for her. It's tough, but dogs can adjust to new places and situations. Good luck with the training.

Veronica Foale said...

Good luck. I hope the dog trainer is everything you need.

Heather said...

Good luck at the trainers. I hope he responds well to it, if not at the first visit, then eventually. Pets aren't just pets to the family who own them, they are a part of that family, so I really hope this training works out.

Susanica said...

Hi Jenni. Su told me the story about the water man. What a dolt! I'm sure he won't do that again. Sounds like getting a dog trainer is a good idea if you're noticing that Nebo is seeming more and more anxious. See if you can get some advice on how we can get the boys to help too okay? Danny loves all of the animals at "Okar's Hows". -Monica

Erin said...

I'm sorry jenni! That stinks, I hope things go well for you this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, poor Nebo. Stupid, stupid man.

I really hope everything was ok (I'm trying to catch up with everyone in the right order so I haven't read any more recent posts yet).