Pet Loss: Adoption Failure Leads to Relinquishment and Guilt

Beringer stealing my eyeglasses
Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom. ~ William Jordan

A reader writes: Recently my husband and I bought a beautiful, 3-mo. old Shepherd/Rottweiler puppy. We brought her home and named her Jenny. From the first night it became apparent that we had made a mistake. We were not ready for the demands of a new puppy, nor could we agree on whether to keep her inside or outside (I say inside, my husband said out). We just bought our home, remodeled, and redecorated, and I was a nervous wreck at the thought of the puppy ruining the furniture.
To make matters worse, the first 4 days of having her my husband had to go away on business and I had to care for her and our cat all by myself. I was a nervous wreck. After nine days of bonding with her, training her, getting up every 3 hours to let her go outside, I returned her to a sister store of the pet store where we got her originally. I cried the whole day yesterday, while I was surrendering her, and all the way home. I feel terrible. I feel like I broke my own heart and the little doggy's heart. She was just a baby and such a good girl. I am so sad at the thought of her sleeping at the pet store, wondering where I am and yelping all night.

Is there some resource I could look at? I feel terrible and am absolutely sick over this.

My response: Yours is such a sad story, for so many reasons, and I appreciate your sharing it here so that you and others who may read this might gain something positive from your experience. It’s unfortunate that you and your husband weren’t better prepared for the realities of bringing a young pup into your lives before you actually brought Jenny home – but certainly you are not the first couple to have made that mistake. I am not here to pass judgment on what you did or failed to do in this situation. I am here to offer information, comfort and support, and that is the spirit in which I am writing this response.

Since you’ve already relinquished your pup, some of what I’m about to say may come too late for you, but I’m offering it in hopes that it will help you identify and sort through what happened here, discover what you might have done differently, and better understand why you’re feeling so upset about it now.

What you may not know is that nowadays there are dozens of magazine articles, books and Web sites about selecting and training the “right” puppy for you (see, for example, "Are You Pet Ready?" in Marty Becker's wonderful book, The Healing Power of Pets), as well as helpful hints on how to set up your home for a pet that is not yet house- and obedience-trained. (I’ve had pets all my life, but before we got our last dog, my husband and I attended a Puppy Preparation class at a local veterinary clinic, and I learned some fantastic helpful hints that I had never known about before, and never would have discovered on my own. For us, it turned getting and training an adorable eight-week-old puppy into the joyful experience it ought to be.)

It’s also important to know that today there are specialists in animal behavior and/or obedience training, who can offer you some alternatives in dealing with any dog's troublesome behavior. You and your husband know better than I how attached you became to Jenny, what resources you have and how much time you were willing and able to invest in seeking alternative solutions, and only you and your husband are in a position to decide these matters. I just want to be sure you are aware that you do, in fact, have some alternatives.

Relinquishment is always a choice a pet owner can make, once you have tried other measures first. I am not an expert in animal behavior, and I don't know how attached you were to Jenny, but if this were my pup I would want an outside, professional and objective opinion before I'd resort to giving up my dog permanently because of a behavior problem.

I will share with you that, after ten years without a dog, my husband and I had completely forgotten how much work a puppy can be, what with housebreaking, all that energetic puppy-behavior, and the constant chewing until those scissor-sharp baby teeth are lost and the permanent ones come in. Like you, we'd finally moved into a lovely home and had it decorated and furnished the way I'd always dreamed it would be, and I wanted it to stay that way. Until our beloved Beringer got through the first two years of his rambunctious early life, I wasn't sure we would make it, either -- all during that doggy adolescent period he was like a whirling dirvish and a mischievous little thief, stealing everything he could find: underwear or newspapers, shoes, kitchen towels, even my eyeglasses -- and running out the doggy door with them for a game of chase. In Puppy Class we learned the benefits of placing his dog-crate up against a doggy door that led to an outdoor fenced-in protective area with access to fresh water, so when we were away during the day or when we went to bed, we could leave him alone in air-conditioned comfort, but without access to the rest of the house, and yet he could go outside whenever he needed to. We took him to puppy obedience training, which helped a lot -- and we had him neutered, too, which also settled him down considerably. Eventually he became the good and loyal companion I'd always hoped he would be, and I couldn't have imagined our lives without him.

I don't know whether you'd be willing to try any or all of these things, but I'm just offering them as intermediate steps you might have considered. Dogs are like children -- they do outgrow their childhood and adolescence eventually -- and what's really great is that it all happens within a couple of years! The point is that today we know a lot more about what we can do to make certain that the pup or puppy we've selected will grow into a loving, well adjusted companion.

Nowadays there are many modern, humane training methods to address almost any problem behavior found in dogs. You might visit one of these Web sites for further information:

Animal Behavior Network

Karen Pryor Clicker Training

Pet Behavior Problems

Pet Behavior Solutions

Canine Angels Pet Behavior Modification

I realize that you and your husband already went ahead and relinquished Jenny, and only the two of you can decide if you want to stick with that decision. At the very least, I hope you will discuss this thoroughly with each other, so you’re absolutely sure you’re in agreement and comfortable with whatever you’ve decided to do.

I can also tell you that the impact this is having on you now depends on how attached you are to Jenny and on how effectively you identify and work through what you are experiencing, including whatever guilt you may be feeling about all of this. When we are closely bonded with an animal, losing it through relinquishment doesn't feel much different from losing it through death, so I think you will find the Pet Loss Articles listed on my Grief Healing website helpful. I think you'll be especially interested in these:

Pet Loss: Is It A Different Kind of Grief?

Losing A Cherished Pet: Myths and Misconceptions

How We Mourn: Understanding Our Differences

Grief and the Burden of Guilt

I hope this information proves useful to you. I know it must have been hard for you to reach out for help, and regardless of whatever you decide to do, I wish you all the best.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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