The Story of Diesel

I know it’s only been a day, but I have to get this off of my chest. Just so you understand my frantic reaction to Dixie, to the despair I felt, even when it was because I was too stupid to remove my dog from a fight properly. I get that it’s my fault, and I’m in a much better place than yesterday although it’s still hard to explain to people why my dog isn’t a bad dog.

But let me still start with Diesel, and explain why any sort of aggression towards humans–and especially towards us–makes me feel helpless and like I will never own a dog again. Because there was a moment on Saturday that I thought, “If we have to put Dixie down or send Huck back to the rescue, I will never own a dog again.”

This will be a long post. Extremely long. I’m going to cry by the end and I don’t even know how to make you understand how much we loved this dog and how much we put into him. But you’ll get the long-winded gist of the story.

Diesel was the first dog that Mike and I owned together. Back in late 2009/early 2010, Mike and I wanted to get a pet together, and more specifically a dog. We also looked at chinchillas and rabbits just because of where we lived, but when it got down to the matter–all we really wanted was a dog.

So we looked at different breeds. I loved Siberian Huskies, but Mike wasn’t a fan. I loved Rottweilers, but between the bad rep and the expensive insurance and restrictions on where you can live, it just wasn’t feasible. He liked pointers, labs and weimeraners. I refused a weimaraner just because I know how prone to anxiety they can be, although I’m sure they’re wonderful companions. So we finally started to settle into the thought of getting a German Short-Haired Pointer or a Visla. We were looking at breeders and saving up money, thinking by the time we moved out of his grandparents’ house, we could get a dog.

And then we got a call from someone I worked with. He told me his uncle’s dog just had puppies, Korean Jindo mixes, and did I want one. They were free and he just really needed someone to get rid of them.

I immediately went to Mike. We researched the breed, looked at the adorable puppy pictures and decided, yes, yes we did want one. And if it was at all possible, we wanted the one black one in the litter but we’d take any boy puppy that was available.

We went to PetSmart and spent everything we had for this dog. New cage, new bed, lots of toys, good food. A red collar with a blue tag that said Diesel. The vet appointment was set up for the day we brought him home, and we were ready.

And let me tell you, he was a bundle of everything. When we got him, he was high energy and high love. High play, high attachment, and stubborn as an ox. He was the most intelligent and the fastest dog I will ever see. He came with us most places, and stayed at my friend’s house a few days a week when I was working. He liked other people well enough, but he was most attached to me, Mike, and Mike’s brother–in that order. Remember one thing through this entire post: he was my dog. Our dog, but mine.

We got Dixie shortly after Diesel, and only a few months after that we moved up to Frederick, dogs in tow. Part of why we loved this house was because of the fenced-in yard, but Diesel was smart and 50 pounds of legs, and he jumped the fence. He was always escaping and unlike Huck or Dixie, you couldn’t call him home. You just had to wait it out.

It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. He was wary of strangers, but friendly enough. Not aggressive–never aggressive.

Until that one time in October. He was going on 8 months old. My friend Carlena walked in the house, like she normally did. Diesel was out, and Diesel knew Carlena. Carlena was no stranger. But Diesel backed her into a corner and growled at her. He wouldn’t come when I called so, ultimately, I had to go over and pull him into his crate. It was bizarre, and my friend was wound up and I was wound up, but Diesel had calmed down.

And then there was the time shortly after that we came home from work, only to find Diesel growling in his cage. Snarling, growling, trying to get out. That day, we let Dixie out and closed the door to that bedroom and waited until it stopped.

Somewhere around there was when Diesel learned how to get out of his crate, even with the carabeners that we had been using (he learned how to get out of the basic crate when he was roughly 4 months old). But we would come home every day to Diesel at the front door, paws up and waiting for us to come in. As cute as it was, we couldn’t have that. We started to be more creative with the crate. I can’t remember if we used more carabeners, or zip ties or if we simply turned his cage to face the wall, but most days it worked.

And then sometime in January he started to guard things. He always guarded things, but he’d let you take them. But we’d give them a bone and he would lie on the couch and growl. Once we had to put Dixie in the crate and tried to get Diesel interested in other things so we could get the bone–and our couch–back. Mike tried first but Diesel would snap at him. Finally, it was me who went in there. Because Diesel was most attached to me, he was most tolerant of me. I don’t even remember what we did, but I got the bone away without a bite or a snap.

But then it got worse. When Diesel would steal a tissue out of the trash can, I would try to get it back and he just barely let me take it. We chocked it up to food aggression and guarding, although it wasn’t all the time. But we started being even stricter with the rules: no dogs on the couch or bed. No dogs in the kitchen. Doors were closed. Treats were less frequent.

Still, Diesel had his moments, and it was even more important to make sure he couldn’t escape during the day. Because really–who knew what you would come home to.

All of what happened above happened sometime in February. Maybe some in January, these are the key times, but there were more. But everything that happened below happened in the same two-week period. There were moments like the ones above, but it was these three events. I’m not set on the timeline, but this is how I’m remembering it. I mostly just remember the end result.

Once, when bringing the dogs in from outside, Mike found Dixie hiding in a corner of the yard and Diesel snarling in the middle. When Mike approached, Diesel postured. He didn’t go after Mike yet, but we called Dixie into the house and waited. Ten minutes later, Diesel was by the gate and wagging his tail. He was back to normal, ready to lick our faces and cuddle on the couch.

While trying to figure out a temporary way to keep Diesel in the backyard until we could get an invisible fence, and especially given his mood switches, we used a rope lead (it reached all the way to the fence 30 to 40 feet in most directions, so he still had full use of the yard, except up by the house) only when we were leaving him out for a few minutes. If we were out there with him, no leashes were used. He was never left on it very long, just long enough to let him go to the bathroom. Other than that, we supervised his runs.

So Mike would still have to bring the dogs in. We would put Diesel out and most times he was happy. Ready to come inside or run around as the case may be. Still rolling around with Dixie. Tongue hanging out, happy.

But there was another time. Mike went to bring Diesel in, and Diesel attacked. He lunged for Mike, but didn’t get him.We brought Dixie in, and once Diesel had calmed down, we brought him in too. He was wagging his tail, happy, licking our faces. We went out to the yard and there was nothing–no branches, toys, dead animals. Nothing for him to guard. He hadn’t been at the end of his rope, Mike hadn’t made any threatening moves or loud sounds.

Let me tell you now, we don’t hit our dogs. We don’t hit our dogs but we especially never hit Diesel. He was highly intelligent, he was sensitive, and we never wanted to push him too far. So we never so much as bopped him on the nose or tapped him on the butt. We didn’t yell at him, we used calm voices. All we did was let him run and let him sit in our laps and lick our faces, and used a stern voice. This dog was never once hit by a human in his life, and when these things weren’t happening, he was loving. He couldn’t wait till you got home, he waited for his food and still let you dip his hand in his dish. He loved Mike and would follow him around the yard. He watched me carefully in the house, but was never aggressive to Mike when we were affectionate with each other.

He was a good dog.

And then the day it happened. March 4, 2011. A Friday night. A few days after the last time. Mike went out to remove Diesel from his leash, with no problems. Diesel walked comfortably. They were walking up to the house when that was it. Something flipped and Diesel attacked.

Now, Mike is a big guy. 240 pounds, 6’3″. And Diesel jumped on his back and slammed him to the ground. And as Mike was getting away, Diesel bit his hand. What stepped between Mike and Diesel? The gate going up to the house was how Mike blocked Diesel from attacking him further.

Mike called my name and he went inside, and his hand was bleeding and his shirt was torn and there were scratches all over him. Our dog had attacked him three times in two weeks, and this time he actually made contact.

So while I wanted to help Mike, we had a serious matter on our hands. There was a dog in our backyard that just attacked his owner and who we knew could jump the fence. He was a good dog 95% of the time. He had never attacked me. Only Mike. But what if someone was out walking, even if it was 9pm? What if Diesel jumped the fence and got at them?

So I went outside with the leash, because Diesel was my dog.

And there was Diesel, just waiting patiently by the back door. His head kind of down, a little confused. So I put him on the leash and brought him into his crate and as we walked by Mike, he even licked his leg.

Diesel was back to normal.

The next 24 hours after that were tough. We emailed our dog trainer and the rescue we got Dixie from. Called the vet, who told us to call a behaviorist that didn’t answer the phone and said they were booked out for a month.

But Mike and I had been raised on one common thing: a dog doesn’t attack the hand that feeds them. Something was wrong with our dog. He was never abused. Never hit. No aggression. His attack moments and his guard moments were random. There was no pattern, no consistent trigger. But we were at a point where Dixie would hide from him when he got in his moods, and Dixie started to be wary of him in general.

And we had an escape artist dog–what if he went into a mood the same time that a child was walking by?

The rescue couldn’t help us, that was the last time I ever went to or even recommended that vet, and I never heard back from that behaviorist, even a month later. My trainer was out of town.

So we had a tough decision to make. Mike was worried that as fast as it was progressing, Diesel would start to attack me. He hadn’t started yet, but he might. And everything we could find on dealing with dog aggression like this was to muzzle them and leave them in their crate. Diesel was a dog who needed to run, who needed freedom. That wouldn’t have been a life for him. It would have just saved guilt for us.

So we did the only thing we could do: we put him down.

We put him down a day before we owned him for 1 year. March 6 would have marked the day we got him 1 year before.

We still have his ashes, because we didn’t know what to do with them. I sat with him while they gave him the first drug and it’s something I still have nightmares about sometimes. Mike sat in the hall because he couldn’t watch. But I have nightmares about this dog getting a shot, terrified, and huddling in my arms because I was where he felt safe. And I put him down.

That Monday I heard back from our dog trainer. Her email said she thought we should put him down, that without provocation, something was wrong with him. She thought it was a rage issue that only gets progressively worse with time. It’s common in inbreeding. When I told her that on Saturday we had made that same decision, she told me I did the only responsible and best choice we could have done.

A few months later, when talking to other dog rescues, I had to own up to the fact that we put a dog down. And one woman at the Great Pyreness Rescue was helpful–she told me that while our vet really should have done tests to check for hormone imbalances (I’m still mad at that vet for not suggesting it), it sounds like our dog was inbred. We had a 3/4 Korean Jindo coming from the East Coast. Most Jindos in America are in the West Coast. But here on the eastern shore was a 1/2 Jindo that bred to a purebred Jindo. The woman suggested that the mother (1/2) was probably the daughter of the dad. It’s entirely possible–I haven’t told you about the thousands of dollars we spent because Diesel had so many health issues, or the fact that we had seriously thought we would have to put him down before because he was so ill, or the fact that one of his brothers couldn’t gain more than 35 pounds and looked emaciated no matter how much his owner fed them.

So that’s the story of Diesel. Our first dog who we put down, who I struggle to not say, “Who we had to kill.” And as I’ve said, he was my dog. Mike loved him and he was Mike’s dog too, but Diesel was most attached to me. And I was most attached to him. We have pictures from the day we put him down, happy and playing in the yard. I still have trouble looking at them. We have a shadowbox we were going to make but I could never bring myself to bring out a picture and put in it–it’s just his collar and his tags. We have his favorite toy still, sitting on top of his ashes.

So any time my dog shows any aggression, I get nervous. It has taken two years for me to understand that Huckleberry, just because he is male, is not Diesel. That Dixie biting me is not Diesel. It does not mean I need to put my dog down. It means I need to figure out how to get peace between my two dogs and I need to learn how to break up a dog fight without sticking myself in the middle, or to let it ride. But it doesn’t mean my dog is going to attack me.

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