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Returned My Puppy Medium.com

Original Blog Post found on Medium.com Feb. 28th

6 surprising and profound things I learned from making this difficult decision

It’s quiet today.

There’s no shuffle of little feet in the next room, or the sounds of random objects being chewed, dragged, or sniffed. I’m not on high-alert for the signs that will send me on a mad dash outside with treats in my pocket. The dog toys have been picked up and put away. Food and water bowls gone.

I brought him to his new home yesterday, amidst gut-wrenching sobs on the hour-long drive. He had never seen me cry before, and so he sat there, with his head resting on the console, staring at me with worried eyes. It was the first time in almost two weeks he actually made eye contact with me.


It’s been six years since our last dog passed, and I loved her so fiercely it was only recently that I felt ready for another one in our house. But I’ve been looking and longing for a while now. On our last trip to New York City, I could hardly focus my attention on anything other than the dozens of dogs I saw that day, walking happily alongside their people. And so we decided to take the plunge.

We wanted a rescue puppy, like our last dog was. But it’s been 20 years since we chose her from her litter at our local Humane Society, and there are so many more options out there now with the advance of digital-everything. So hard to make a decision, sight-unseen, on the right puppy for us. But we picked one, and we were accepted to adopt him. He was so freaking beautiful, we felt like we had won the lottery.

But after the first couple of days home, the fear of his new surroundings dissipated, and we found ourselves in a position we never expected. He didn’t come when you called him over, but rather gave a disinterested glance in our direction and laid down where he was. He preferred to go off in a corner (specifically, the boot tray by the door) to take his naps, rather than be near us. He didn’t ever look at me directly, unless I held a treat up in front of me. As each day passed, he only became more aloof. And aggressive. He didn’t really like to play, except to attempt to wrestle with me and bite — hard. Normal puppy behavior in a way, but there was something different going on. A few times I noticed him out of the corner of my eye, crouched low, stalking me. When I turned and began talking to him, he lunged at my face. His bites broke the skin more than once.

We were devastated.

The puppy’s behavior, along with our unsuccessful attempts to encourage affection and bonding, was triggering some pretty deep and painful stuff for my husband and me.


We’ve been parenting our five children for twenty-seven years now. Four of our kids were adopted, and two of them have Reactive Attachment Disorder. When they joined our family seven years ago, they were pre-teens from an extremely traumatic background. You can imagine the issues that arose between them and our other children, and between them and us, as parents. RAD is no joke, and parenting children with it is just about the most exhausting, soul-draining act of love you can imagine. But we did it. We stuck it out and made it through. The stony soil of our kids’ hearts has become softer and more fertile, and they’re growing and blossoming in all sorts of ways.

But we are tired. And we just didn’t have it in us to work out those same kinds of issues with a dog, so we made the decision to ‘return’ him to the rescue, and they found a home for him the very next day.

And so there I was, driving, crying my eyes out, ready to relinquish my puppy to his new owners. It had been a long, hard day. Full of thoughts and advice and interactions — some welcome, some unwelcome. Along that drive, I reflected on some things I discovered through this experience:

  1. The importance of knowing yourself and your limits. It has taken me far too long in my adulthood to really know who I am and stand confident in it. I’m introspective and self-reflective, and aware of my many shortcomings. But I also know my own heart, my motivations, and how I do life. I am deeply sensitive and compassionate, have a strong drive to see justice and mercy in this world, and I am firm in what I believe. My life choices reflect all of this. But my life also reflects (more subtly) my poor choices, and I’ve finally accepted and made peace with what I am not good at and where my inner resources max out. I’ve come to learn that knowing these things and abiding by them are as critical to a healthy life as it is to get out of your comfort zone so you can grow.

When I arrived and brought our puppy into his new home, a family and their one-year-old lab mix awaited him. After a few moments of fear-based freakout, the puppy warmed up to the dog’s advances to play. He lay in the teenage girl’s lap, on his back, batting at the dog with his giant, soft paws. His mouth was hanging open, tongue lolling out in what was immediately recognizable as a big ol’ dog smile. He looked happier in 10 minutes there than he had in two weeks with us.

Turns out he needed a dog as well as a family.

Unwilling to take on two dogs in our home, we would have deprived him of what he needed to really thrive, and for that, I am so grateful we chose to give him up. I still cried all the way home.

So here I am now, sitting in a quiet, calm house — at peace, but a bit empty. There is another puppy on the horizon, though, one that promises to be a better fit. But regardless of how perfect that fit is, she’s gonna be a keeper. There was enough heartache yesterday to last us a long time, but I am thankful none of it was wasted.

Thank you, Java, for what you taught us over the past two weeks. We will never forget you and pray you live out the many years ahead of you having the time of your little doggy life. Our memories and our hearts will always remain tender for you, and for the many kind people who have given you a chance at a really good life. Be a good boy.

 

Michelle Wuesthoff

Beach-loving, coffee-seeking author who passionately pursues emotional & spiritual freedom. Adoptive mom, Jesus follower. Find me on michellewuesthoff.com

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