Sunday, June 03, 2007

Taking back the outdoors

Look at our lawn. There's a ball left out, and a deck chair. Neither will be chewed. There is no poop on the lawn because this morning I scooped it all up with, I confess, a sense of pleasure. There are children in the forest, playing what children play in forests. They went outside without asking first, without a parent needing to go out and pen any Abominable Dog at all. Erin came in from the cabin without having to yell from her door until someone heard and an adult went out to hold back the A.D. The scratches on my torso from being jumped up on while carrying Fiona in from the van are going to heal without me getting new ones.

I have enjoyed ranting here about the Abominable Dog, and we have joyously been planning our "Doggone Celebrations" for weeks, but I confess it has been a long and difficult journey getting to thing point. We really did all want to make it work. I felt strongly that a dog is a member of the family, and you simply do not farm a family member out just because they are difficult to live with. I didn't think this was a good example to set for the kids.

I tried different training approaches, watched a lot of videos, read three different highly recommended books on gentle dog-training. Most of these resulted in improved behaviour with the adults, but the children, having been knocked down / wrestled with / slobbered and scratched all over too many times, had simply lost their desire to participate in further training. The improvements in behaviour with adults never transferred to the children. We tried to get a professional involved, but the trainer serving our area is 50 minutes away and is so busy that she would require us to come to her, with the children, for every session. Too much driving for kids who spend too much useless time in the minivan as it is, and didn't really want to participate anyway.

We hoped she'd get easier to work with as she matured, but as she neared her second birthday it was apparent things were really no better this spring than last. Because the children simply couldn't play outside while the dog was out, and I tend to always be where the children are, and Chuck isn't home much, we ended up with a situation where the dog was starved for social interaction. We brought her into the kitchen for 2 or 3 hours of socializing most days through the late winter and spring, but none of this seemed to have any effect on her outdoor behaviour.

The unrelenting attacks on unsuspecting outdoor children, the fact that our friends and extended family had to give up unannounced visits, the injuries (never ill-intentioned, always just the result of exhuberant greeting or playing) to hands, arms and torsos ... it took a while but eventually every last child was saying "I want to get rid of her." They really did like her. They just couldn't live with her anymore.

The next issue was how to get rid of her. We tried local ads. We tried word of mouth. We tried talking to the vet. We investigated shelters. Our nearest shelter was 3 hours round trip from us. After one particularly nasty injury-causing episode I mentioned euthanasia. The kids' eyes got very big with an ambivalent combination of horror and delight. It could be that easy? It could be that awful?

Eventually, though, with spring settling in and people thinking about new pets, our ad on a regional pet placement site got a couple of nibbles. We were very honest about the difficulties we were having, and mentioned "needs a family without children", but one family with a 6-year-old was very interested. They came for some visits (from an hour away) and Freya was her usual Abominable Self, head-butting their daughter within 5 minutes of first meeting. But they live much closer to a trainer, and have found someone willing to come to them to work with her. They liked her. I guess she's their kind of dog.

This morning they came and took her. After they'd loaded her into their truck, they suggested we bring the kids out to say goodbye to her. Noah was somewhat reluctant, because his last contact with Freya had been last evening when I'd accidentally released her from the pen not realizing he was still in the woods up by the Shark Hole. He had sprinted back to the house, against all odds outdistancing the dog (because in chasing him she mistakenly plowed into the seasonal pond in the woods and had to swim and struggle up the opposite bank). He had decided that this was a very Fitting Last Contact, and he thus felt quite happy about her departure. He didn't want to ruin the Fitting Last Contact with a happy goodbye, but when encouraged he dutifully came out to say goodbye with the rest of us. Fiona, just as we were chatting amiably with Freya's new family, blurted out "I can't wait until Freya's gone!"

We moved to the area we live in, and to our property, so that we could enjoy the wild outdoors at our doorstep. For the past two years we haven't really been able to do that. Things have changed back again today.

8 comments:

  1. I am happy your kids have their land back! Though I do imagine you were a little sad to see her go and did feel bad that things couldn't work out.

    A question for you, not regarding the dog, I see you are reading The Ear, The Eye and The Arm - we just received this book last week - am curious if your kids are enjoying it???? You??

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  2. We're only about 90 pages in and so far it's an entertaining enough read but not nearly as compelling to me as "The Sea of Trolls," "A Girl Named Disaster" or "The House of Scorpion." I worried that it might be as dark as "The House of Scorpion," which I found really dark and absolutely loved but will wait a couple of years to read aloud to my 8- and 10-year-olds, but it's much lighter than that. There are little bits of humour that the kids are really enjoying.

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  3. sea of trolls is the only one we have read so far and both kids loved it. we are a few days away from starting ear,eye,arm - maybe i should've ordered a girl named disaster first - oh well - we'll see how it goes - thanks!

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  4. It sounds like a good arrangement all around!

    You have your outdoors back and the new family has a reclaimation project.

    I like how you took care of the problem. You tried a lot of things, but ultimately knew your limits. That's much better than soldiering on with everyone miserable and everyone coming to dislike the dog more and more.

    And instead of doing the easy thing, you found a home for the dog and waited until they were ready to take her.

    Good luck to Freya and her new family.

    And congratulations to you all on getting the outdoors back!

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  5. Glad it all worked out for everyone. Patience is a virtue :-)

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  6. Yay! Happy doggonning!

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  7. It took forever to clean the table that freyja/freya sits on all the time. a good example of what she does is on the picture of sophie and her.

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  8. Noah is right. That is our deck table Freya and Sophie are sitting on. Sophie and Noah cleaned it after Freya left. It took them ages. Then, at our celebratory supper, Erin still managed to find clumps of dog fur that had migrated from the underside of the table into her sub sandwich. :-P

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