It’s difficult for me to admit defeat, and I have to. Coal, the most gorgeous dog in the world, is beyond my abilities, at least at this moment in my life. Coal, formerly Colton, formerly street dog of Arkansas, rescued by the amazing people at Big Fluffy Dog Rescue in Tennessee, beloved dog of metro west Boston for the last two years, was re-homed yesterday. It is a wonderful home but it is not mine.
In September of 2014, my family fostered Colton, a theoretically 2-year-old black lab mix. We had recently lost our 14-year old Labrador named Caju, while we still had Haifa, our 12 year old retired breeding Labrador, rescued two years earlier. Coal or Cole, depending on which of my 8 year old twins you spoke with, came to us a skinny, malnourished 50 pound dog. He was our first non pure-bred dog ever, our second rescue but the first from the streets. The rescue organization guessed his age at 2 years but we came to believe that he was more like a year when we got him. He was very puppy.
It was a rocky start--he is a smart dog and learned from his puppy training quickly and loved his crate. He was not a huggable dog, but became more affectionate with time. He turned out to be treat-aggressive—growling and snarling at my kids and even me when he got a high-value bone. He twice bit one of my kids—once when he did not want to share his couch, and once when my son and Coal were sitting at my feet while I ate an apple. He did not break the skin either time, but he broke my trust.
I realize now, 2 1/2 years later, that my lack of trust in Coal is ultimately what doomed him from staying with us. I was always wary—always watching when my sons or other kids approached him, or when he had a treat. I took Coal to weeks of training, graduate puppy and outdoor adventures, and he grew healthy and beautiful. He now weighs 65 pounds and his glossy black coat is enviable. He puts a head on your lap when you are eating, soulfully trying to meet your eyes. He loves his crate, understands his Invisible Fence boundary (except when there are large deer to chase) and walks delicately on leash.
Until he doesn’t. And that is becoming more frequent. When on leash, he now lunges and charges dogs even across the street. He does not snarl or growl. In some sad way, I think that Coal wants to socialize but he simply does not know how. When off-leash, he tends to try to bat the other dog in the face, or jump on its back—never popular whether the dog is female or male. If the other dog growls, or reacts, then we have a big problem. Gnashing teeth, once a bite on the shoulders of my neighbor’s hapless Labrador who happened to want to keep his stick when Coal tried to get it. That cost us a vet bill and some hard feelings when the neighbor had to report which dog had done it. Yes, Coal has a record. He has bitten four dogs--all events related to his resource guarding (a euphemism is that he gets crazy over food).
Treat and food aggressiveness has reached a new height when we adopted a 10 month old puppy a month ago. Within one week, the puppy had stolen a sweet potato from the produce bin and Coal decided he wanted it, ripping an inch-long gash in Katie’s neck. Along with the physical scars, Katie is now frightened, of him, of some people, of loud noises.
Even before Katie, I had spent many a night awake at 2 am worrying. Worrying what to do if he bit another dog in the woods, whether we should go earlier or later to avoid people. What if a friend came over with a dog and Coal got crazy and bit the dog, or whatever other creature. He almost killed the same neighbor’s cat, he stalked a friend's chickens looking for a way in.The prey drive is natural to the terrier, and Coal is part terrier. He has killed at least three unmourned chipmunks.
I love this dog. I love him so much I am going to give him up to someone who can spend the time he needs to get well in the head. I have made him better physically, and emotionally as he knows that he is loved. I still can't believe I have to give him away, but deep in my heart I know it is right for him, and for my family.
Coal, my golden foxxier (tested DNA is golden retriever, foxhound and terrier), has gone to live now with his dog sitter Laura. When I told her I had to find him a new home because I was not the right owner for him, she immediately said “I’ll take him.” Because she is wonderful, and Coal is wonderful, and with her he will find resolution I hope to his fear, for sure it must be such, of male dogs. I do think that Coal somehow sets off other dogs’ aggressiveness as well. Is it his erect tail? His color? He rarely starts a fight but he normally finishes it.
So I cannot keep him. I am not good for him. He is not right for my family. I guess I have to look at this as a 2 1/2 year foster dog. Giving him up rips a hole in my heart. There will be those who judge me for giving him up. I have no defense. I did my best and my best was not good enough. I think his best is still to come…with Laura. I now have to shut my mind from thinking and re-thinking what went wrong, what I could have done better. Coal has a wonderful home…with someone else. My kids are heartbroken, but we all will get better with time.
I must say a word for the great rescue organization, Big Fluffy Dog Rescue. When I first started talking with them about "returning" Coal, there was no judgement of my decision. They were ready to pick him up immediately. They would have found him an immediate foster, a long-term "right" home. They wanted only the details of the four dog aggressiveness acts so they could tell the next potential adopter. They will accept dogs back for the entire life of that dog--and in fact, it is in your contract that you return the dogs to them, not to a shelter. Laura has had to sign a contract with them for the same.
In the end, Coal, I will miss your head on my lap, your eyes searching my face to see if it is time for your walk. I will miss you staring up into the sky at birds, at chipmunks, at wild turkeys. I will miss your crazy happy smiling run as you zoom along the park grass. I will miss you parking your beautiful furry body, with your back to me, asking for pets, but never hugs. I will miss everything about you…but what I could not change.
Godspeed, Coalie. You deserve the best. Which is not me.