If you accidentally swallowed leaches with your soup…

If you could give guilt a physical form, what would it be? Pick any emotion. What would anger be? Or love? Or apathy?

One month ago, we got a second dog. Our first dog, Porter, is now 14. We got him 13 years ago at the animal shelter. A Corgi mix, he is an awesome dog, but not really fast enough these days for a seven-year-old child.

Sundae, our second dog, also came from the shelter. A sweetheart and Jack Russell Terrier mix. 4 years old already. Shy and anxious to please, dropping to the floor and curling into a ball if she thought she might possibly be in trouble.

My son loved her. He fed her from his hand. He walked her. He slept with her by his side. He told everyone about her. He used his allowance to buy her a toy and a new collar. “She’s really my dog,” he kept saying, “and I’ve got to be responsible for her.”

Then one evening he leaned in to give her a hug and she bit him. She put a hole in his lip. Blood coated his gums and teeth. He screamed, and when he could talk, a cold cloth on his lip, his eyes swollen, he looked over at her and gulped, “I love her.” He scrunched his eyes close. “She doesn’t love me!”

Sundae was sitting on the bed, looking cowed, shivering so hard you’d think she’d be rattling. My husband and I exchanged the kind of looks parents exchange when they know things aren’t going to end well & they don’t know what to say to the kid.

In the morning, my son said he wanted to give Sundae another chance. Maybe he’d startled her, he said. Maybe once she got more comfortable, she’d be nicer. Most of the time she was nicer. She loved to be with someone, sitting in a lap or close to.

When I was bitten by a dog as a kid, my grandmother got rid of the dog the next day. But that was a Siberian Huskey that could rip out your throat. My son picked Sundae up and carried her around. “It’s okay,” he say. “I know you didn’t mean it. You just don’t trust us yet.”

She growled at him the next day. At night, if he rolled over and disturbed her sleep, she’d wake up and snap the air. Never at my husband or me, but at our son, and he’d jump back, eyes wide. “She doesn’t love me, Mom,” he said. Then he’d pick her. “I love you, Sundae. I’m going to take care of you.”

I wanted to suggest we take her back to the shelter, but they euthanize dogs, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But then she growled at my son’s best friend. “Sundae isn’t allowed to play with your friends,” I said, shutting her away in another room.

The next night, my son went to pet her and her growl sent him jumping back. He stared at her a while. “Mom,” he said, “I’ve been thinking about something for several days.” he stopped. “I didn’t know how to tell you.” He got up and moved further away from his dog. “I don’t think I want to keep Sundae.”

Some friends suggested animal trainers, but I read what ASPCA says about biting dogs and I wasn’t optimistic. And you never know if a dog is cured of biting. All you know is that they haven’t bitten anyone…yet. What if I had to call someone’s mother and tell them our dog had bittent her child?

But Sundae adored me. She’d follow me. Sit in my lap or under my chair. “She trusts us, Mom,” my son said.

We took her back to the shelter today. “How will she feel?” my son asked. “Will she wonder where we are?” He gave the shelter her favorite pillows and the toy he’d bought her.

I cried at the shelter. My son didn’t cry until much later this evening. “I want Sundae back,” he said. “Why did we have to take her?”

I can’t keep a dog that bites my child, but I think of there in that cage, so small and alone, wondering where we were. The whole month we had her I thought she looked at us as if we weren’t really her family, that we’d leave her too. Maybe dogs don’t think things like that.

We could’ve tried to find a home for her, of course. But she has heartworms. We’d have to pay for the treatment and then give her away or hope someone else would pay for the treatment–someone else without kids. And the treatment isn’t cheap. Worth it if we’d keep her for years. But… but this… but that… feels wrong, like I’ve just done the wrong thing.

A terrier rescus group called me from the shelter. They had questions about her before they decided if they could take her from the shelter for a foster family. Because she’s bitten someone, if they don’t take her, she’ll probably be euthanized. I didn’t ask what they decided. I’m a coward.

If we hadn’t adopted her in the first place, she might’ve been taken in by someone without children. She’d be safe and cared for. She’d be okay.

But that thinking doesn’t get you anywhere.

If we hadn’t adopted her… if she hadn’t been left on the streets in the first place… if we had waited another week to go to the shelter… if I wasn’t me…

If I’d started writing seriously 20 years ago… if I tried harder to get an agent… if I worked harder…

All those ifs are bound to make a person sick to the stomach.

9 thoughts on “If you accidentally swallowed leaches with your soup…

  1. Oh, Marta. I’m so sorry for you and your family, and of course for Sundae. Animals, and the ins and outs of relationships with them, can tear your heart out. Dogs are in a special category (well, so are cats, and so are hamsters, and snails…) for some reason. There’s been so much research done into the domestication of wolves, and how that brought about dogs, that I wonder if we haven’t overlooked something equally important: how wolves/dogs have changed US as a species.

    (Now there’s a story for you. Instead of the usual “the first wolf was coaxed into a circle of humans because it wanted food and shelter and warmth,” or whatever, stand the premise on its head. Make it “prehistoric humans were visited by the first wolf because it saw how helpless we were as individuals, and wanted to teach us the advantages of pack life.”)

    Your title pretty much says “GUILT,” all right. Eventually, to avoid going crazy, I think the only thing to do is to get used to the gnawing, nagging pain. You can also make yourself crazy by examining and re-examining every bowl of soup in advance, to make sure you won’t swallow any of the nasties. There’s no way around it, though. Life’s too short to go through it eating soup with an eyedropper, a microscope, and an inexhaustible supply of glass slides.

    1. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and some people wouldn’t leave their homes without their dogs, I totally understood. Most of my friends called these people nuts, but I’d have done the same (except at the expense of my son. If I didn’t have a child, I stay with the dog too).

      All day the guilt has been at me all day. Last night I woke up with these horrible stomach pains. Don’t know if they were related, but they felt that way. I never wanted to be a persona associated with leaving a dog at the pound and to vagaries of fate.

      As for the story… I’m thinking.

      1. After Katrina, The Stepdaughter went over with her local rescue group and several vans, etc., because so many pets had gotten separated from their owners, apparently permanently, for one reason or another. The Sister-in-Law #1 got a horse-sized Breed X dog which they named Susan (that still makes me smile), and which becomes a basket case when it rains and/or thunders. Susan also had wounds on her neck because she had been chained to a stake, doghouse, or whatever during the storm. She’s prone to excitability — a problem for a horse-sized dog in a smallish house — but it’s hard to blame her; she probably still can’t believe her luck.

  2. I had a long, long ramble about why you shouldn’t feel guilty about this, but you know what? What I say won’t make a hill of beans’s difference to you. You hurt; your child hurts. But the decision was the same one I’d make in your situation and I want you to know I’m sympathetic and to a degree, empathetic.

    It’s a hard choice. You had to do it. I’m sorry it went this way for everyone involved, but honestly, how else could it go?

    You’re brave and strong. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone you know.

  3. I’m so, so sorry. Your poor little guy. I remember when our gerbil kept biting my son on the nose. All the other kids could touch noses with her, but for some reason she would bite my son almost every time. It hurt his feelings more than his nose. It’s hard on us when we can’t take away their pain.

    I also feel sorry for the little dog, because you never know what a dog’s been through before it came into your home. It’s sad all around, but there wasn’t anything else you could do. It’s simply not your fault. *hugs*

    1. Oh, the poor little thing. Who knows what happened to make her act out that way? And I wanted to believe we could convince her to be better, that it could work, all kinds of things. I’d promised her to take care of her and keep her safe.

      That’s strange and sad about the gerbil. Who thinks of gerbils as having personality disputes? Poor kid too. My son probably cried more over the hurt feelings than the pain itself.

      Thanks, Sherri.

  4. What form would guilt take? Well that would depend on whether it was legitimate guilt or false guilt. False guilt is slimy, no doubt about it. Remorse is more like a self-shaped stone that constantly reminds us that we’ve done/said something wrong and need to make amends.

    I can tell you no guilt here – but would you believe me? What would you say to me if it was me and my child and my dog? Would you advise anything different than what you yourself have done? I suspect not.

    That doesn’t take away everyone’s hurt though, and for that I’m so, so sorry.

    For what it’s worth, I’d have done the same thing.


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