It has been a little over two weeks since I left him there, and every day my heart feels a little smaller and my frown lines get bigger.
Why? Why would I give up my beautiful golden retriever, especially since I'd raised from a pup and put so much love and time and training into him, who was my buddy, my bright light, who made me laugh almost every day?
Aggression. We worked so hard on this issue, but in the end it wasn't enough. Gem could almost always be counted on to be gentle and loving and playful with other dogs. Almost always.
He'd had several fights in the past and caused or come home with a puncture wound, but nothing really serious. Until Monday, 13 Oct. 2014.
He and Jasper were staying at a boarding facility and were kenneled together in the same run. It's my fault for not making sure it was large enough for both of the to stretch out without touching, but I assumed they'd stay in the large run they'd had before. After that stay, Gem and Jasper were better buddies, so it seemed like a good thing to do again.
No one knows exactly what happened or why it happened. But Monday morning the kennel staff found that Gem and Jasper, buddies again just sitting next to each other, had been in a fight. Jasper had a huge gash in his face, with skin torn away near his eye, and two puncture wounds as well. Jasper had to have surgery to put the skin back in place and to close the gash = 20 stitches. Gem was unscathed.
I talked to the vet, I had Gem checked out for any medical problems, I tried to understand. Gem has always had aggressive tendencies, but never like this. No one could have anticipated this. But, explained the vet, now that Gem knows what he can do to another dog, he is more likely to do it again. Even if I trained and exercised Gem to exhaustion every day, it wouldn't curb this increased aggression.
Jasper needs to be safe. Gem needs to be in a one dog home with folks who know what he can do and will keep him out of situations that might spark his aggression: tight places with other dogs, battles over high-value items such as bones or any other thing Gem might value, dog parks where Gem might get overwrought during a friendly play session and not know how to stop himself.
I am so lucky that Golden Retriever Rescue of the Rockies agreed to take Gem. I brought them everything -- all the notes from people who helped me train him, all the vet info, photos, links to the blog posts I have written about him, his crate, his toys, his food... Gem has been there since 15 Oct. He's doing well, according to the woman who runs the ranch-like kennel. He gets to hang out with her at night, sleeping on her bed. He is OK with the other dogs, but she watches him like a hawk.
Today I learned that he might have found a home. I was hoping perhaps Wounded Warrior Project might pick him up as a good dog for someone with PTSD (one of my favorite books about a golden bonding with a wounded warrior is Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalván), but I don't think that's going to happen. And once he goes to his new home, I won't hear more about how he is doing. I will really have to let go.
We're going to try to stay a one-dog home for a while. But there is such an emptiness in me and in our home. Jasper is sweet and lovely (and healing just fine, though he does have a big pink scar), but he's not a golden retriever. He doesn't bring me toys and play with me; he doesn't request cuddle time; he can't be let off leash to run around with me and play in South Boulder Creek. He doesn't have a big golden head to kiss. He doesn't enjoy silly games and play wrestling. He doesn't love me like Gem did. Maybe things will change with time as he gets used to Gem not being around, but he is a husky -- happy, but content to curl up in the corner in the evening or go for brisk walks and watch squirrels. He's happy when we get home, but doesn't respond to hugs and kisses.
Getting another dog right now would be wrong on many levels. But losing Gem also makes me feel the loss of all the other dogs who came before him, especially Buddy. Maybe sometime in the future, maybe in a year from now... the right little gem buddy will come along. But no one can replace those who came before (Sequoia, Buddy, Blue, Gem)...
I hope Gem's new chapter in life is bright and full of love, play, discipline, and stability. I hope the folks who adopt him come to love him as much as, or more than, I do.