This is probably going to be long, mostly a way for me to process what’s happened and even try to justify it to myself (and to you) a little bit.
Here’s the short part of this long story … we had to say goodbye to Koda two weeks ago. My heart is breaking all over again writing this post, but I know it’s the right choice, for him and for us.
Now for the long part of this long story:
If you’re a long-time reader, you know we had Koda almost four years. We got him as a 2yo from a private seller and at the time, everything seemed fine. He was outgoing, friendly, and energetic. We fell in love with him almost immediately and adopted him hoping he’d be a good companion for our autistic son, who struggles to maintain human relationships and was very lonely.
Here they are on the ride home. Koda jumped into the truck the moment we opened the door and he snuggled with Aiden the whole way home. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
The first few weeks went well. Aside from the cat, everyone loved Koda, and he seemed to fit right in, barreling around the house and covering us in sloppy kisses. We’d intended for him to live mostly in the basement, but he broke that rule in literally the first hour by jumping over the gate at the foot of the stairs.
Then, problems started cropping up. Despite being intended for Aiden, Koda much preferred me or my other son, Evan. He would actively try to avoid Aiden and started growling at him.
I took Koda to pick Aiden up at school one day and he barked at all the other kids, when he’d never barked at anyone before. He started picking fights with other dogs when we took him on walks, even going so far as to crawl under a fence to attack a much smaller dog. He walked perfectly around a park and then lunged at and nipped a guy in the parking lot as we were leaving.
I started a dog training course of Youtube and we tried a bunch of techniques they suggested. We started the training program at Petsmart and quit the same night when he tried to bite the other dogs.
I hired a private trainer who suggested a harness, then a choke collar to try and control him. It didn’t help. He’s so strong that he dragged me around and once he got locked on to something, nothing could get his attention away from it.
We tried treat training mixed with the collar mixed with desensitization. Nothing worked. He started getting territorial and would try to bite people who came over so we started locking him in his crate when we had company.
We sent him away for a 3-week boot camp that cost a small fortune and when he came back, he acted like a zombie. The light was gone from his eyes. It has gradually returned, but so has the bad behavior and I don’t have it in me to make him wear the shock collar the trainer gave us and use it to shock him into submission.
A few months ago on the way home from school, Aiden asked me to stop the car on the train tracks because he “wanted to see what it felt like to get hit by a train.” And my heart dropped. It was that moment that crystalized for me a hard truth – my son doesn’t understand danger, he doesn’t process it or anticipate it or think about it. And that included being able to follow the rules to keep everyone safe around Koda.
Then, our elderly neighbors across the street passed away and a new family moved in – with four small children, one cat, and two dogs that they let roam the neighborhood freely. There are at least six other dogs on our block that are not leashed and can come and go as they please. And every one of them sent Koda into a tizzy. My biggest fear is that Aiden will see the dogs outside, hear Koda barking, and decide to open the door on a whim, just to see what would happen. Koda is 75 lbs and very strong. He could easily kill another dog or even a child – and we couldn’t say we hadn’t been warned.
The vet told me to put him down, in no uncertain terms. They called him a ticking time bomb. Every trainer told me he was in the wrong situation and would likely have to be put down because no one will take an aggressive animal.
In April, we had to go out of town for our daughter’s college graduation. The kennel we’d been using for Koda had closed and I spent an entire day on the phone before finally finding another one that would take him because of his history. He barked at the other dogs going in, trembled when I put him in the cage, and whined when I left. Two days later when I picked him up, he was like a different dog. He walked calmly and confidently next to the kennel worker, without a muzzle, and he seemed unbothered by the presence of other dogs. The light was back in his eyes and his tail was wagging.
So, it’s us … at least to a degree, we are not the right house for Koda. We don’t know what he went through those first two years as a puppy, but we do know he lived in a house with a lot of people and a lot of dogs and he was no one’s favorite. I don’t think they intentionally abused him, but he flinches if you raise your hand at him. He is fearful of any other dog, no matter the size.
Our theory is that he was mostly ignored those two years and definitely not properly socialized toward humans or dogs. Then he came to our house where everyone doted on him and he had the run of the place. He bonded with me and decided he had to protect me, which ultimately, stressed him out.
We came to the very painful decision that he was not living his best life with us. We couldn’t give him the security he obviously needs and we had to keep him drugged on anti-anxiety pills for the better part of the last year. We resisted putting him down because he is young and strong and has so much life left in him, it didn’t seem fair. I have prayed and prayed and prayed about him.
Then, my daughter’s girlfriend told us about a vet in the small town where she grew up. It’s several hours away from here, but they take any animal, no matter the circumstances. They run a no-kill shelter and believe that any dog can be rehabilitated when matched with the right home.
I called them and explained everything and … they wanted him. It was absolutely heartbreaking, but also the right thing to do. We called two days after we surrendered him and were told he was doing great, learning to play with other dogs, and had already had a couple of people interested in adopting him. I called again last week and he’s been adopted by an empty nester couple with a lot of acreage for him to run free on.
I hate that his forever home wasn’t with us. I miss him so much that sometimes I can’t breathe. The kids sometimes still cry themselves to sleep. But we know we had to do it and I’m so relieved he has found somewhere he can be happy.
I’ll love you forever, buddy.