Dear Rasta

Dear Rasta,

You’ve been gone for about a week and a half, sweet Bear Man. Today you came back home to us.

I composed myself and picked your ashes up from the front desk around noon, and I immediately went to sit back in my car. You were encased in a sleek cedar box. I ran my hands over the edges of the box and began to cry, remembering your sweet face — your jowls for days, the scar on your nose from ringworm when you were a puppy, your soulful eyes.

I remembered when you were 8 weeks old, and we’d wake up in the middle of the night with you passed out, half on our faces, snoring like a grown man. I remembered you growing accustomed to our weeknight bedtime, and having a fit if we didn’t go to bed “on time” on the weekends. I remembered you zooming around the dog park, rolling in the mud and running at top speed. You were a gorgeous dog–muscular and sleek, and 65-pounds at 8-months-old.

I remembered as you got older, clambering your 100-pound body into bed with us at 3 in the morning and snuggling up against us. You still snored, but it was 10x worse, and you kicked in your sleep, but I relished these moments that you wanted to be close to us, because you didn’t always want us so near you.

I remembered staying up half the night when you were sick, and even though it was exhausting, I relished these moments, as well, because you were a daddy’s boy, and these were the only times you ever really seemed to need your mom. You’d lay your head in my lap, nuzzling my hands for comfort. Just a dog needing his mom.

Your slobbery kisses. Your clumsy snuggles. I miss holding your face in my hands and kissing your snout, which you also hated, but I did it anyway. When you’d let me, I’d bury my face into your chest and kiss your neck rolls. I miss those moments when you showed us affection back. But you were not always so affectionate, Bear Man.

I remember the time you bit me. We were at the dog park, and you were about a year old. You had begun having these wild outbursts, where you’d suddenly start running at top speed, leaping and lunging at any person or dog in your path. I was your main target, however, and you’d knock into me, pushing me over or disorienting me. This time, you latched onto my bicep. I gasped and tried not to panic–I didn’t want to make a scene; I didn’t want anyone to know my dog was attacking me. We locked eyes; you held on, until finally your eyes softened and you let go.

I walked you home slowly, in a daze. I cried to your dad, who enrolled you in training classes the next day. My bicep turned blotchy with deep purple bruises over the next few days; they took weeks to fade. We never went to the dog park again.

We went through this first round of training, but while you would now “sit” for a treat, your behavior wasn’t improving. We took you to the vet, who did a thorough exam and blood work to rule out any biological reason for your behavior. You were perfectly healthy. After reading an article about thyroid issues in dogs, we took you back, and insisted the vet run the additional tests. He was a nice man, and he agreed to run the tests, but kindly said that he doubted that was the issue. It wasn’t.

Your extreme outbursts slowly dwindled, but what it was replaced with was perhaps worse. You’d walk up to us, seemingly wanting affection, but as soon as we gave it, you would begin to growl and snarl. We were afraid to take you out into public. So, we didn’t. We didn’t leave much, either, afraid to board you or to ask someone to watch you.

When you were about 4-years-old, you bit the maintenance man. Desperate, we called in a trainer, and you attacked her, knocking her on her back and pinning her down as I screamed and your dad pulled you off her. Luckily, we were there, and your dad stopped you before you could inflict any real damage. Afterwards, gently, the trainer recommended we put you down. We nodded, in a daze.

Instead, we put you on Prozac and isolated you, and ourselves, further. It seemed to help, for awhile. You genuinely seemed to want affection from us, and you were calmer in general. We still didn’t quite trust you, however, as much as we loved you.

I don’t want to paint a picture of you that’s evil. You weren’t. After these incidents, you were as upset as we were. You seemed ashamed of yourself, crawling into our laps and licking our faces, your eyes desperate for validation. Most of the time, Bear Man, you were a great dog, our first baby who loved chest scratches and chasing sticks in the backyard.

We couldn’t ignore your aggressive tendencies, however. We always had to be on high alert for any signs that your behavior might turn. The incidents all roll into a blur. You bit your dad, who you loved the most. You attacked your brother, a miniature dachshund, a handful of times, and I’d hold him after and cry and blame myself for not keeping him safe. You snapped at our niece, and from then on, whenever children were in the house, you had to stay in our room, where you’d bark and howl. I know you wanted to be part of the group. We just couldn’t let you.

We loved you so much, though, that we vowed that as long as it was just me and your dad, we’d manage your behavior for as long as we could. Some people might say that we held on for too long, and maybe that’s true. It’s so difficult to see clearly when you’re neck-deep in a murky situation, however. We felt there must be something else we could do–surely, there was something else we could try; we couldn’t just give up. So, we held on, desperate for a solution, and unable to bring ourselves to make the decision to let you go.

But, it’s not just me and your dad anymore. We’re having a baby. And the weekend we had to let you go, we rushed in to the living room as you attacked our 3-pound-chihuahua, who had the audacity to walk near your food. Your dad pulled you off of her, and as she screamed and writhed on the floor, blood streaming from her eye, we knew that we just couldn’t keep our baby safe from you.

We said goodbye to you on a pretty day, underneath a tree, your dad holding you in his arms. We kissed your snout and your paws as you slowly drifted away. I hope that you know how broken our hearts are and how hard we truly tried to keep you here. I hope you know how deeply you were loved. You were never “just a dog” to us. For 6 1/2 years, we loved you and tried our best to keep you safe and the world safe from you, because in the end, we know you couldn’t help it. You were our sweet Bear Man.

Today you’re home. Your dad very carefully applied a nice plaque to your cedar box, and we sat in silence, staring at it. It doesn’t feel real that you’ll never again follow me into the kitchen, or gently take a treat from my hand, or press against me in your sleep.

I miss you, Rasta. I don’t know when this will start to feel better. But as time passes, I feel more at peace with our decision. I don’t know if people will quite understand our situation, but here it is.

I hope you’re running in the sunshine, Bear Man, zooming with a stick clenched in your teeth, free of anguish or pain. I want that for you–for you to feel joy without the cloud of darkness creeping in.

I love you, Rasta. Sleep well.









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