When Unconditional Love Isn’t Enough

There’s a hazard to “living out loud,” to writing as a memoirist who pens intimate posts in which I try to be honest about my inner life while painting word portraits of my outer life. The hazard is that, when I realize that something I wrote is no longer true, I have to come clean. I have to admit that I was wrong.

I wrote a few weeks ago about our rescue dog, Eddie. I wrote that our decision to keep him despite his quirks (anxiety, timidity, and his occasionally lashing out when he is startled or unsure) was teaching me about unconditional love and God’s radical acceptance of us despite our quirks. I wrote:

…we are not giving Eddie up. Not even after he snapped, teeth bared, at Ben last week when Ben startled him by coming too close as Eddie slept in his bed. Instead, we told the kids that Eddie needs a safe place, and that when he’s in his bed, they are to imagine him in a protective bubble that we are not allowed to penetrate. I figure that, whatever Eddie has been through, he deserves a safe place, along with a family that will not give him up, despite his quirks and fears and even his ability to lash out at us when we unknowingly remind him of how it feels to be unsafe.

So it is hard (heartbreaking, agonizing) to report that we’ve decided we must give Eddie up. This week, he lunged at a neighbor child, leaving marks on her arm and tearing her coat. I thought I knew what circumstances made Eddie aggressive, such as a child surprising him when he is sleeping in his bed, or when a stranger comes to our door, or when the mailman comes. So I was managing those situations. Everyone leaves Eddie alone when he’s in his bed. When someone new comes in the house, I keep Eddie leashed until he has checked the visitor out (and then starts following him/her around looking for love and belly rubs). I bring Eddie inside when I see the mail truck on our street.

But this time, Eddie was in a situation he’s been in before. Our neighbor drove into our driveway, and her daughter got out of the car to come to the door to get my kids to go to school. Normally, Eddie sniffs cars in the driveway, tail wagging, glad to jump into any random minivan in the hope that someone might have left some crumbs of a previous snack. I have no idea why he lashed out this time.

I immediately knew when this happened that we could not keep Eddie. If I cannot anticipate a situation like this setting him off, I cannot keep him and the kids safe. We live in a neighborhood where kids come and go from our yard, and even our house, at will. What if a neighbor child walked into our kitchen while I was elsewhere, and Eddie got scared and tried to bite? I’m willing to set limits and guidelines for my own kids and others in order to keep them safe. But I can’t be by Eddie’s side at every minute.

When I shared this decision on my Facebook page, I heard from friend after friend who has gone through a similar situation. And I also heard from a couple of people who hadn’t gotten rid of a dog who showed this kind of aggression, and regretted that decision later, when the dog eventually bit someone badly enough to require stitches.

We are working with the rescue group that has helped us train Eddie to place him in another home. My heart breaks into a thousand jagged little bits when I think about this next home as being Eddie’s fifth home in his four-plus years of life. But we are hopeful that a different kind of home—a nice quiet household with utterly predictable routines and no kids, perhaps with a single person who works from home or a retired couple—will finally give Eddie what he needs and deserves.

We will keep Eddie until he finds a new home, because the group we’re working with has no facility where they can board him. While we still love having Eddie around, keeping him at this point just makes it harder to imagine giving him up. And it also means that every day that goes by with everything just fine makes me second-guess our decision. I begin to think, “Maybe we can make this work after all.” But I also know that the next time he lunges, we might not get away with just marks on the skin and a hole in a jacket.

If you are a praying sort, please pray that we will find the perfect home for Eddie and he can finally relax into a place where he can stay forever.

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.


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