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.

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.

  • http://www.hispaththroughthewilderness.blogspot.com Marlena Graves


    I am so sorry. This is difficult as your hopes for Eddie are dashed and as a family pet is sent somewhere else.

  • http://eatwithjoy.org Rachel Stone

    I’m so sorry. This is so sad. I will say a prayer for the Painter-Dollars, and for Eddie.

  • Stephanie Sokolowski

    Ellen I am so sorry for your famliy, but I do think you have made a hard but wise decision. I will pray for a nice home for Eddie and for your family, to some how ease your pain of having Eddie go to another home.
    I enjoy reading your writings, even though they some times make me cry!

  • Cathy Brewer

    Ellen -

    I am thinking of you and your family. This is truly a tough situation, but it is in everyone’s best interest – including Eddie. I am praying that you find the environment that suits him best. Sending you love and courage..

  • http://www.dogquirks.com Lynn Hoover

    Ellen, I agree that Eddie might succeed in a home with nothing much going on around him. I’d like to recommend you read my book, *Dog Quirks and Behavior Solutions* (see on Amazon.com as book or ebook) and then email me with questions. It would help if you understood how to move Eddie along.

  • Patricia Giannella Mom/Pat/Nana

    The serenity prayer is racing around in my brain. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Trust in God and celebrate the time you have had with Eddie. Life is Good.
    Love, Pat

  • Taffy Wilcox


    I have just launched into your blog for the first time and, as a dog lover and a friend of the rescue organization from which you rescued Eddie, my heart goes out to you. I have seen the picture of Leah and Eddie on the website. I am sorry it has not worked out, but I believe, too, you are doing the right thing. I will pray for a true forever home for Eddie, and eventually, the right dog for the Dollars. In the meantime, let me know if you’d enjoy some pet therapy form my two therapy dogs.


    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Thank you Taffy, especially for your prayers for Eddie. Most likely, he will go back to the foster mom from whom we got him some time in the coming days, and from there, she will work with Our Companions to find a perfect home for him. I will feel much better once we find that home!