'My Boy' Had Become A Threat to Our Safety

Sometimes there are no words--just a look. Upon my command, my Doberman, Jack, sat obediently in the vet's examining room. Four years old and in his prime, with 115 pounds of strapping muscle, he was at once impressive and intimidating. He sat between the vet and me, wagging his tail.

When I gave him the instruction "paw," he offered that big foot to the vet, who placed a tourniquet on his leg. The medicine was drawn into the syringe and pushed into Jack's vein. Two seconds elapsed, and it was during this extraordinarily brief space of time that Jack gave me that look, one I'd never seen before. I couldn't turn away. Then all that bulk went lifeless, and he was gone.

There were no words. There was no quote that I could take home and put in a diary. There was just that look.

Earlier that morning, Jack had jumped onto the bed (something he was not allowed to do) and attacked my wife, Tracy. He'd given no warning. Even as an experienced Doberman owner, I was amazed by his lightning speed as he bit Tracy three times. I rushed her, shaken and bloody, to the hospital, and it was later that day that Jack and I ended up at the vet's office.

Most pet owners accept the reality that one day we may need to put our animal to sleep, but we keep those thoughts at a safe distance--an unfathomable decision to be made only in the most dire of circumstances. Jack's attack on my wife was one of those circumstances, and Tracy and I struggled all morning to decide what to do. But the truth is, from the moment he bit her, we both knew that ending Jack's life was a forgone conclusion.

"I can't tell you what to do," the vet said to me during the 20-minute telephone conversation we had while Tracy was being seen in the emergency room. "But once a Doberman crosses that line, there's often no turning back. I'm sorry to say that I think Jack's one of those cases."

We forge special bonds with our pets, and my relationship with Jack was no exception. I called him "my boy," having raised him since he was a pup. When I first got Jack, I owned a sports car, and his idea of going for a ride was jumping into the trunk, then crawling Army style half-way through the dropped-down back seat, so that his hindquarters remained in the trunk as we drove around town. My decision to buy a Jeep as my next vehicle was pretty much influenced by imagining Jack as a passenger. He deserved to be transported in style.

Jack could be a handful. During his first day of obedience school, he unceremoniously defecated between my chair and my wife's. He also kept our driveway clear of visitors--solicitors, friends and family alike--by staring them down from his command post on the front lawn.

But that was part of who Jack was, and I was crushed at losing him. I was younger then, and had not yet experienced the death of a close friend or parent. So for me, that day remains frozen in time. For a year, I couldn't relate the story of his death without breaking down.

But I learned a great deal during this time. I learned to be more realistic about what to expect from pets--mainly, that they usually die before we do. I learned that, as an alpha dog, Jack had overshadowed our other dog, Ruby, an abandoned half-breed who we were surprised to discover had a wonderful personality of her own. I learned about the joy of rescuing abused dogs, and got past my pretentiousness about owning a purebred animal. And, sadly, I learned that my wife and I had been in denial about Jack's ever-increasing aggressiveness (we called it "moodiness" when he growled at us and nipped at friends) until it was too late.

Just before Jack and I went to the vet's, I took him for a long walk and one of our car rides. We played Frisbee and I let him chase squirrels in the park. I wanted his last moments to be normal--and fun. Two hours later he was gone.

So what was Jack trying to convey with that unforgettable look he gave me in the last seconds of his life? Hard to say. Like most pets, he had an assortment of expressions and sounds that spoke loud and clear to me: a quick bark meant he had to go out; pushing his bowl across the floor meant "feed me"; wide paws and a low stance meant "play with me," and my favorite--jumping six feet in the air while banging all four paws against the sliding glass door--meant "I want to come in."

But that last look was something altogether different, and like most people who have been left with a hole in their lives, I find myself filling in the words that were never said. I'd like to believe Jack was saying, "It's OK. I had a good time."

'My Boy' Had Become A Threat to Our Safety | News