This is the saddest blog I’ve ever had to write.
Before Wilbur, there was our ‘first born’. Her name is Mabel, Mabes, Mabel the dog, Babylee, and she’s possibly the world’s naughtiest basset hound.
We picked Mabel from her litter in October 2009 and we loved her ferociously. After she was neutered, however, she became volatile, sometimes aggressive and scarily unpredictable.
Suddenly, she was fearful of almost everybody – she’d growl at strangers if they tried to stroke her, show her teeth if she felt vulnerable or was being asked to do something she didn’t want to and became territorial and, to be brutally honest, very difficult to live with.
But she was our baby and as hard as things got, we loved her and as we’d frequently say to each other “she’s a problem, but she’s our problem.” We did everything we could to train the aggression out of her – we hired two different behaviourists, one animal psychologist, she went to dog classes, we talked to the vet about possible medication. Nothing worked.
Then, along came Wilbur, and for two years, we managed to make it work. We’d keep Mabel separate as much as possible, and then when we did have them together, would watch them like a hawk.
We did all the things the books suggest: We brought a blanket with Wilbur’s scent on back from the hospital to Mabel when he was first born; laid him down when we first brought him home and let Mabel sniff him; made sure we were giving Mabel as much love and affection; tried to socialise them as much as we could without putting Wilbur in a vulnerable position. But it was difficult, almost impossible at times. How could we truly socialise them knowing that at any moment, with just a little stroke from Wilbur when she wasn’t inviting it, she could snap, scare him, or worse, hurt him.
I guess in a way, it always felt like a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off, although having made it through eight years of Mabel and two years of Mabel and Wilbur, we truly believed we could see it out to the end.
Then on my birthday a few weeks ago, the inevitable happened. Wilbur put his arms around Mabel’s middle and squeezed her tummy and that was enough for her to snap. Dan and I were right there so I was able to immediately pull her away, leaving Wilbur scared and with a mark on his cheek, although thankfully she didn’t break skin. It could have been a lot worse, if I’d even been on the other side of the room, and that realisation instantly weighed heavily on our hearts. Needless to say, my tears fell long after Wilbur’s dried up and I can honestly say it was one of the saddest days of my life, as Dan and I talked ourselves into the only true option we had: to get Mabel re-homed.
Even as we made that decision, I was haunted by guilt so desperate that I struggled to breathe. It wasn’t just guilt, it was utter despair and mourning for the placid, friendly, trustworthy dog we’d dreamt of and never got, and desperate sadness for the crazy irrational dog that despite all her flaws, we love with all our hearts and could not imagine life without.
It took 10 days from that incident on my birthday to the day that Dan dropped Mabel off at her new home with an incredible woman who has 14 basset hounds and who re-homes many more every year. Her entire world revolves around those dogs and we will be eternally grateful to her for taking in our girl.
Those ten days were indisputably the hardest of my life. Seeing Mabel’s gorgeous face every day and knowing we’d soon be losing her was torture. In true Mabel style, she made it even harder by acting like an angel that week – something that was as rare as a super moon.
The morning that she left, Dan and I sat out in the garden with her, I groomed her and we told her that we loved her. It was one of the most painful moments of my life. I told her that she’s the best worst dog in the world…and the most gorgeous.
So why am I putting myself through the agony of writing this all down in a blog? I guess because there’s not a lot of real stories like this out there. When we were making this impossible decision a few weeks ago, hearing someone else’s story would have somewhat helped. There are millions of photos of babies sleeping on, and riding on, dogs on the internet…yet finding a real (albeit painful to read account) of a case where a family with a dog and a baby do not have a happy ending was next to impossible.
It has been eight days since Mabes left and I miss her so much that it hurts. Life is easier, so much easier, but that doesn’t make the heartache any less painful. I miss hearing her paws pottering around on the wooden floor. I miss the way she’d nudge my hand every time I stopped stroking her in the evening while I watched TV. I miss the way she greeted me like I was her favourite thing in the world every time I came home. I even miss just seeing her sleeping.
I don’t miss feeling panicked every time I had her and Wilbur in the same room. I don’t miss the logistics of having to shut her away every time the doorbell rings. I don’t miss walking on eggshells around a little basset who clearly ruled the roost.
And that’s the candid truth. Life is easier. There are some things that are better. But that in no way makes up for the fact that my heart is legitimately broken and that every single day I wish she could come home.
But I’m a mother. I have a little boy and I will do anything and everything to protect him. Putting him in danger is not an option, and as hard as it is to write this in black and white, having Mabel around him meant putting him in danger. We had no choice.
I truly believe that children should grow up around animals, learning to love them and care for them. I love that there are those millions of photos of babies and dogs. I was one of those babies that grew up with dogs that I cuddled and slept with and rode around the living room. But there isn’t always a happy ending…and that’s why I wrote this down.
We gave Mabel everything we could for eight years, but it just wasn’t enough.
I will never stop missing Mabes and will never get over the sadness that she wasn’t able to see out her days with us. While the weight of guilt is yet to get any lighter, we know that we made the only choice that we could.
So please join me in raising a glass to our first-born, Mabel the Dog: The world’s very best worst dog. XxX