Today I had to let my foster dog Sal go to the Rainbow Bridge. He was only with me for a very short time, and it wasn't nearly long enough. When I first met Sal, it was in the parking lot of a McDonald's halfway between my house and the animal control facility he'd been turned into. A volunteer met me there with him, and she told me Sal had just finished enjoying a hamburger while they waited for me to arrive. I met this muscular brown pit bull who looked very pleased to have just eaten such a yummy meal. He greeted me happily, and was on his best behavior all the way home.
Once we got home, Sal quickly made himself comfortable. It took a few days to get him introduced to the other dogs, but before long he was running around and playing happily with all of the other dogs. The more I got to know Sal, the more I knew what a great dog he was. Sal absolutely loved to eat. As soon as he saw me approaching the area with the food bowls, he began his "happy dance". He did his happy dance while following me back and forth across the room as I put each bowl down into an empty crate. He often tried to run into a crate that wasn't his just so he could get to eat sooner. Finally, it was Sal's turn, and he ran into his crate and gobbled down his food. Then he lay there quietly and waited while all the other dogs finished up. When meal time was over and the dogs were out of their crates, Sal went from crate to crate looking for any missed pieces of kibble. Only when he was certain that there was no more food remaining would he return to my side, ready for his after-mealtime belly rub.
Sal loved belly rubs. He would jump up on the couch next to me and press his nose against me and look at me with his big brown eyes as if to ask "what are you waiting for?" Then I'd start petting him, and he'd roll over on his back and wag his tail and smile. All he wanted out of life was a good bowl of food and a person to cuddle with and give him belly rubs. And for a week, that's exactly what he got.
I thought Sal was perfect. He was good with other dogs, and fine with cats. He was friendly and easygoing and even though he was a deaf pit bull, I was sure he'd be able to find a home. I took him to meet a dog trainer so he could start working toward his Canine Good Citizen certification. He didn't even know how to sit on command, but with a little practice I thought he could learn quickly. The first incident happened when the trainer greeted him. He suddenly growled and then lunged at her for no apparent reason. We both thought it was odd. I hoped that it was just that he was excited - maybe he was trying to play. I had never seen any aggressive behavior from him and neither had the volunteers at the shelter where he came from. The trainer tried to figure out what caused it and tried to get him to react to her again, but the rest of the time he was calm and friendly. The event worried me, but I decided to just wait and test him with her again later to see what happened. We went back home and things went back to normal.
Until today, when we went to the vet's office. Sal needed some shots and a heartworm test before he'd be ready for adoption. The vet took Sal to the back and a few minutes later I heard a commotion. The vet then returned to tell me that Sal had growled and lunged at her during her exam. It was before she did anything invasive or painful, so she didn't know what had triggered him to act that way. This was the worst possible news. If Sal was aggressive with people, especially when we were unable to recognize what triggered the aggressive behavior, then he couldn't be safely adopted out. The fact that he'd been aggressive with two professionals - people who knew how to interact with dogs and could easily read their signals if they were uncomfortable - was a clear indicator that he could become aggressive again with anyone at any time. I didn't want to make the decision to have him euthanized. I wanted to believe he could be saved. I've saved dogs who were much more people aggressive than Sal - how could this be happening? But I knew that Sal was a special case because he didn't have any obvious triggers that made him become aggressive. The vet also believed that Sal may have had distemper and could be having mini-seizures when stressed. The cute sideways head tilt that I found adorable was a sign, the vet said. So was the silly air-licking that he did sometimes, and the funny gait, and the pacing. So after talking to the vet, the rescue group president, a trainer and the volunteer who drove him to me, I made the tough decision to let him go.
I petted Sal and gave him the hand sign for "okay" and "good dog" as the vet euthanized him. I'll miss him every day. This is the hardest part of rescue - the ones we can't save. Rest in peace, my Sal.