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Caring for community’s animals a burden and blessing

As I write, I’m heartbroken about the loss of a friend. He was not lost to age or illness, but to unpredictable behavior. I knew this guy was a longshot, but he burrowed his way into my heart and his presence is missed tremendously.

Cabo was transferred to La Plata County Humane Society as an 11-month-old puppy with a significant bite history. He was originally purchased as a puppy but after only a few weeks, his mom had to leave town and the husband worked long hours, leaving Cabo to spend his puppyhood alone, locked in a crate with few positive interactions.

Because puppy bites are often underreported, the 11 bites he had on record were likely only a fraction of the ones he had inflicted when his second home surrendered him. Because dogs follow behavior patterns and repeat what works, Cabo learned biting worked and repeated it; going deeper with each bite.

Instilling new coping mechanisms is key to helping a puppy with a bite history, but after almost two years in foster and another failed adoption, he severely bit again. The trauma he had endured as a puppy had left a serious mark and he couldn’t be trusted or adopted into the community.

At this point, we’re left with two choices: Warehouse him at a “sanctuary” or “rescue” where he’d spend the rest of his life outside with limited access to humans or to peacefully sedate him in the arms of a loving individual and have him quietly pass. It’s one of the hardest parts of the job; taking a dog’s life so he’s no longer hurting or struggling, even if it shatters our heart.

But isn’t that our job, to rescue community animals in need, whether they are between homes, in an abusive or neglectful situation, or found on the side of the road? Isn’t it our job to set the example of how animals should be treated, to demonstrate how to take responsibility for dangerous pets and to be there daily for people in the community when they are forced to reconsider their ability to care for an animal?

Our job is to carry the baton in a race that has been going on long before us and will continue after we’re gone. To shoulder the burden when a dog like Cabo has been so broken that he’s no longer safe living among us. We realize it’s not the most important job in the country, but if a country is judged by its individual components, our animal welfare system should be one in which we can be proud of. And your local animal shelter should be one where you can adopt a fantastic best friend and be comfortable if your pets end up there.

Marcy Eckhardt is director of pranaDOGS Behavior and Rehab Center and behavior consultant and trainer for La Plata County Humane Society. She can be reached at marcy@lpchumanesociety.org.