Norman No More

I am heartbroken to report that Norman was put down this past weekend. The shelter training director sent out a 2-page letter to staff members and to me, explaining why she felt that Norman needed to be put down. Norman was unpredictable, had bitten three people at the shelter (staff and volunteers), and was not making consistent progress over the 3 months that he was there. She felt there were very few, if any, home situations that could handle Norman. He would always be a guarder, and he could resort to biting at any point in time.

I did not agree with everything in the letter, and I definitely did not want Norman to be put down. But with my own eyes, I had seen Norman try to bite a volunteer on the hand--it was the most random, weird reaction I'd ever seen in a dog. He was all sweet and fine, accepted a treat from the volunteer happily, then a few moments later, snapped at her hand with his teeth. He didn't break skin in this case or with the other bites, but they were all equally random and unpredictable.

The shelter training director saw and worked with Norman every day over the past three months, while I saw him for less than an hour, twice a week, if that. So even though I wanted to, I felt I couldn't argue with her assessment of him. She loved Norman and was very invested in him, and this decision had to be 10 times more difficult for her than it was for me. I know that I could have offered to foster Norman long-term or adopt him, and she would have allowed me to do that. Dogs behave so differently in a home than in a shelter environment. Those three bites might never have been repeated once he got settled. I felt he truly trusted me, and I completely trusted his behavior toward me personally.

But I couldn't have trusted his behavior toward other people. There are small children (who are both very scared of dogs) living on either side of my house, and if Norman had ever gotten loose and hurt one of them, I would not be able to forgive myself. If Cabana ever got loose, I know she'd never hurt anybody in a million years. But with Norman, I'd be worried until the day he died.

Which is how the training director must have felt, and which is why I supported her decision. It's hard, though, full of what if's and doubts. I got to see Norman as they were about to put him down, and he was sooo sweet. All wags and cuddles and full-out joy, to have all his favorite people around him at the same time, while we humans were all bawling our eyes out.

I know there's a lesson in here for me. I'm not quite sure what it is yet, other than that life isn't fair. I don't know what Norman's life was like before he came to the shelter, but I'm quite certain it wasn't good. He seemed starved for companionship, both human and canine, but at the same time, was clueless about how to interact with either. He was fearful and distrustful, but maybe any dog would have been, given the same circumstances. Norman's name used to be Lucky, but shortly after arriving at the shelter, the training director changed it to Norman, jokingly saying that he was anything but lucky. Little did any of us know how true that would be.

Dexter  – (October 16, 2012 at 3:41 AM)  

We had an experience with an adopted dog that was similar. She was with us for three months and we worked and worked with her, but she was so unpredictable and dangerous. Even Mango was terrified of her and would not come into the same room she was in. After discussing it with the rescue organization we agreed to put her down. We were her third placement and the rescue person was concerned that she would be dangerous regardless of her situation.

In retrospect, I look at it as a disease, wires crossed in the brain. She surely was suffering from living like that. She, too, would be sweet and roll over to demand belly rubs, then suddenly snap. It's awful to play God, but I think in the case of our little orphan, it was the right decision.

Mango Momma

Casey  – (October 16, 2012 at 6:37 AM)  

I'm so sorry to hear this. Sometimes our earlier experiences just give us doggies demons that we can't overcome. It's always a heartbreaking decision for those who love us to make, but sometimes it's the best thing to let us run free at the Bridge where we won't have those demons chasing us anymore. :( Godspeed, Norman!!

therufusway  – (October 16, 2012 at 7:22 AM)  

Ugh, what a tough decision. It sounds like he was given the best chances possible and had some wonderful moments while in the care of your shelter. I know I had a similar situation with one of my fosters - totally fine one minute, and then snapping at people for no known reason. The rescue ultimately had to put him down, but we sure did do everything in our power to try and help him as well. It's tough loving troubled dogs sometimes, but it is also totally worth it. Hopefully you can find solace in knowing you did everything in your power.

Becky  – (October 16, 2012 at 7:57 PM)  

Oh. So sorry. Sending love for the many emotions that you must be feeling. I feel so inspired by the love and devotion that it sounds like so many put into doing so much for him with such a difficult outcome.

kecks  – (October 17, 2012 at 5:02 AM)  

he didn't even break skin? i am sorry but this is very normal and sound warning behavoiur of a dog who is telling his people that he is feeling very uncomfortable right now and please stop what you are doing. when a dog attacks, that is one thing, but only warning behaviour? if a dog wants to hurt you he will do so and draw blood easily. idk, i am from germany and and volunteer at a shelter, too (in germany there are no kill shelters only, putting down healthy animals is illegal), and this (3 "biting" incidents without blood) would never be enough to kill a dog here. usually there has to be a record of dangerous behaviour (biting trying to hurt someone) before a dog is put down. there are only about 5 of those cases per year here (munich, 1.3 million people, around 100-150 dogs at the shelter ready for adoption, more in the summer and around christmas). add about 30-50 dogs put down for medical reasons, but that's it. glad you made normans life better as long as it lasted! i am shure the decision wasn't taken lightly and every culture is different. (my american friend once told me how astonished she was when she during her first stay in germany noticed the dogs in public transport, in restaurants, just everywhere. germany seems to be more dog friendly than most places.)

Raiser Erin  – (October 17, 2012 at 7:08 AM)  

Oh, I'm so sorry Mimi. I know that decision is always hard. I remember going back to the shelter where I worked before volunteering with GDB and my favourite little dog, Stella, was gone. Even though we're "no kill" I knew what had happened. She had been adopted 3 times and returned and had bitten a few of the other volunteers. No blood or anything.

I do have to say that I half agree with kecks up there. Dogs don't have words to say, "Back off and give me some space. I'm a little uncomfortable right now." Nipping is just their way of doing that. Albeit there are better ways for the dog to do it, but if it wasn't viscious then it's really hard to judge if they were just scared. And sometimes I think if they're scared it's a little unfair for us to judge them for it.

I do understand though. He's a big dog and could accidentally do someone some damage. I know that you must be hurting a bit, but at least you gave him someone to trust in his final days.

Min  – (October 22, 2012 at 4:56 PM)  

I was so sad to read about this, Mimi. I'm glad that he was surrounded with love those last moments though and you brought him some happiness.

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