Five to One

In the last year and a half, we went from having five dogs to having only one. It’s been a lot of changes, difficult decisions, and sad losses—but having just one dog now is also really nice. Here’s the story of how it all happened.

In January 2019, we adopted a Shiba Inu and Shepherd mix who we named Roscoe, as a puppy. At the time, we had our Pit Bull mix named Marley (age 14), our American Eskimo Dog named Sky (age 9), our Jack Russell Chihuahua mix named Lila (age 3), and our American Staffordshire Terrier named Macy (age 1).

Marley had been dealing with health problems for a few years at that point. He had very bad teeth, despite yearly cleanings for about the last five years of his life. They were severely diseased and causing him pain. He had a few teeth pulled at every cleaning, but his molars were the biggest problem and are almost impossible to remove in dogs since they are basically fused to the jawbone.

Other than that, he had a heart murmur which was growing worse every year. Heart murmurs aren’t necessarily a problem, but in combination with his dental disease (which can have a connection to heart disease in dogs), it was a bit concerning. In his final year, he developed congestive heart failure, a terminal illness. He began to lose weight, and considering that he was always on the thin side, it was even more worrisome. Sometimes he refused food for several meals in a row, and at the worst times he wouldn’t even eat a bowl of shredded chicken set down right in front of him. He was on medication to help with his chronic cough (the telltale sign of congestive heart failure).

Although he still had a surprising amount of energy, moved well, had perfect control over his bathroom habits, and seemed overall to be happy, we knew that with his disease and at his age he would eventually die a painful death—and it would happen within months. We chose to euthanize him at home before his suffering became too much, but it was a very difficult decision. It felt like we were murdering him, to be honest. I knew deep down that it was the right thing to do, though, and I am happy knowing that his last day was a very good day. We went on a long walk, gave him excessive amounts of snuggles and attention, and fed him a special treat that would usually be off-limits since it can cause digestive issues—his favorite thing, dairy. He passed away so peacefully at home with me by his side. That was in February 2019.

We had a long time to prepare ourselves and process Marley’s death before it even happened, so I didn’t go through a lot of grief afterward. I miss him still, and have countless loving memories of him from over the 13 years that he was mine. He will always be a very special dog in my heart.

In September of 2019, we rehomed Lila. It all started a few months before that, when out of nowhere a fight broke out between her and Macy. We weren’t home at the time, but our dog sitter let us know what happened and we came home to a wounded and traumatized Lila. The fight was sparked by jealousy over who was getting attention from the sitter, and the apparently incompatible personalities of the two dogs.

Lila has a very anxious and bossy personality towards other dogs, and a tendency to bare her teeth anytime she felt threatened. Macy has a very submissive personality towards other dogs in general, but when she senses any form of aggression, she snaps into boss mode and sees it as her duty to put the other dog in their place. Lila’s territorial aggression, especially when it comes to human attention, was not something Macy tolerated well that day. After the floodgates were opened, there was no stopping it. Macy was out for blood from that point on—but we weren’t ready to accept it yet.

We worked hard on training and desensitizing them to each other, and felt that things were improving. Then they both got closed in the bathroom together by one of the kids, and another fight broke out. I got to them quickly, but Lila was injured again. From that point on, we had to keep the two of them separated at all times. Even then, we still had a few incidents of Macy trying to get at Lila through her crate. It was clear that they could not live together, and it wasn’t fair to Lila to have her living with another dog who was clearly wanting to end her life.

Not only was the decision to rehome Lila a hard one because we love her and were very attached to her, but it was deeply disappointing to me to discover the capacity for aggression in Macy. I see Macy as pretty much my perfect dog, and she has been one of the best-behaved and the easiest-to-train dogs I’ve ever had. She even has her Canine Good Citizen certification. One thing I love about her is how gentle she is with other dogs. But seeing what she was capable of towards Lila made me question her in a way I was deeply saddened by. I never ever questioned Marley’s ability to get along with another dog—he was an angel in that regard. Seeing a different side of Macy was a hard thing for me, and even now I still don’t 100% trust her around other dogs. (For the record, she has never been in a fight before or since Lila.)

But back to Lila. We found her a perfect home, where she is the only dog and gets all of the attention and exercise she needs to be well-adjusted and happy. It was sad to say goodbye, and difficult to walk away after handing her off to a stranger—but her new owner was reassuring and they both seemed happy in the photos I received in the weeks after. We knew that we made the best decision for Lila, and she will have a better life for it.

At that point, we were down to three dogs: Sky, Roscoe, and Macy. From the beginning, Roscoe had been a challenge. He was the most difficult-to-train dog I’ve ever had, and we did not handle his bad behaviors very gracefully. Potty training him was a nightmare—he would refuse to pee outside, and then pee in his crate minutes later. As he grew older, he would still pee in the house a few times per week, and when he did that he didn’t just pee in one place. Roscoe had a special skill for accidents—he would start peeing, and then walk around the house, forming a thin trail of urine perhaps 10-20 feet long. Never before, and I beg to God never again, have I seen this type of behavior in a dog.

Crate training in general was very difficult as well. He was unbelievably vocal about his dislike for his crate at first and boy did he have stamina. He would screech at shocking volumes for hours through the night in his crate, and it took him weeks (or months?) to adjust to being in his crate for any period of time. It was a harrowing time, to say the least. That’s not to mention the chewing (dog beds, baby gates, and kids’ toys were favorite targets), barking, and refusal to let anyone brush him or trim his nails (or touch his paws at all, actually).

Despite all of that, of course Roscoe had some good traits. He’s very cuddly and sweet, now perfectly crate-trained, knows basic obedience commands, and is a great exercise buddy. He is also very smart and learns fast. We did love him, but the misbehaviors that continued into his early adulthood eventually became too much for us. Ultimately, we decided that it would be better for him to be rehomed with a family who could manage him better and give him the love and attention he needs. After coming to this decision, we put him on an online rehoming website in May (2020), shared his profile on social media, then waited for the right family to come along.

While we were still working on rehoming Roscoe, Sky started to have some health issues. It started back in January when she had her yearly teeth cleaning. It went fine, but from that point on she started having accidents in the house. We still don’t know if it was related in any way, but that’s how I remember it starting. After we started leaving the doggy door open almost all of the time, the accidents stopped and we thought the issue was behind us. Next came the diarrhea. She started to have loose stools, and at first we thought it would go away on its own, since diarrhea in dogs is something we’ve dealt with quite a few times before. But it continued for days, and then weeks, and we started to feel concerned. She was still eating normally and acting normal, so we put off taking her to the vet.

Then I started to notice signs of pain. She would sometimes start panting and quietly whimpering for a few minutes, or she would struggle with going to the bathroom. She also had a very odd episode which I didn’t know at the time was a seizure. She started staring at the door, and then suddenly flopped onto her side and started kind of clenching her paws. It was really subtle, and hard to tell that anything weird was happening, and after a moment I picked her up and put her back on her feet and she walked away like nothing happened. I chalked it up to a senior moment. Shortly after that, though, I decided to make a vet appointment for her—but for some bizarre reason, all of the vets in my area were extremely busy and booked out for weeks. I was able to get her an appointment for late the next week.

It was only a few days after booking her appointment that we woke up to her obviously in distress. She was panting, trembling, and had another episode (a seizure) in which she also peed all over herself. We took her to the emergency vet, and they took her back immediately because she was in critical condition. It took a few hours to run tests and get a diagnosis, but ultimately, we were informed that she was having seizures, which were at that point coming back-to-back, and they were likely caused by a brain tumor. The only treatment options available did not provide a good prognosis, and were extremely expensive. Considering Sky’s age, and the fact that she was suffering and would likely never go back to how she was before due to brain damage from the seizures, we knew the only option was to euthanize her.

Having to make this decision so suddenly was jarring, and surreal. It was completely different than Marley’s situation, where we had time to prepare for the end of his life. Sky was old, but not that old considering her size. We’d always expected a lifespan closer to 18 years from her. But when we sat with her at the vet’s office to say goodbye, it was crystal clear that there was no other choice. She was practically gone already—there was no recognition in her eyes, or any sign that she was aware of her surroundings. We held her in our laps and pet her face, and talked to her, and her finally closing her eyes and seeming to relax was the only sign I got that she knew we were there with her. We said our goodbyes, and held her as she passed away. That was near the end of May, last month.

After losing Sky, I was sad, but I honestly didn’t go through a lot of grief. I don’t completely know the reason, except that I think perhaps I just handle pet loss fairly easily. I cry when I’m saying goodbye, but usually after that I can move on and feel at peace with it. The only exception was our three guinea pigs who were killed (by Sky, incidentally)—which I grieved over for months. They were very special to me, and the way that they died I think was the biggest source of pain because it was anything but peaceful, and anything but the right time. Although Sky was ours for almost seven years, losing her was not as traumatic. We have so many fond memories of her, as well.

After Sky passed away, we continued with our plan to rehome Roscoe, and we were actually more eager than ever. We’d been talking for months about how nice it would be to have just one dog, never expecting that it would actually happen anytime soon. We expected Sky to pass in another five to eight years, and then Macy not long after that (since she’s a large breed and purebred), and we’d then be left with just Roscoe for many years. But Sky passing only further solidified our desire to rehome Roscoe, since both our family and he would certainly be happier that way.

It didn’t take very long to find him a good home, and when we did, we found a fantastic one. He went to a family with lots of kids (he is a wonderful dog for kids), and a dog trainer in the family. They were extremely eager to meet him and committed to taking him home from the start. Even though he was anxious and standoffish at the meeting and exchange, which I’d expected and prepared them for, they were very patient and understanding of him. I know that he is in the best hands now, and we made the right choice.

We’ve had just Macy for less than a week now, but it feels almost as if this is how it’s always been. I feel so much lighter and I enjoy her so much more—and the house is so much more peaceful. She’s been getting walks every day, which never happened when we had three (not to mention five) dogs. She has free reign of the house at night, since she’s well-behaved and Roscoe was the only one who actually needed to be in the pen they used to sleep in. She gets all of the love and attention, and although I know she enjoyed the company of other dogs, I think she’s happy and she’s becoming more social with us humans now.

Now that I have one dog, I am not planning on ever going back to more than that. It’s pretty glorious. We have more flexibility to go places, since we can take her on trips with us, or leave her with a dog boarder without paying for a full-time house sitter. We can pay for more expensive vet bills for her if needed, without worrying about the expense of four other dogs. And because she is so well-behaved, we don’t have the stress of dealing with dog behavior challenges anymore. We can work on and improve her training and it’s actually fun for me now because it’s so much easier than trying to work with many dogs at once. I enjoy working with Macy, anyway, because she’s so eager to please and learns really well.

Going forward, my family hopes to enjoy Macy for many, many years to come. In the future, we’d love to rescue one dog at a time, and we have a strict “bully breeds only” policy now. If we’ve learned anything from all of these changes, it’s that we love this breed—and why mess with a good thing?

On a side note, yes, we still have our zoo. We did recently surrender two of our bunnies (a bonded pair) to our local bunny rescue, due to them being a poor fit for our family and vice versa. Our zoo now consists of: two bunnies, Kit and Karma who are a bonded pair; three guinea pigs, Piper, Annie, and Calla; two parakeets, Oliver and Oakley; one mouse, Harriet; and one Betta fish, Baby. Harriet is quite old for a mouse, so I don’t expect her to be around much longer, but other than that we have no plans to say goodbye to any more of our pets. Our cats, Luna and Leo, are still of course a part of our family as well. We are very happy with the way things are! Although 12 pets may seem like a lot, it is very manageable for us at this point and we really enjoy having animals as a part of our family and home.