They called him our “failed foster.” Axel Rose came to us as a gigantic, scared tan greyhound unfamiliar with the basics of life: stairs, screen doors, flushing toilets. He loved me immediately, desperately, in the way of some rescue dogs. I adored him. And so, rather than let him go up for adoption, like the other rescued greyhounds that had passed through our home, he stayed.
We adapted his racing name and made him a permanent space on our couch. My then-fiance and I believed that when you adopt a dog, you make a promise. You promise to love them, to take care of them, and to keep them until the end of their days. Period. We were in our mid-twenties. We had no idea we’d ever be the type of people who would give a dog away.
Except it turns out that we were.
Axel was two when we adopted him. When he was around seven, I got pregnant with my first son. We were worried. Greyhounds aren’t noted for being particularly great with kids — they’re more cat-like than doggy, all sleek and sinew and snark. Our particular rescue, in fact, usually didn’t adopt to homes with children under a certain age.
But Axel tolerated Blaise decently since, at first, Blaise was more of a cooing, stationary object-thing than an actual child. The problems started when Blaise was about three, and our second son around one.
August, our second child, had just learned to totter around. Blaise was highly mobile. They were toddlers: loud, messy, screechy. Suddenly their sticky hands were everywhere. Before, Axel had spent most of his days cuddled on the couch, usually with me. I cluster-nursed both my sons with him at my side. But suddenly, whenever the kids came into a room, I noticed that Axel would get up and leave. Leave the couch, leave his bed, leave my bed, whatever. Wherever the kids were, he simply wasn’t. We didn’t have to work to keep them apart. He made sure of it.
Because I always had a kid with me, it was like I didn’t have a dog.
One morning, the only morning I hadn’t seen Axel leave, my younger son tottered over close to him. He sprang up like a shot and ran from the room. He didn’t growl. He didn’t bark. But he didn’t act like he was afraid, either: no pinned ears or tucked tail. He just wouldn’t be around the kids. This didn’t seem like a huge issue, in and of itself.
Then the territorial peeing started.
Axel had always been perfectly house-trained. Greyhounds, who are used to being crated and kept on a strict schedule, usually come that way. I could count the number of his accidents on one hand and chalk them up to illness. Suddenly, every day, he was peeing in the house. Specifically, in the kids’ room, on the floor right next to their bed. Every. Day. Sometimes multiple times. I started looking on the internet. I realized it was a sign of aggression.
Oh, shit, I thought.
See, our rescue has a strict policy, and so do we: a dog that bites is destroyed. Period. Argue with it all you want, say we’re wrong, but there it is. If Axel bit one of the kids, not only would we have to worry about the damage to our child, but Axel would be put to sleep. In tears, I told my husband we needed to find my beloved greyhound, the dog I rescued, a new home.
We had to give our dog away. Before he hurt one of our boys. They were getting bigger, and we couldn’t take the risk. Wouldn’t take it. And Axel was clearly unhappy — he wasn’t getting the attention he got before, since he was never around anymore. He clearly wanted to be the center of attention, not third-best. So we called our rescue and explained the situation. They sent someone to pick him up, someone we knew and trusted. I packed him his special coat, the one he loved that made him look like a dog supervillain. I packed the muzzle he came off the track with, his bowl, his favorite toys. I cried and cried and cried and hugged him. We went out to the driveway to wave goodbye.
And just like that, I gave a dog away.
I found one of his old tags in the garden a few weeks ago. He loved to try to tear them off, and this one was half-buried in the soil, but still shiny with his name, our address. I wiped it off, set it on my potting bench, and wept. My husband keeps another one of his tags as a keychain. We miss Axel terribly. We loved him. We broke our promise, and we know it.
All the training in the world wouldn’t have made him love the kids. It wouldn’t have let me trust him with them: not the way I trust our three dogs now. I could never have turned my back on Axel, not ever. I couldn’t have lived like that, and I couldn’t have asked a dog to, either, not one so clearly unhappy.
But you can’t always predict life. Axel was the perfect dog for a doting couple with no children. He was not meant to live with with screaming toddlers who took up too much attention. In the end, he was rehomed to an older couple with no kids. I hear they have a beach house, and he gets to visit it often. They know his favorite snack is crab legs. He still has his beloved supervillain coat. This makes me happy.
But he doesn’t have me. Because it turns out, we are the type of people who will give a dog away. We would only do it to protect our kids. But we would do it, nonetheless. We did it. We would do it again.
Six years and another kid later, I still miss Axel. I always will. But we made the right choice for us. And I know, deep down, it was the right choice for him, too.
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