Nine years ago, a dog saved my life. I was 20 and barely a year after my dad’s death, I walked into one of those places where you bottle your own wine, and I met a cocker spaniel puppy. Turns out the store’s owner was also a dog breeder. I walked in and someone put a red and white spaniel in my arms. She had freckles all over her nose. And just like that, she was mine. I named her Ginny, after the feisty red-head in the Harry Potter series.
Suddenly, I had a reason to wake up in the morning instead of sleeping until noon. I had someone who depended on me — for everything. I had a routine, and so much more to do with my life than grieve. She brought me back to life.
Life, as it does, moved us on. When Ginny was two, I fell in love, and suddenly she had a new Daddy, and they slowly adopted each other. When she was four, she started having her first health issues. Pure bred cocker spaniels are prone to all sorts of medical issues, and Ginny was no exception — she suffered from skin irritations, cysts, ear infections, and eye infections. You name it, we had a vet visit and a medication for it. We did it gladly, because she was our baby.
Ginny, was not, however, perfect. She was prone to outbursts. The vet educated us on cocker rage — a well known phenomena where cocker spaniels were prone to aggressive outburst for no apparent reason. We didn’t want to believe this could be our Ginny. We watched her closely, but we made excuses because we loved her.
I got pregnant when Ginny was six. Knowing everything we knew about Ginny, we worried. We worried our child would be born with allergies or develop fears. We worried Ginny’s barking would wake the baby. Most of all, we feared Ginny would be jealous and, worse, aggressive.
Ginny and I enjoyed a beautiful year on maternity leave together. I had to go off work before the birth due to an iron deficiency, and Ginny curled up with my tummy and felt the baby kicking. When Addie was born, Ginny would lay next to us during feedings, and walked nicely with the stroller.
It was around the time that Addie started to crawl that Ginny pulled away from her. She backed away, cringing from fur pulling, eye poking, delighted screaming … but Addie was not deterred. Addie delighted in Ginny, and really, in all dogs. “Puppy” was her third word. Ginny was her tenth. As we went on, I was more optimistic that everything would be okay.
That was until three days ago, when Ginny was laying on the couch, with her daddy and Addie scratching her belly, when suddenly, she lunged.
She snapped at Addie. Once, twice, and on the third time, she connected. She grabbed hold of her arm and her neck and she held her tight. Her dad hit her to make her release. Ginny drew blood from my little girl. And that was it. That was the end of our family of four — it was over in a heart beat. All because of everything I’d ever excused away with wishful thinking. But the thinking wasn’t wishful anymore. Every thought was more painful than the one before it: What have I done? This is all my fault. I failed them both. What could I have done differently? It could have been so much worse. What might have happened instead?
Addie is fine now. She still has the small scab on her neck, and I feel sick every time I look at it. Every so often, she stops short and she says, “Ginny bit me,” and she starts to cry. The marks this situation left on her are so much more than skin-deep. At least, it seems, she wasn’t left with a fear of dogs. She spent Easter dinner playing with my sister’s dog, laughing and smiling. And I must tell myself — over and over — she is fine, she will be fine.
Tomorrow, my Ginny is being re-homed. She’s going to live with my mother, where she’ll live in a beach town on Vancouver Island, enjoying the salty air, getting homemade treats, and most importantly, living in a home with no children. We’re so incredibly lucky to have this option, because there are no other options left for our Ginny other than this one. She will be safe, she will be happy, she will be loved. She saved my life once; it’s time that I save hers.
I know that. I know it all, and I repeat that to myself 20 times a day. But it doesn’t stop it from hurting. It doesn’t stop the guilt from flooding in every time I have a picture of Addie and Ginny together come up in my social media memories, and I remember a time when I really believed it could work. I miss those days.
So tomorrow, will be the first day of our new normal. Being a parent is about making sacrifices. And I’ll make this one for my girls. Addie will go to daycare, and my mom will drive home with my Ginny. Tomorrow, Addie will smile, laugh, and play. Ginny will run, wag and eat. Both my girls will be happy. And slowly, I will be happy again too.