First, You Take Care of Everyone Else

This is a sad story. It’s personal. I debated the selfishness of writing about it. One friend warned me against writing when the feelings are “raw”. So, I’m writing this with a glass of wine by my side.

My Golden Retriever Killed Our New Puppy

For the rest of my life, I will live with this. Worse yet, so do three 18 year olds and one 15 year old who were there when it happened. My husband Eric, who held our dying puppy in his arms during the race to the Animal Hospital, will be haunted by the memory.

It started two years ago, when a friend got two Shitzu puppies. My eldest son, Stefan, was completely absorbed by these two tiny creatures. We began to research small dogs. And for two years, we continued our practice of socializing our male Golden Retriever, Dakota, with the idea that we might add another pet to the household.

Dakota, a full-bred registered 5 year old Golden, showed odd signs of being mean as a puppy. I got no sympathy from anyone I spoke with about it. It was my “fault” they said, or some said the breed itself has a growing bad reputation for biting. He bit my daughter. Not badly. But with the help of a friend who is a dog trainer and lots of research, we kept him and worked with him.

He gets seizures about every other month. He’s scared to death of fireworks, sounds from my camera, any Vet, guns, cars with booming radios and thunderstorms. We got him because I work from home and a week after moving to this house, someone came to rob us when I was here. Everyone laughed when we got a Golden Retriever as a watch dog. They said he would be too gentle.

The UPS man told me the top dog on their “be afraid of” list are Golden Retrievers. In time, we learned that Dakota took his role as my protector seriously. Then, he began to guard the kids. Recently, when a neighbor  dog came charging towards me, Dakota thrust his body in front of mine and barked to defend me. He’s done the same for our 10 year old.

He also growls, shows teeth, sent my daughter’s boyfriend to the ER with a mighty bite attack this past summer, growls a warning and then tries to bite any Vet, even with a muzzle on, and shows defiant behavior, such as refusing to go downstairs while we eat. We have 3 cats, who he growls at if they walk near him if he has food but he’s never tried to hurt them. I can pet him while he eats but we know to never try and take food away from him once he has it. When retrieving, he will (with some playful resistance) give up his prize.

We Got Winnie

It’s true what they say. If you don’t want a dog that is underfoot every moment, don’t get a Golden. I’m “alpha dog” but he respects every person in his “pack”. He can’t stand being alone.  He’s been the most gentle with children. He’s been taken to baseball and football games and practices his whole life and adores being the center of attraction. He loves little hands and sits still forever for any child who wants to meet him. I hold him tightly, regardless.

My daughter’s boyfriend, Jason, works for a local family owned pet store business. We know the family. It’s where we got Dakota. For me, paying money for a dog and going purebred was always a conflict. I grew up on horse farms surrounded by animals. I was a Vet Tech for years at two different Animal Hospitals. Every cat we’ve taken in is a rescue. So here we were again, considering a new puppy.

On many occasions and even as recently as two weeks ago, my daughter Arielle and Jason took Dakota to the store to get used to all kinds of dogs in different sizes. He was given many chances to be exposed to different scents, shapes, sounds and colors. Everyone in the store came to know him. He was well behaved and loving to any dog they presented to him. He let puppies romp all over him. He showed signs of looking forward to the next visits.

I love animals. I’ve trained horses to jump.  I’ve never been too challenged by any pet as I’ve been with the Golden, however. The hope was that another dog would be a companion for Dakota and help calm him because his constant anxiety with noises seemed to be getting worse. And, we had simply wanted another dog (insane really.)

Eric and I went to the pet store last weekend to buy crickets for a little frog he had rescued from our pool and to daydream about getting a larger fish aquarium. While there, I did my usual stop to look at the pups. Jason was on duty. An hour later, Eric and I had connected to a 10-week old Lhasa-Poo (Mix of Lhasa Apso and Miniature Poodle) with a white body and cream colored ears. We put a deposit on her. I stayed up all night looking for baby names and researching the mixed breed information. This mixed breed was exceptionally rated by all owners.

Eric named her Winnie (Winnie, the Lhasa Poo). The kids were thrilled to meet her Sunday night. Dakota and the cats were shockingly wonderful. All day on Monday I worked here at home and began the housebreaking regimen for Winnie. Dakota acted like a patient and tolerant uncle. They went outside together every time, with me always with Winnie and Dakota not caring at all. He continued to roll around in the grass as he always does and even let Winnie pounce on him as much as she wanted to. Winnie always followed me and I was always on guard for her.

They shared me all day. I never left Winnie’s side and never intended to. She was easy to pick up and take with me anywhere. Arielle came and went from college classes all day and played with Winnie. We both kept reassuring all the other pets that we still loved them. In fact, I went out of my way to let Dakota know he was in no way being replaced.

Tragedy

It was a hectic evening. The neighbors, who have 3 dogs, met Winnie and were smart enough to keep playing with Dakota, who they love. The mom who drops off Stefan after football practice met Winnie and stayed to chat. One of Arielle’s friends, Annette, came for dinner and so did Jason. Our 10 year step-son didn’t know about Winnie. He was to meet her tonight on his “visit” night with Eric.

We don’t have a giant house. It’s a humble home, with a quaint kitchen that fills up rapidly with kids and pets, and is typically filled with laughter on any given day. I was clearing away dishes and Dakota was begging for handouts. He’s not allowed to do that but he always begs and can be obnoxious. He should have been downstairs in the family room but in all the chaos, he remained. Someone suddenly put a plate with a piece of broccoli on the floor and I realized instantly that I needed to act.

In the seconds that followed, Dakota went for the broccoli, Winnie cheerfully bounced towards him to see what he was doing, I hesitated because he typically will give a warning growl and I hoped he would do that, to teach her. Then, I second guessed that thought, chose to intervene and as I bent to reach out for Winnie, Dakota suddenly grabbed her and threw her behind him. I leaped over his frame and scooped her up in my hands.

Her head was bent backwards (we now believe in shock), with my middle fingers supporting her neck. I saw where a tooth had gone into her head, she was bleeding and at first quiet. In the hysterics that followed, I started yelling orders.

“Take Winnie!”

“Get car!”

“Put Coda in his crate”

I heard Eric yelling for towels to help stop the bleeding. I ran downstairs into my office to call the Vet because it was quieter there and I wanted to be able to think. Arielle was screaming. The driveway was packed with kids’ cars, so Annette drove to the Vet’s first with Eric cradling Winnie. Jason drove Arielle behind them. Stefan stayed with me while I finished the call to the Vet, grabbed money (I actually thought of the money then), closed doors, and then raced the 10 minute drive to the Vet with Stefan.

I knew she was dying. I also knew that the Vets would care for her the same as any human patient in any ER. My vet tech background kept me sane.

Winnie’s folder with her records had been in the kitchen and Jason remembered to grab it. When we arrived at the Vet’s office, my family was in shock and tears in the waiting room. Another family was there, who had just lost a pet and they too were in tears. Other regulars were there, wishing they weren’t. I studied all the vet employees for signs of Winnie’s situation because I remembered how it was. I never knew any vet tech who didn’t want to cry at every loss of a pet.

They finally called “The Berg party” into a special waiting room next to where Winnie was being cared for. We could watch from a window but they let me and Eric in to see her first. I hadn’t cried yet but everyone else had been. I was familiar with the people working on Winnie. They had let me nurse my first cat at home, with an IV drip, so she could pass quietly at home with me and the kids.  That was in 1997 when I was a single mom and only Arielle remembers that cat.

Tiny Winnie’s eyes were fixed, unfocused and not moving. She was moments from death when she arrived from blood loss but they brought her back. What we saw was a critically ill puppy on life support. Her skull was swollen. To learn if it was crushed, we would need to transport her to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in our car, that night, an hour away. She whimpered at every touch. She could hear us. But they said she was in a coma and a call to the University confirmed her chances were slim. Eric and I felt she would die in our arms during transport.

I opted for a blood transfusion for her. It was an option; to see if would help her. Her organs were functioning. There was an ever so slight chance we’d have a brain damaged dog if she survived. And then she began to cry. With every breath, she cried.

Eric and I agreed to let her go and we sat with the kids. Annette is strong and I was glad she was there for Arielle. Jason is an animal fanatic and was taking this very hard. Stefan, my strong and fearless sports guy, crumbled. I led him in to see Winnie and answered his questions. Each of the kids had the chance to see her and say goodbye if they wished to. They all left finally and Eric and I stayed.

Winnie’s vitals improved with the blood transfusion but you only had to see her to know she was in God’s worlds already and it was us who couldn’t bear to say goodbye. By the time they put her into the ICU chamber for the night, where a Tech would be with her all night, she was quiet. I was able stroke her tiny ears and look into her eyes for many precious minutes. Her little cries are something I’ll never forget.

An hour after Eric and I got home, I took the call. Our Vet spoke to me and said, “Our little girl is gone.” His voice broke. I told the family.

I still hadn’t cried.

Winnie’s Tree

I have my wine. I Twittered last night and found a few folks there that I could hang onto for a time. I debated reaching out to anyone on the Internet. How fair is it to grieve online? I reached out to the infamous “Backroom” of Cre8asiteforums, where the Moderating staff are like family and every one cares. How fair is it to tell bad news? What right do I have to bring anyone down?

The employees at the store where we bought Winnie learned about the situation last night and were all in tears. They were so happy she was going to a home with people they knew and a dog they knew and liked was to be her house mate. I doubt I can ever face them.

Two people from the Vet’s office have offered support today as well. It’s agreed that Dakota never intended to hurt her. His anxieties and fears make him aggressive, plus the food issues. Every professional person I’ve spoken with says he can be saved.

But first, I drink my wine and chat with good friends in Google Talk who are checking in. I thought, after the house emptied out, that I would stay in bed and shut out the world. But, each time I lie down, my mind is filled with images of Winnie alive or dying. Take your pick. They don’t stop. So I got a shower and finally let myself cry.

Why?

Why did I hesitate to grab her? Why was I doing 150 things at once so that the “Put Coda downstairs” suggestion didn’t kick in? The kids were all glued to Winnie and it was my job to be responsible while their brains were in kid-land.

Why did we have this amazing puppy for 24 hours? She was extremely smart, very brave (not afraid of the cats at all, or any ball twice her size) and totally devoted to us humans. If she teethed on our toes, she was content to go with the substitute toy instead. And, she’d carry it around proudly. She had relaxed enough to eat. She slept curled at my feet in my office while I worked and when I worked upstairs with my laptop on the couch, she slept on my ankles. I have a list of 20 names for her, but Eric was sure she was “Winnie” and she seemed to like it.

What are the lessons here? Why did Winnie have to die? When will I not resent the Golden?

We leave to pick up her body in about 2 hours. Her grave has been dug. We have a planned little funeral for her tonight. Winnie will rest underneath our grandest tree, with a view of an open field and brand new baby trees. Arielle chose to plant mums over her grave because they bloom in the spring and fall. There is talk of a grave marker. I’m not ready for that.

The perfectionist in me will always grieve and question.

First, you take care of everyone else.

And you can still get it wrong.

Winnie Krause Berg




13 thoughts on “First, You Take Care of Everyone Else

  1. It’s really difficult to type with tears streaming down my cheeks, as I’m sure you experienced in writing this post. Anyone who has lost a pet can certainly empathize. A tragedy for whom no one is at fault – not Dakota and certainly not you, Kim. Intellectually, you already know that…it will take some time for your heart to catch up.

  2. I’ll be honest. I’ve spent the day trying hard to pretend that I didn’t know anything about this, because I couldn’t bear to think about it or speak to you about it. I’m one of those types of people, where in a movie, I’d rather see 100 people blown to bits, than 1 dog hurt his paw. I cry at the mere thought of a hurt animal, and I pretend the dead animals I see on the road are really just garbage bags, and not flesh. I have nightmares about these things, and can’t get it out of my head. So I tried to pretend this wasn’t happening to you, and that I didn’t know about it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you through this, but deep inside I was feeling your pain. I’m sorry you had to go through this. Very sorry. I want to make the visions disappear from your minds, but I can’t. Just know that even though I have to pretend otherwise, I know, and I care. I’m so sorry.

  3. So sorry to hear about this and what your family went through. I’d tell you that you didn’t do anything wrong and to stop beating yourself up, but I know that it probably wouldn’t help :(

  4. What Dazzlin said! I can’t stand it either. I am so so sorry this happened to you and your family. I too cringe when I see road kill. I try to pretend I didn’t see the dead animal.

    There is nothing anyone can say to take away the pain but that I could, I would.

    Thinking of you and Eric and the kids.
    Love

  5. I am so very sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing – it must have been very hard to write about. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  6. I’m so very sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you and your family will be able in time to enjoy the memories that Winnie brought. If your story helps just one person somewhere save their little puppy in time, then perhaps some good can come out of this very sad event. My thoughts go out to you and your family!

    Sincerely,

    Craig

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know the wondering why is going to consume your thoughts and I hope that you find some relief soon. You didn’t do anything wrong.

    I’m glad that you did share. Sometimes it helps to just get it all out. Hugs to you and your family.

  8. As someone embarking on reading Marley and Me and looking to get a dog soon, I can’t know what it is like to feel your pain and sense of loss. Keep your head up, so sorry to hear about this awful news.

    Send my well wishes to Stefan & the kids.

  9. It is a story that breaks my heart. I am so sorry for your loss –

    Forgive yourself – it was an unfortunate event – it’s so easy to beat yourself up with the “what ifs” You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. I’d like to thank everyone who sent their love and support. The week has been dreadfully sad for everyone. I’m still having trouble coping.

    So far, the consensus has been that the Golden acted on instinct. He still can’t figure where she is.

    Another thing is introducing a new puppy. We thought we did right by taking him to meet so many dogs and just seeing him around new pets but that wasn’t the same as having one in his house. That said, he was sleeping with her and letting her romp all over him. I don’t believe he meant to hurt her.

    A family member nailed it when she pointed out that we had trusted the Golden, based on what we knew about him and how he typically behaves. Now that trust is broken, and we all need professional help to go on, which is what we’re getting for the Golden. What we learn from that will help with this guilt, I hope.

    Thanks again. I’m always open to any and all advice on this.

  11. Two more things…cards are starting to come in. It’s incredible how caring some of you are. Thank you!

    And, I forgot to mention that since this happened, I’ve learned about training dogs around food. We had learned so many things and I had researched so much and still I didn’t know about giving food and taking it away as a training exercise.

    We’ll learn more but I’m hopeful this experience helps others and maybe saves lives.

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