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By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
Below is an email I received from a saddened dog owner who went the extra mile in trying to solve a fear/aggression problem in an adopted dog. This case had an unfortunate conclusion for the dog. However, the family's decision to euthanize the dog most certainly avoided what was certain, inevitable injury to a family member or neighbor.
My personal feeling is that when faced with certain harm to a human or euthanasia for a pet... the human health and safety considerations take precedence. It is a "no win" situation for the family and the dog; but living in constant fear of injury from an unprovoked and unpredictable attack by an animal truly diminishes anyone's quality of life.
Dear Dr. Dunn,
Our family recently went through a horrible experience with a Siberian Husky that we purchased. The long and short of it is when the puppy was 7 months old she attacked me unprovoked. We took her to the vet to have her checked... physically she was ok and the veterinarian recommended a behavior specialist.
We paid a lot of money for her services, which were very professional, and I believe she tried as hard as we did with the dog. We had the puppy spayed and 4 days later the dog went completely crazy, attacking me, my son, and husband over a few hour span. We got her calmed down and took her to the vet. They recommended euthanasia for her and we had to agree. Over two months she "attacked" us four times, not to mention all the growling, etc. episodes. I just saw your article about this Aggressive Behavior.
I felt like you wrote it for ME!!!
I have a question though. I guess am still suffering from guilt and missing her. The vet said that expensive brain scans and tests really wouldn't be worth it since in such a young dog of 10 months of age it would be highly improbable that structural changes would show up. Being distraught at the time and knowing the outcome wouldn't change what we needed to do, we agreed not to test the brain. What are the congenital or inherited traits and could they be definitely diagnosed in a puppy that young? I appreciate your help. Great website.
Thank you, Mary Ann B.
You and your family surely went farther than most in trying to understand and correct the dog's behavioral problems. Your question regarding having the brain checked is understandable, too, but I would concur with your veterinarian that the chances that the dog's behavior would have physical signs detectable via autopsy, MRI or CT Scan are almost zero.
Some dogs, and humans, too, simply have inappropriate reactions to their environment. Think of it as schizophrenia in humans where no amount of counseling or "understanding compassion" will change what the patient perceives as reality. Your dog was acting in a manner that the dog thought was appropriate for a perceived threat ... even though no threat existed; to the dog there was a real threat and an equally real and dangerous response. Don't fight or try to deny the sadness and dismay at the final outcome... it is perfectly natural to feel how you are feeling. But take pride that you were strong enough to make the only decision that a rational human can make in the light of the potential serious and permanent harm the dog could have caused. The fact is that in these situations human welfare must take priority over the dog's when there are no more options.
You also might like to read one of my other articles, entitled A Leter From Annie.
And take solace in the fact that you have averted an eventual tragic injury that certainly would have occurred.