Almost 6 years ago now, Andy and I started talking about dogs. I was born an animal lover and we were far enough along in our relationship that we thought it would be fun to add a member to our clan. We went back and forth about breeds, agreeing that we needed one small enough for plane travel and we didn’t want fluffy. Being left with fairly few options, we stumbled upon the lovable French Bulldog. They were everything we wanted: compact, adorable, goofy and lazy. Perhaps the most desirable trait after all of our research was “good with children.” At this point in our relationship, we knew marriage and children would be in our near future and we needed a pup that could hang with all of those changes. As we were strolling through a mall in Santa Cruz I saw the most adorable blue (greyish colored) French Bulldog strutting around. After a few dozen pets and tummy rubs, I asked his owner what breeder he was from. I jumped onto the Dallas-based breeders’ website and right on the front page was a new litter of blue Frenchies. The second little boy of the bunch instantly stole my heart. It was like I already knew he was my dog. After getting the “hell yes” from Andy, we called the breeder and asked her all the usual questions. Shortly after, that little boy, who we named “Titan” (Andy had just been signed to the Tennessee Titans) was ours.
I can still remember exactly what he looked like, felt like, and smelled like on the day I held him for the first time. He was so adorable, I couldn’t believe this little bunny-looking pup was mine. The weeks after were filled with learning curves and middle-of-the-night potty trips but I couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy. I loved being a dog mom so much that only a few months later we start talking about fur baby number 2. Titan had been a breeze so far and I was a stay-at-home girlfriend living in a new city, so I was plenty capable of caring for another dog….so I thought. A few days before Christmas, Andy surprised me with Olive. The little black, tan & white Frenchie who has been raising hell from the moment she entered our home. She was so adorable but, unlike Titan who barely ever barked, she was loud from the get go. For a while Titan and Olive were great pals. They loved to snuggle each other and us, never fought and made a great pair. We discovered quickly that Olive didn’t like other dogs….or new people….or anything that moved, really. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, but it did take a toll on Titan. Our sweet little boy started becoming territorial, fearful and downright scary sometimes. Both of them were always great to us but new people, dogs, or kids (all of which they had been socialized with since a very young age) were another story.
We had tried a couple of positive-reinforcement trainers in our area that didn’t seem to help much. When we went out to Buffalo to plan our wedding, we got a lot of recommendations for a particular training facility in the city. They used electric collars which immediately turned me off but we were getting desperate and decided to give it a try. They seemed to pick up some skills but the instinctual fear reaction to other dogs and humans never faded. When we left for 5 days for our bachelor/bachelorette trip, we decided to try a drop-off camp as a last-ditch effort. It was one of the biggest mistakes I have EVER made. After our dogs came home, they started fighting. It started with small scuffles over the food bowl but turned into all out brawls. It got to the point where both of them lost a tooth from fighting. We tried EVERYTHING to fix them. I mean that. Over the course of the following years our dogs have tried:
-A highly regarded behavioralist
-7 anxiety medications
-6 calming supplements
And, yes, even 2 “pet psychics”.
When I say I love my dogs, I mean I REALLY love my dogs. I have invested SO much time and energy into these pups that parents used to tell me the two of them were harder than having children. When it came time for Andy and I to start a family, we enrolled all the big guns to prepare the dogs. We got specialized trainers, we let them spend lots of time around my belly, we brought them to public places where they could watch children, we bought dolls that made baby noises, we played babies screaming and crying on our phone, we set up all of the baby gear early so they could get used to it & brought the baby blanket home for them to smell before Lily ever came inside. I can’t say we weren’t concerned. We knew there was potential for them to not get along with the baby but we had a lot of hope knowing that the dogs were very loyal to people they knew and eventually got along great with everyone after a while. We were reassured by vets and trainers that our dogs would probably be fine and they would realize soon that the baby was part of the pack. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
The day we brought Lily home to our tiny apartment in Atlanta, we were well aware of taking it slow. We let the dogs smell her stuff, eventually her toes and let them watch her from a safe distance. They did just fine. At night, the dogs jumped in bed with us as they always do and we swaddled Lily up and put her in a tall bassinet next to me. We didn’t know it at the time, but Lily did not like being swaddled. Shortly after we put her down, she started flailing trying to get out of the blanket and before we could fix it, Titan lunged at the side of the bassinet. I was stunned. Absolutely shell shocked and terrified. He wouldn’t have been able to actually get at her from the way we had set her up (on purpose) but it was enough for me to sleep in the other room with her. That’s how it went for 3 straight months, Andy in bed with the dogs and me on the couch with my newborn. When we got back to our house in California, our dogs weren’t allowed on the furniture, so I was finally able to start sleeping with my husband again. The dogs did fine during the day. There was never another lunging incident but I was always on high alert because something just didn’t seem right with Titan. Olive really took to Lily. She was patient and sweet and for the most part she just ignored her. Titan on the other hand was very curious and had a look in his eyes that really frightened me.
It wasn’t until Lily started moving that the lunging started again. People always say to me that Titan was jealous, but that wasn’t it. He was TERRIFIED of her. He didn’t understand this little being and the noises and movements she made, despite being exposed to it before she was born. It got to the point after Lily was mobile that either he or Lily would have to be behind a baby gate at all times. We had to set up a special fenced in play area for Lily and gate off all of the rooms in the house so she could be safe from him. He would snuggle near my feet when we were on the couch and always be close to us, but how can you really socialize a dog with a baby when you have witnessed him be aggressive toward her? By 6 months, we had training visits, pills and supplements happening around the clock. We even tried a muzzle. It worked for a few days and he was doing alright and then one day he jumped up on her and almost knocked her over (this was closely supervised & in a cushioned area- I would never put my child or dog at serious risk). It was becoming more and more clear that in lieu of a miracle, Titan was never going to get along with Lily. I cried. A lot. On top of having pretty severe postpartum depression, a colicky daughter and a husband who was gone all the time, I was about to face losing the first little boy I ever loved.
When we started to realize that our only option to keep Lily safe may be rehoming Titan, we started to think: Who would take him? Would he ever be okay without us? He’s aggressive, hates new people, needs very expensive allergy medication, is allergic to almost everything, has an expensive diet & can’t be around other dogs or babies. I mean, really? As beautiful as Titan is, who could handle that? After some soul searching we reached out to Andy’s mom and her husband to see if they would consider taking him on if we needed it. They agreed and told us they would wait to hear from us. After an entire year of keeping my dogs separate from my child, Lily started to walk. I knew it was going to be impossible to protect her from him once she could really get around. I am pretty sure I cried almost every day for months. I literally couldn’t go a couple of minutes without thinking that I am probably going to have to part with my little boy. After we got back to California for the off-season, I started training Andy’s mom and step-dad how to care for him. It was a slow process over a month. It was hard…on everyone. He didn’t know what was happening, I was distraught and Andy’s parents didn’t realize how much work he would be. Before I left town to head back to Atlanta for Andy’s spring training, it seemed clear that this may not work out. He was having a hard time adjusting and getting along with Andy’s step dad. They were really trying and I’m eternally grateful to them but I was constantly terrified of getting a phone call from them telling me that they couldn’t do it anymore. When we got back in town almost 3 months later, that is exactly what happened. Panicked, I ran into the other room sobbing yelling to Andy that we were going to have to put Titan down. As fate would have it, Andy’s dad was there and offered to take him. His dad he lives up in the mountains with no fenced in yard, 2 dogs that run off-leash next door, and is always working, but we knew this may be Titan’s last shot.
I was right in the middle of my morning-sickness ridden first trimester with Maverick when I had to pack up my dog and attempt to transition him to yet another home in just 3 short months. Andy’s dad was gracious and listened to all of my concerns and spent time learning Titan and his habits. Titan was not a fan of the transition at first and I know he took it hard. The great thing about my father-in-law is, he is patient and can deal with all of Titan’s quirks. He also doesn’t take things too seriously. I begged him to keep Titan away from other dogs and within a few weeks Titan was becoming friends with the dogs next door. I told him to not take Titan out without a leash and before we left town he was pottying in the backyard leash-free. All of this terrified me but I also began to think that maybe this is what Titan needed. Maybe he needs a total change of pace, a different attitude, a different approach. I knew one thing for sure, I couldn’t spend another night crying or having breathless panic attacks trying to figure this all out. Having a second baby growing inside of me meant it was time to start to let go.
Titan is still my dog. I think about him every day, we FaceTime, I schedule his vet appointments, I pick up his allergy vaccines, I buy his food and his treats and make all of his medical decisions. Once I’m living in California full-time, which will likely be pretty soon, I plan on visiting him often: taking him for walks, on drives and to most of his appointments. It is all I can do at this point. I still feel guilty all the time and I still cry. I miss him like crazy and I still wonder if there is anything I can do to bring him back. One thing that gives me peace, though, is how much Lily blossomed after she was finally able to be free. Within a month of Titan moving, Lily had been making strides like we had never seen. She was free to explore more of the house and we could take a breath knowing she wouldn’t be in danger of being attacked. Olive and Lily are wonderful together, they are sweet and respectful of each other’s space. I know Olive misses Titan a lot but even she started to transform once he was away. She used to be fearful of eating her food or sitting in the kitchen waiting for scraps but now she walks with more freedom. She still is a wild, yappy dog but we are able to calm her so much faster now.
I don’t think I will ever get over this. Titan and I have a bond that is really unique and special. He never left my side and I never wanted him to. We slept snuggled-up together almost every night and he was the one that taught me how to be a parent. I look back at a lot of the “what ifs” but I know none of that matters now. I was a first-time pet mom doing the best I could with a difficult situation. I’ve often wondered what I would have done if I knew that Titan wouldn’t have gotten along with our children. Would I have waited 5 or 6 more years until he passed away before I tried to get pregnant? I really don’t know the answer to that. All I can hope is that he has found happiness. I hope that he understands why this had to happen and that he still feels my love. I’ve been able to visit him several times since he’s been living with my father-in-law and he has been making incredible strides. All of his old triggers don’t bother him anymore, he has a nice little bed by the fire place, he goes potty well in the back yard without a leash, he plays with the dogs next door and he’s even getting along with my father-in-law’s girlfriend. I find a lot of peace knowing that he truly seems happy. I really think he was meant to be an only child.
We all know how adorable dogs and babies are together but I want parents to understand that it isn’t always smooches and snuggles. If you have a dog and are thinking about having children or if you already do, I urge you to be cautious. I have heard horror stories from responsible pet owners who had well-behaved, non-aggressive dogs who have attacked their children after YEARS of getting along. I am one of the biggest animal lovers you will ever meet but I have been forced to face reality that dogs are still animals and even the sweetest pups can react aggressively to something that scares them. Take the time to prepare your dogs for the arrival of your child and NEVER leave them alone together. If you need any advice or you have a story of your own, please feel free to reach out to me. I know this is not an uncommon issue and it’s important that other parents know they are not alone!