People come before animals. That’s why I took our dog Tiberius to the vet to be put to sleep this week. He would have been a year and a half old in a few weeks. With all the things he’s chewed up, the messes he’s made – I didn’t expect it would be so hard, but I was wrong.
We had lived in our home in Sidney – the first home we’ve ever owned – for about eight months when we bought Tiberius. It was December. He was going to be the big Christmas present for our children. Splendid brindle markings and big paws, he was an adorable and affectionate puppy and he grew quickly. We absolutely adored him.
Soon he was standing at my hip. His mother was a Cane Corso, his father a Rottweiler – one weighed in at 110 and the other at 140, though I can’t remember anymore which was which. We knew from his parents’ size Tiberius would grow up to be a big dog. That’s why we were interested in him.
The town of Sidney, Montana is on the edge of the Bakken oilfield. When we moved here from the countryside north of Glendive at the request of my employer back in April of 2014, Lauren and I had our reservations. A big guard dog was very appealing given the expectations of a higher crime rate that come with moving to an oilfield boomtown like Sidney.
Everyone was very impressed with our Tiberius as he grew. He was sturdy and energetic and kept up well with our boys. It wasn’t long before he matched them pound for pound. Not only were we not worried about him being hurt by them with all their exuberance and activity, it was the dog’s clumsiness and size that soon was leading to spills and wipeouts of the children, and very nearly of Lauren and I too as he would run by our legs and almost take them out from under us as he slid.
That was concerning, especially when Lauren was pregnant and we had five little children running around, but we tried to accommodate the dog’s clumsiness and energy and give him time to grow out of his youthful enthusiasm and awkwardness.
As he grew he took a liking to eating toys and shoes and utensils, like all dogs do. He ate the cushions off our couches, which was pretty frustrating. Then when we bought replacement pillows for the cushions he’d eaten, he ate those too. He even chewed up my favorite ball cap! But we bought him chew toys and cow bones and I tried to give him exercise with tennis balls and walks in the park.
Why Our Dog Had To Be Put To Sleep
This past Tuesday Lauren came home from Tractor Supply Company with another big bag of dog food and several more cow bones for Tiberius to feed his habit in a less destructive way. I quickly unwrapped one of the bones and gave it to him in his cage. But he got out and took his bone to the living room.
As I stood unpacking a box that had just arrived in the mail, Tiberius eyed me warily and looked very tense. Knowing he might growl at one of us if we accidentally got too close, not wanting an unnecessary scare or accident with one of the kids or Lauren, I told him in my best authoritative voice that he’d better calm down, then took hold of his collar from behind to lead him to his crate, after which I planned to bring him his bone and let him enjoy it there in privacy.
But that’s when he snapped. Snarling, he lunged up and twisted his head around as he clamped his jaws around the forearm of my hand holding his collar. Rather than jerking my arm away, I shoved it at him and put him down on the floor, laying my body on top of his body. After half a minute like that, my hopes that he would calm down were disappointed as he continued snarling. I stood and dragged him to his cage, twisting his collar hard as I went to keep him from being able to jump back up at me again. Once inside his cage he continued growling at me for another minute or so.
He violated my zero tolerance policy.
This was the final straw. Yes, he had chewed up a lot of things he wasn’t supposed to. He had been clumsy and knocked us down many times excitedly getting underfoot. He had barked at guests when we put him in his cage. All these things we had endured and tried to work through. A time or two as of late he had growled at Lauren or the kids when he was chewing on something they were trying to get away from him, but Lauren and I had tried to make very clear to Tiberius how unacceptable that was and that we wouldn’t tolerate it. Yet Tiberius had never shown this kind of aggression before, outright attacking any of us, much-less me.
Calling Lauren downstairs, I showed her my arm where our dog’s teeth had broken the skin and explained what had just happened. Still shaking, I shook my head and told her Tiberius just had to go. There were no two ways about it. We cannot keep a dog who’s liable to show that kind of aggression towards Lauren or one of our young kids, especially while I’m away at work. That I will not tolerate.
The whole purpose for which we had bought him to begin with was only secondarily companionship, primarily protection. Continuing to own him just didn’t make sense if the likelihood of him hurting Lauren or our children was greater than the chance of him protecting them from an intruder.
Though like all good dog owners we wanted Tiberius to be a part of the family, we are not the sort who regard our dogs as if they are our children. We have real children, six of them – Josiah, Elihu, Solomon, Daniel, Evelyn, and Enoch. Each is created in the image of God with inherent dignity and worth far greater than that of even the most cherished pet, even my dog Tiberius. My first responsibility is as a father and a husband to protect my children and my wife, even if that means protecting them from the family dog.
So I went down to my office in the basement and closed the door. I called the local vet and explained what had happened, how the dog had bit me and I didn’t feel we could keep him anymore, and I asked for advice. I had browsed the Facebook page for the veterinarian’s office before calling them and noticed that they rehome dogs with some regularity. But as I spoke with the veterinarian’s office, the question occurred to me: Could I really send our dog someone else without worrying about him hurting them like I was concerned he might hurt my family? Could I endure the thought of a stranger being hurt? The answer was a resounding no. I couldn’t – not in good conscience anyway. Yes, of course I would tell anyone interested in taking Tiberius that he had bit me and that was why we were getting rid of him, but that just wasn’t enough.
With a heavy heart, I got off the phone and went back upstairs from my office to tell Lauren the appointment to put Tiberius to sleep was scheduled.
Our boys took it fairly well for the most part. Eli burst into tears and the others were obviously sad, but they seemed to understand as I explained that this wasn’t something I wanted to do. This was something I had to do. The thought of their mother or one of them being hurt if he snapped at them was unacceptable to me. Tiberius had just shown an intolerable level of aggression with me – the one person if anyone he should’ve seen as the dominant alpha male – and he would be even less restrained with one of them.
I had to make the hard decision.
So I took Tiberius to the vet. He whimpered on the way, almost as if he knew what was coming. Though I was sad, it hadn’t really struck me how much so until they took him from me and led him away. I stood there in the lobby for a few seconds not sure what to do as I watched him being led away. Then I turned to the receptionist and asked if that was it. She nodded sadly to me and said she was sorry. As I turned to walk away, I broke down.
You can ask Lauren and she’ll tell you: I’m not much for crying. She’ll probably tell you she can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve out and out cried in front of her in over a decade of our being together. But as I drove home on that cloudy February day, I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept.
On the one hand I felt silly. Why was I crying over a dog? He was just an animal, and one that had just attacked and bit me at that. Yet he was my animal, he was our animal. He was our family pet.
My mind was swirling with doubts and questions: Had I not trained him well enough? Had I not spent enough time playing with him or exercising him? Had we made a mistake ever getting his breed of dog to begin with? Or was it my fault he had snapped and went after me that day? I felt I had failed my family and failed our family dog.
But all of that was beside the point now. As much as it pained me to do it, saving our dog’s life was not worth risking the safety of a human being, especially that of my wife or children.
People come before animals.
In the book of Genesis, we read the earliest history of humanity. On the sixth day, last but not least among the things and creatures He made, God created man.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
While it may shock the sensibilities of “animal rights” activists, human beings are not just another animal, and there is not a parity between the life of a human being and the life of an animal – even when that animal is the family dog and you feel very sentimental about it. Instead, God made mankind to have dominion – literally “sovereignty and control” – over the Earth and all the animals. In the timeline of creation, God made humanity after he made the other animals. In order of importance and value and authority, however, people come before animals.
In the Old Testament, the law was very clear.
“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.”
That is to say, according to God’s Word, when you own an animal who has shown itself to be aggressive towards people and you don’t take appropriate action to protect them from your animal, you are directly responsible if someone gets hurt.
If we had kept Tiberius and he had hurt Lauren or the kids or someone who was a guest in our home, it would not just be that I felt responsible; I would, in the eyes of God Almighty, be personally responsible.
All of that is to say that the decision was made quickly this past Tuesday, but it wasn’t made lightly. Even though I knew what needed to be done, it still pained me to do it. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m still broken-hearted about it. Maybe I should be and maybe I shouldn’t, but I am.
At the end of the day, what’s done is done. I don’t see us getting another pet anytime soon. If and when we do get another dog, it’ll be a much more careful decision what dog to get and how to train him.
But then these things do happen. Animals are not people, and that’s the point. When we forget that, bad things happen. You can’t put people before animals, and you cannot kid yourself that animals are people because they just aren’t.