The choice that had to be made with Sadie was devastating. She was always a handful, but in many ways that was part of her charm. She always ran with her head and tail up high and her attitude alone could have won her a championship. She was very high energy, extremely athletic, very devoted to us, and other than our Rottie, the smartest dog I have ever known. And good lord she was pretty-absolutely gorgeous.
Unlike the other mastiffs I have met, Sadie would run the acreage and stream at full-speed literally for hours at a time! She'd chase the softballs Sarah hit out for her and bring them back endlessly. I've never seen another mastiff do that, which is why I wanted to put her in agility. A mastiff in agility would have been unbelievable and she would have loved it. Unfortunately, her behavior would not allow that.
Sadie was always dominant in nature, as you can tell by the page you just read. As experienced owners, we didn’t consider this to be anything more than a challenge. She was enrolled in training classes by the time she was 8 weeks old, where she was voted the most improved (in good part because she finally learned how to “chill out” and not try and eat our hands off). She was taken out in public frequently and was a regular in my classroom with the students. She was allowed to run for hours every single day. She wasn’t penned, or kenneled, and she certainly wasn’t abused.
At about 10 or 11 months old, however, Sadie began showing the initial signs of aggression; she'd want to eat the tractor, or the chainsaw, or the vacuum (pretty much anything that moved or made noise). Because she was both smart and well-trained, we were able to get her to "quit", but you could see from her expression she absolutely did not want to. There were a few times I caught her chasing after a kid on a bike or someone walking along the property line. Again, she'd quit when you caught it, but only because I was there insisting. Fortunately, we had an underground fence.
At about a year, the aggression began to escalate. I had taken her to Soldan’s pet store to pick out some toys. Sadie tried to attack a huge Husky in the store and it was all I could do to drag her out of there, as she was on her back legs lunging with all her strength. A few months later, at a vet check, she tried to eat every animal in the waiting room. Again, it was all I could do to hold on to her. She couldn’t hear a word I was saying.
I began to see that when we’d come home from rides in the truck, she would growl at our other dogs from inside the cab when she saw them. Inside the house, she had begun to snap at Egor when he walked by her. She got into her first fight with Billie in June, leaving puncture wounds on Billie's ear and face.
At the first signs of aggression, I consulted with the trainers at her school. I consulted with our vet, hoping that there was a medical issue that was causing her behavior. Our vet suggested that perhaps she was just being territorial and that a good scolding would help. It didn't.
On July 12, 2007 I took Sophia, our 4 month old puppy, into the vet. She was not holding her head up right, she was losing weight, and she appeared injured. The vet suspected a neck or spinal chord injury. I had seen Sadie snap on the puppy 3 days before (it was the second time she had gone after the pup) but couldn’t imagine that causing this type of injury. She spent many days in the hospital. We had hoped she would recover, but her brain swelled. She was no longer able to regulate her body temperature and ended up in a coma with brain damage. On July 21st, I put her down.
10 days later, Sadie went after Billie, leaving multiple puncture wounds. If we hadn't been there to separate them, it is likely that Sadie would not have stopped there. It was clear, then, what had really happened to the pup. It was Sadie.
Aggression is not a mastiff trait, and the type of unbridled aggression Sadie was exhibiting wasn’t a normal trait for ANY dog. Maybe for an abused dog, or a dog penned up with no socialization or exercise, but that just wasn't the case with Sadie. She had a loose screw. And for a dog so perfect in every other way, that one loose screw undid it all.
I penned Sadie, which broke her heart, for several days while I consulted with 2 more vets and contacted several behavior and rescue professionals. I even visited the Dog Whisperer’s blog. Every time Sadie would catch a glimpse of Billie, she would attack the chain link fence.
Because she had drawn blood several times, the options were limited and all of them were dismal. I could pen her for life, which would have made her miserable. I could pull all her teeth, which would not insure against damage to other animals or people simply because of her strength, not to mention it would prevent her from defending herself if she needed to. I could turn her over to a no-kill shelter where perhaps they could have found a home, but that wouldn’t insure the safety of an adult or child in the area if she considered them her next target (and what if she ended up in the hands of someone unscrupulous, who would use that aggression for their own, sick reasons?) Or, I could put her down.
I contacted Sadie’s breeder here in Michigan. Thankfully, she responded promptly. She agreed, as did almost all of the professionals I had spoken to, that putting Sadie down was really the best option. She was euthanized July 30, 2007. It made me sick.
Sometimes you can do everything right, and it still turns out wrong. I will never know where Sadie’s aggression came from. It will undoubtedly bother me all my life. I know there are some who will disagree with my decision, but I believe that given the circumstances there was only one choice. What was instinctive to Sadie, for whatever reason, was not safe for the world we live in. Not all choices are easy, and this particular one broke my heart.