Time to Say “Goodbye”

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

“Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.”
― Dr. Seuss

All dogs can be rehabilitated.  I have never come across a dog that with the right mix of Piloting, Activity and Work, couldn’t be transformed into a dog who could properly bond with their human.

Unfortunately, sometimes the proper amount of Piloting is well-beyond what any human can reasonably be expected to give.  But that sure doesn’t stop them from giving.  At what point is it okay to say, “I can’t do this any more”?

Take, for instance, Sparta.  She is a wonderful dog, and I love her very much.  However, the amount of Piloting she requires is astronomical.  She is very dog aggressive, combined with a very fierce tendency to guard her “flock”.  Of course that doesn’t make her a bad dog….there is no such thing as a bad dog.  Unfortunately, though, that makes it very difficult for her to live in a human world without a monumental amount of Piloting.  I will never be able to be off-guard when taking her for a walk. I will never be able to have a friend of the family let themselves in our house.  Luckily, this is what I do for a living!  Piloting her is (relatively) easy for me because I have been doing this with dogs for over two decades.

But there is a promise between me and my family:  if I ever die, Sparta will be euthanized. Not because I don’t love her, but because I love her so much.  Nobody else in my house can safely walk her.  Nobody else in my house is as obsessed with Piloting her as me, and without a Pilot, Sparta is terrified.  Her terror then turns to aggression.  I answer every one  of her questions, no matter how many times she asks it, because I know that if she were to try to answer her own question (“Is this person a threat?”), the results would be disastrous, and would most likely involve severe injury to another dog or even a human.

Sparta is not a bad dog. She’s actually a great dog. Unfortunately, she is a horrible human.    No, she wasn’t abused, and nothing happened to make her this way.  It’s just who she is, and I love her for who she is.  The dog I have.  Not that dog think I should have.  

Huffington Post recently published an article by Trish McMillan Loehr about such issues, only in the reverse. A dog who had a horrible life, but was able to work into a family situation, quite well actually.     Lines that reverberated with me:

Ask any behaviorist what’s more important — nature or nurture — and they’ll answer “both.” Some dogs can be raised by the book, socialized to everything, and still become dangerously aggressive.

So please, pit bull lovers, stop saying “it’s all how they’re raised.” I know you mean well. But if you truly believe your words, no fight bust dog would ever be able to be adopted. And just look at the success of Michael Vick’s former fighting dogs.


If you truly believe “it’s all how they’re raised,” no stray shelter dog or abused dog would be safe to place in a home. I’ve worked with many animal victims of abuse — some have issues, it’s true — but many of them are just as resilient as Theodore.


Occasionally, an idyllic puppyhood still results in a dangerously aggressive adult dog. I’ve met those, too. And most dogs fall somewhere in between these extremes. Environment counts, but so do genes. Ultimately, all dogs are individuals, and that’s where we need to meet them.

“So just train it out of her”, some may say.  Training is different than Piloting.  Training involves a set of responses that are cued by a set of circumstances.  For example, when I say “sit”, Sparta sits.  The word triggers the action. Piloting involves questions.  You can’t always train questions.  Remember, you can’t train a dog, especially a naturally protective one, to accept every single other dog as part of their pack.  But what you can do is Pilot them, and answer their questions about this dog or that dog.  In other words, it isn’t all encompassing.  In human standards, it would be the same as my training you to trust all humans merely because they are human.  The thought is silly, and quite contrary to the interest of self-preservation.

Sparta was trained to hold random objects.  She was Piloted through her questions on how to do it.

Sparta was trained to hold random objects. She was Piloted through her questions on how to do it.

Usually, the more you Pilot a dog, the less you have to Pilot a dog.  Sparta and I have passed a great many dogs on our walks without incident because I have always answered her questions about them.  Sometimes it is literally just a tap on the leash with my ring finger (“No, we aren’t hunting that squirrel”) to “shutting the door” on her.  The very act of answering a question makes her more in tune with me.  She naturally starts to look at me, rather than that other dog she’s just spotted, to gauge my reaction.  I look bored, so she figures it’s not a big deal.  Again, sometimes that’s not enough of an answer for her, so I have to use more Piloting.

Sparta is a dog, and her reactions to other dogs and other humans (read: non-pack) is well within normal and healthy for a typical canid.  Just as all humans don’t exhibit the same amount of sociability, neither do dogs.  The difference between humans and dogs in this instance is that humans are living in a human world, one that we understand.  We know that the man coming to our door isn’t going to kill us… he’s merely delivering the mail.

Not every dog lives with someone who is willing Pilot them so readily.  Most dogs haven’t been abused or taught to react this way.  There was no trigger for them to start asking so many questions, with such dangerous results if they answer the questions themselves.  So at what point is it okay to say “goodbye”?  That’s the question I started off with.

When is it okay to put a healthy dog down due to the level of questions being asked, and the intensity with which they answer their own questions?  I firmly believe the humans come first.  The concept of euthanizing an otherwise healthy dog is always tragic, but sometimes necessary.  Rehoming is not always an option.  That’s like handing over a lit stick of dynomite to someone without warning them what happens when the fuse runs out.  That isn’t solving the problem, it’s shifting responsibility.  The dog typically still ends up asking a question that isn’t answered, and it ends badly.  Sometimes the end result involves a child.

Yes, it feels good to save these types of dogs, be can’t, and shouldn’t, save them all.  There aren’t enough facilities for the “low-key” dogs.  The ones whose toughest questions are “Can I play with that?” or “Can we go for a walk?”.  These dogs are being put down.  If these dogs can’t find a home, why would someone take such a risk as to try to rehome a dog who is known to be aggressive?  Again, that is merely shifting responsibility.  The problem is that we want to save them all. The result is we can’t.  It’s like trying to shove ten pounds of gold in a five pound bag.  There just isn’t room.

Some people will get judgemental about this post.  Saying that you never give up on a animal.  That they never gave up on their animal. Ah…if only everyone could be in the same situation they are, able to never give up on their animals.  But we all aren’t.  Sometimes there are young children in the house.  Sometimes someone becomes ill or infirm.  Sometimes that beautiful, adorable puppy grows up and has severe guarding issues. Sometimes thing just can’t safely work out.  Again, this isn’t about giving up.  This is about knowing when it’s time to say a necessary “goodbye”.

This post is to a dear friend, “M”, who today will be saying goodbye.  She is a true Pilot, and a wonderful human being.  Please share your support for the difficult, painful decision she has had to make today.  Thank you, M, for your dedication to your dog. Just because the ending isn’t how you expected it to be doesn’t mean you didn’t see it through to to the end.

My girl Sparta.  I will love you forever.  I love you enough to never leave you without a Pilot.

My girl Sparta. I will love you forever. I love you enough to never leave you without a Pilot.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

New Normal

“It always is harder to be left behind than to be the one to go…”
― Brock Thoene, Shiloh Autumn

Dog-Sad-Depressed-SickThere’s a reason why “Fido” is a popular name for dogs:  it means “Faithful” in Latin.  I’d be hard-pressed to find anything more faithful than a dog.  Their definition of loyalty is beyond the scope of most humans, which is why losing a pack member can be particularly difficult for them.

When my Darwin was about 11, I adopted a very young dog, Sparta.  Sparta grew up pulling on Darwin’s ears while he patiently tolerated her puppy antics.  Sparta was the annoying little sister, best friend, pack member and mutual protector of the house for Darwin, and in Sparta’s eyes, Darwin could do no wrong.  He was her confidant, her ally, her security blanket. Yes, I was the pack’s Pilot, but Darwin was definitely next in line.

When Sparta was a bit over a year, Darwin finally succumbed to his age.  He had lived a happy life, but now it was time to say goodbye.  I still miss him, and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, walking into the vets office him following me like the good dog he was.  I walked in with my best friend and walked out alone.  But at least I understood why Darwin’s bed was empty that night.  Sparta knew something was wrong the moment I came home without Darwin – my body language told it all.  Sparta was spiralled into a deep grief right beside me.  She wouldn’t eat for close to a week.  My normally very active young dog would go outside only to relieve herself, and then come back inside and bury herself with her grief in her little corner.  She was grieving hard.

A dog feels the loss of a pack member in a much more profound way than we do.  We miss our friend. Sparta missed the security of one of her Pilots.  The pack was smaller now, meaning less secure in her mind.  She lost a hunting partner.  For a dog, it’s more than about the love and friendship: it’s about survival.  In a dog’s mind, the pack is less likely to thrive with the loss of a member.  The only comparison I can possibly give is the grief a blind person must feel if their seeing eye dog dies suddenly.  Of course they miss their best friend, but it is so much more than that. It is a bond very few of us will ever understand, myself included.  I am not dependent upon my dogs for my day-to-day lifestyle.  Of course they enrich my life, but I could easily get along without them.  Dogs require each other just to survive.  The loss of a member is catastrophic on so many levels, and even more so if the pack member was a Pilot.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

You can help your dog get through this grief, though.  Resist the urge to act any differently than you usually would around them.  Don’t baby them.  Don’t talk to them in a whiney voice, telling them everything will be all right.  They don’t need baby talk; they need a Pilot.  Calmly hang out with them wherever they are grieving (I frequently hung out in Sparta’s little corner with her).  Take them for walks.  Exercise does indeed boost moods, for both of you.  You don’t have to pretend that you didn’t lose a pack member, but you do have to move on.  Slowly is fine.

Sparta worried me profusely when she wouldn’t eat for several days, but gradually she started eating again.  While I did give her a few treats during that time, which she refused, I did not offer her any different food.  We are trying to normalize a new situation, not change everything she was accustomed to. Sparta slowly picked up her regular meals.  Pretty soon she was bugging me to go for a walk instead of my having to retrieve her from her corner to take her.  In other words, we found a new normal.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Of course I still miss Darwin. Sparta does, too.  But our Pack has changed now, and includes Orion and two cats, Pixel and Echo.  Our Pack would be stronger with Darwin’s calm nature helping to lead it, but he’s gone.  Our Pack would be enhanced by his presence, but that won’t happen.  We find a new normal, and we make it work. And it works well.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

What to Expect

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.

- A.A. Milne

Porter_0030Brittany Graham Photography


I have a lot of people ask me about getting a dog.  I try to answer their questions as best I can, but it’s not always easy.

What kind of dog? The canine kind.

Are certain breeds aggressive? Really?

How do I pick out the right dog? You do your research,  and then do your best.

Along the way, however, I realized that there needed to be some kind of “Doggie Code”, or “Doggie Commandments”.  Something. Not quite an instruction manual, but something to cover the blank spots between Piloting your dog and feeding your dog.  I guess more along the lines of What to Expect When You’re Expecting….a dog.

Yeah....dogs.  Definitely should have gotten a dog.

Yeah….dogs. Definitely should have gotten a dog.

So without further ado, here we go.

You’re going to fall in love with every dog at the shelter and feel guilty as hell for not rescuing all of them.

I know.  I’ve been there.  I walked out of a shelter 18 years ago with Darwin almost sobbing because there were other dogs there scheduled to be euthanized later in the week.  But here’s the thing: I saved one.  If we all saved just one, what a difference.  Each according to their ability, and that’s exactly what I did.  Darwin has since crossed that damn Rainbow Bridge, and I’ve added Sparta and Orion.  I did the best I could within my means. The problem is that those flippin’ dogs are like potato chips.  Once you open the bag, you never want to stop.  Keeping the mindset of “within your means” implies both mental and physical.  Remember, those terrible animal hoarding situations all start out somewhere.

New, from Fi-Do-Lay!  Mmmm... goes great with Separation Anxiety brand dip!

New, from Fi-Do-Lay! Mmmm… goes great with Separation Anxiety brand dip!

The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever.

I wouldn’t have a job if it were all sunshine and lollipops forever.  You really didn’t think it would last….did you?

I guarantee it isn't a candlelit dinner.

I guarantee it isn’t a candlelit dinner.

Your dog is going to do something stupid.  Take up barking. Attempt to digest revolting things, and then void the attempt…right on your pillow. Get sprayed by a skunk.  Just remember, you adopted a dog, not a human.  Dogs don’t do things to get back at you, or to punish you.  They have separation anxiety.  They have boredom.  They have needs for activity.  They will ask questions, and need to be Piloted. Address these situations when they come up, or it’s going to be merry hell for the next 13 years.

You’re going to think of them as human…don’t.

Yeah, Darwin and I would hang out on the couch together and watch tv.  I’d talk to him, offering my opinion about what was on.  Asking him if that dress made my butt look fat.  I’d tell him about my boy troubles, my car troubles or my leaky faucet.  He was my date for many parties, and three weddings. In short, I treated him like a human…until I didn’t.  I was always his Pilot first and foremost. I tell my clients that once you give your dog the Piloting, Activity and Work that your dog requires, you can do whatever you want.  Ignore them (but really, why?).  Talk to them.  Dress them up (Darwin worked a bowtie like a Chippendale).   Do whatever you want.  Give them their needs as a dog, and only then can you treat them like a human.

Treat me like a dog or there'll be hell toupee!

Treat me like a dog or there’ll be hell toupee!

They are not an impulse purchase.

I had a frenemy in my 20′s.  She adopted a dog after her boyfriend broke up with her. She even named the dog “Re-bound”.  Yeah.  It worked out exactly as you thought it would, with my helping her find a new home for the poor dog after she “moved on”.  Your dog isn’t there to take the place of something. Or fill some hole in your heart.  And contrary to popular belief, it won’t enlarge any body parts by their bad-assedness.

Contact your doctor if you try to compensate for more than four hours.

Contact your doctor if your attempt to compensate lasts more than four hours.

They will absolutely break your heart…but only once.

The ultimate paradox is that the only creature who loves you more than they love themselves, who would give their life for you (so long as no vacuum cleaners are involved) will actually destroy your life when they do finally find their end.  If it’s one year or 12 (like I had with my Darwin), it’s always too soon.  Do yourself a favor. Have a plan.  Don’t wait until Fido develops cancer to try to figure out when it’s time to say goodbye.  You will not be logical.  You will be emotional, like I was.  Truthfully, I should have taken Darwin to that Rainbow Bridge months before I actually did.  By trying not to betray him, I absolutely did.  I was emotional.  It took someone who was removed from the situation to show me how sick Darwin actually was.

Whomever painted this is either the most compassionate animal lover or an absolute masochist towards humans.  Crying yet?

Whomever painted this is either the most compassionate animal lover or an absolute masochist towards humans. Crying yet?

I take a lot of pics of Sparta and Orion.  I can easily compare how they are now vs. how they were at this time last year.  Facebook helps with that.  So does Instagram.  Have a hashtag with your dog’s name (for ease of reference), and start taking pics, and then compare them.  If your dog is diagnosed with something wretched, take a pic every week.  Compare them to the previous week. Do right by your dog. Do the heavy lifting so they don’t have to.  You’ll still be traumatized when they go, but you will know you made the best decision you could, with all the information necessary for such an action.


My very first pic of Darwin, circa 1996

And then get ready to do it all again.  Because you will.

Darwin's last pic.

Darwin’s last pic.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

I Died Today

  Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.

 - Hermann Hesse

Photo courtesy of Robyn Arouty Photography

Photo courtesy of Robyn Arouty Photography

Recently I had to help a client make a very difficult, painful decision.  She had a adopted a pit bull a few years ago, and though the dog was very active, her family had been doing quite well with the dog.  Then a year ago, they adopted a Benji-style dog.  Things went downhill.

It wasn’t lack of effort that was the problem – they were working well with the PAW Method.  There was plenty of Activity and Work going on in that house.  They were giving it all with Piloting as well.  The problem?  This dog, who we’ll call Colby, had an infinite well of money in his Piloting Piggy Bank.  I would get frequent reports of Colby testing them (he was), and they needed to get more money out of his bank (they did).  But some minor occurrence would shake them. He growled.  He resource guarded.  He “protected” the children in the house from their own friends.

As far as Colby goes, there was nothing wrong with him.  He was the perfect dog, just like almost every dog out there.  His problem was that he really sucked at being a human.  The human world was confusing to him.  He had his little pack to protect, and come hell or high water, he was going to force his little 30 lb body into action to do it!  He saw threats to his pack everywhere:  even within his pack.  He didn’t growl or snap at them because he hated them.  He did it for the same reason I would smack my daughter’s hand as a toddler if she reached out for a boiling pot of water on the stove:  I needed her instant attention to stop her from doing something incredibly dangerous.  That’s exactly what Colby was doing.  Keeping the family from doing “stupid” and “dangerous things, like, say, going for a walk where he wasn’t in charge.  Didn’t they know all the threats that are out there?!

Colby’s family was struggling with him  They seemed to love him infinitely, but it was extremely hard to like him.  I found out that the shelter he had been at had seen him returned 3 times.  They wouldn’t say for what reason.  It was rapidly becoming apparent.

Things culminated in an almost tragic way.  One of the daughter’s in the family had a friend over.  As the friend was leaving, she leaned over to tie her shoe, and Colby attacked, biting her on the arm.  Not a bad bite, but a definite bite.  Now choices needed to be made.

They asked me if they could rehome him…,maybe to someone without kids.  Problem was, this wasn’t only happening to kids.  He was bullying everyone, and it did include nips and bites.  We talked about priorities, and what home could possibly be safe for him.  The answer was none. They talked about putting him down.  Then at the last minute a friend of a co-worker stepped up and said she’d like to take Colby.  She loved him….for three days, until he bit her daughter who was visiting.  Colby was returned to his family.

The family made the very, very difficult decision to let him go. They said goodbye to him yesterday.  He was surrounded by people he loves, instead of in some scary shelter.  He had a good life, which was extended beyond what was expected because of this family.  He was loved.  At his very last breath, he was still loved.  How wonderful to live a complete life like that.

The family received a lot of pressure from a family friend to do anything but end Colby’s life.  Their suggestions included putting him on Facebook, and at least trying to find him a home.  A dog who has proven over and over that he is a dangerous dog. Who was unpredictable.  Hawking him out on Facebook would be one of the most irresponsible things ever.  At that point, it’s no longer about Colby’s well-being.  It’s about getting him a home, feeling good about a dog not dying, and then washing your hands of the situation.  Well, there’s another one I saved!  If this individual was hell-bent on posting a dog on Facebook to save, then how about this one:

Cienna, currently available at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.

Cienna, currently available at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.

Cienna has been available since February.  She’s a great dog!  Well-behaved and sweet.  Or what about Little Bubba?

Little Bubba, a truly wonderful, easygoing dog who is scared to be in the shelter.

Little Bubba, a truly wonderful, easygoing dog who is scared to be in the shelter.

These are safe dogs.  Dogs with no bite history, let alone multiple incidents.  Post them!  The only difference between these dogs and Colby is that the friend had an emotional attachment to Colby.  In a world where there is an overpopulation of dogs, emotional attachment is only detrimental to rescue.  Love them all, but realize who can be helped and who can’t.

Colby’s owners did a very brave and selfless thing:  they chose Colby’s well being over their own emotions.  Colby needed to go home.  His forever home.  They finally let him go, with dignity and love.  They actively chose to let him cross the rainbow bridge instead of having their hand forced through terrible circumstances.

I sent them a link.  A different set of circumstances, but the same outcome:  a difficult choice had to be made.  I Died Today follows a dog named Duke through is last day on the planet.  You’ll cry, but you’ll also realize that no matter how a dog is let go, it’s always with love and tears.  Circumstances are just that:  circumstances.  How we act, through self-interest or through real, true compassion is entirely up to us.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


No Kill? No Such Thing

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Winnie the Pooh


I love dogs.  Actually I love all animals.  People think that since I train dogs, I eat cats, but quite frankly, I have one, and I’ve rescued more cats than dogs.  Even animals that I have phobias about (worms, namely, as well as leeches), I can never stand to see harmed unnecessarily.

See, the “unnecessarily” part is important.  I recently renovated my backyard, and I’m sure that I harmed quite a few worms in the process.  I didn’t meant to do it, but since I didn’t find them new homes, technically I’m just as much to blame for their demises as anyone else.

Which brings me to the topic of “no kill shelters”.  I have to start by saying to anyone who volunteers at any shelter:  thank you.  It’s tiring, heartbreaking work. Yes, it’s rewarding, but you are definitely working in the trenches trying to make a difference.  Everyone is working towards the same goal, no matter how they go about it.  I’ve never met a shelter volunteer who was in it for the money or glory.  Guess what, there is none.  They are all in it for the animals.  Some shelters are extremely picky about who adopts a dog, hoping to find the perfect match for the perfect animal to keep that animal out of shelters forever.  Some shelters utilize what I call the “buckshot” approach:  maximum amount of potential adopters means that they can get more animals off the streets.  Yes, quite a few are returned, but it’s better to be off the mark on a few potential adopters than to have to euthanize a dog.  Who’s right?  Neither? Both?  Doesn’t matter.  Just two different approaches to the same problem.


But there is one thing all shelters have in common:  all shelters are euthanizing.

I used to volunteer at a “no kill” shelter, and I was amazed at how some of the volunteers spoke about the county kennel, where they euthanized dogs.  They would refer to the county kennel as a “concentration camp” and that the volunteers were murderers.  That there was no reason for such-and-such dog to have been killed.  They hold up their shelters as shiney examples of how a shelter can be no-kill.  It never occurred to them that they were part of the solution that they so detested.  That they had responsibility for these dogs as well.   Information from the Human Society gives us a better perspective:

Just as the U.S. has come a long way over the last few decades in terms of increased pet ownership, it’s also progressed in terms of euthanasia. The number of dogs and cats euthanized each year in shelters has decreased, from 12–20 million to an estimated 3–4 million. However, there’s still work to do: An estimated 2.7 million healthy shelter pets are not adopted each year, and only about 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters or rescues.


  • 3,500—Number of animal shelters
  • 6 to 8 million—Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year
  • 25 percent—Percentage of purebred dogs in shelters
  • 3 to 4 million—Number cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year
  • 2.7 million—Number of adoptable cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year

If there are roughly 6-8 million animals entering a shelter each year, but only 3-4 million being adopted each year, I ask:  where does the overflow go?  No kill shelters are a wonderful thing, but not realistic.  A shelter can claim they are no kill, but what they mean is that they don’t kill the animals at that location.  When a dog comes to their “no kill” shelter, and they don’t have an empty cage, or the dog is deemed too aggressive or sick, what happens?  They don’t accept the dog at their shelter.  The dog is eventually sent to county, where they are euthanized.  It makes me sick that an innocent animal dies, but it is a cold, hard fact: there isn’t enough room for them all. There are no inexhaustible resources from which to draw for support of these animals.  Simply not accepting an animal into your shelter when you don’t have room doesn’t make you a no-kill.  It means you are passing the buck (albeit necessarily), and then deriding the very people who you passed it to for doing what needs to be done.  I understand that most shelters are simply doing the best they can with what they have, but eviscerating kill shelters for simply doing what must be done is unacceptable.

This isn’t an issue that will solve itself quickly.  Euthanasia numbers are looking better and better each year.  But they won’t disappear overnight.  Education helps tremendously.  Spaying and neutering campaigns have made a huge dent in the amount of animals shelters are receiving.  In the meantime, let’s work together to find a solution.  After all, our goals are the same.

I have indeed volunteered at kill shelters.  People asked me how I could stand to work there when the animals could be put down at any moment.  That’s precisely why I volunteered there.  How wonderful is it for a dog’s last thoughts not to be of a terrible, frightening place, but that, hey, here comes my favorite person!  I’ll bet she’s taking me for another walk!  Maybe she’ll play ball with me for a few minutes, too!  Then we can cuddle after dinner. Wow..I’m loved here.  

Yes, you were.  To the very last.

Simba - Gone but not forgotten

Simba – Gone but not forgotten

In memory of Max, Simba, Onyx, Trifecta, Pluto, ‘Lil Girl,  ..and all the other dogs who were wonderful enough to make me cry when their time came.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland Ohio


Just Like The Other One

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”  - Irish Headstone

Darwin and Pirate

Darwin, circa 2002


Sparta trampled my feet as she walked back into the house this morning. She never means to, but well, she always steps on them, and it really frosts my cookies.  ”Darwin never did that”, I always say to her.

It’s true!  Darwin never stepped on my feet by accident.  Even when he was older than dirt and half blind, he was always very cautious about stepping on my feet.  Sparta sometimes comes through me like the Kool-Aid Man.   

...and the most pathetic part is that most of you reading don't even know who this is.  #MiddleAgeProblems

…and the most pathetic part is that most of you reading don’t even know who the Kool Aid Man is. #MiddleAgeProblems

It’s something we’re still working on.

Darwin was also my assisted living dog (of sorts).  Due to the nature of my profession, I wear boots all the time.  Whenever Darwin would see me grabbing my boots to put them on, he’d run over to my left side.  I’d lean on him while I wrestled on my right boot.  As soon as I’d get it on, he’d run over to the other side, helping me put on my left boot.  He was a great dog!

I tried it with Sparta.  The second I tried to lean on her, she fell over, playing dead.  We both crashed to the ground.  Come on, Sparta….Darwin never even had to be trained to to that.  He just picked it up.

Darwin was my first dog (as an adult).  I adopted him from a shelter when I was in my very early 20′s.  I had him for more than 13 years.  He was my date to parties, my extra blanket on cold nights. He was my road trip buddy, and he kept all my secrets.  He was indeed my best friend.  I still miss him terribly, almost 6 years after I said goodbye.

I probably developed my love for black dogs from Darwin.  I never had a preferred dog color before Darwin.  But Darwin was so….perfect. But Sparta is not Darwin.  She never will be.  She’s not supposed  to be.  Sparta is Sparta.  It’s hard to remember that.  Darwin is merely perfect because he’s gone now.  Sparta isn’t because we live day-to-day life together.

Sparta Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I always gently chastise my clients who compare their new dog to their old dog.  They tell me they got another Chocolate Lab puppy because their last one was so wonderful, and he died recently a the ripe old age of 14.  They can’t understand why their new dog is such a handful when the last Lab was so great.  I guarantee he didn’t start out great!  We tend to hold on to the memories that we love.

If I want to be honest with myself, Darwin was a hit-or-miss kind of car rider.  He would still occasionally get carsick.  Darwin also used to supplement his diet with whatever he could find/forage/dig up.  He was a constant work in progress with the counter-surfing.  If I really want to think about it, Darwin could sometimes be a real pain-in-the-ass.  I just happen to miss him terribly, which cancels out all the “bad” stuff he ever did.

Sparta has never once been sick in the car – even as a puppy!  Sparta can be trusted with anything, and I mean anything, left on the counter.  She’s a great dog.  I’m sure 15 years from now, after she’s long gone, I’ll be rolling my eyes at my new dog, because, well, Sparta never did that.

Sparta Holding Dog Treats


I just have to look at them both, not through rose colored glasses, nor through a microscope, but through my own two eyes:  they were perfectly imperfect.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Finding the Rainbow Bridge


If tomorrow starts without me, and I’m not there to see,
If the sun should rise and find your eyes all filled with tears for me;
I wish so much you wouldn’t cry the way you did today,
while thinking of the many things we didn’t get to say.
I know how much you care for me, and how much I care for you,
and each time that you think of me I know you’ll miss me too;

But when tomorrow starts without me, please try to understand,
that an angel came and called my name and took me by the hand,
and said my place was ready in heaven far above,
and that I’d have to leave behind all those I dearly love.

But as I turned to walk away, a tear fell from my eye,
for all life, I’d always thought I didn’t want to die.
I had so much to live for and so much yet to do.
it seemed almost impossible that I was leaving you.
I thought of all the love we shared and all the fun we had.
If I could relive yesterday, I thought, just for a while,
I’d say goodbye and hug you and maybe see you smile.

Darwin circa 2005

Darwin circa 2005

I recently had a client ask me how they would know when it’s time to help their dog Buddy cross the Rainbow Bridge.  As you know, I’m always preaching the PAW Method. The biggest part of that is Piloting. You are Buddy’s pilot to the very end. You will be strong and help Buddy when the time comes. He is relying on you to make a decision, but remember, he doesn’t need a perfect decision. He doesn’t expect you to be infallible. So the answer is, there is no correct time. You are trying to balance your need for Buddy with Buddy’s quality of life. There is no precise moment when the scales tip, and suddenly Buddy’s life is too painful to justify not leading him to the Rainbow Bridge.Points to consider:

-You may find that everyone feels free to tell you what to do, but the responsibility for this choice is yours. This can be more difficult when a couple disagrees, but it can still weigh heavily on a single person.

-Your veterinarian is trained to save lives. That’s what they do, and that’s why you go to them. But all they can do is delay, not prevent. No veterinarian should make you feel guilty for choosing not to pursue treatment, even if you can afford it.

-If your veterinarian is advising euthanasia and you’re reluctant, closely examine your own motives and see if they’re for your benefit or the dog’s.

-People often say, “You’ll know when it’s time.” In many cases that’s true, but not always.  I say this from personal experience.

-Choosing euthanasia is not “playing God” any more than providing medical treatment to save a life is.

-Euthanasia ensures that you’ll be able to be with your dog at the moment he passes so he’s not alone. However, you don’t have to be there with him. If you feel you cannot remain calm, it’s sometimes best for your dog that you not be there.  It’s okay to say your goodbyes at home and have a someone who isn’t as emotionally distraught take Buddy for the final vet visit.  Remember, he’s going to mirror your emotions, and if you are having a hard time controlling your emotions in a scary place like the vet’s office, he’s going to feel that.  Don’t let anyone judge if you should or should not be present:  that’s up to you.-Most people believe it’s better to euthanize your dog a day too early rather than a day too late.

I went through all of this with Darwin many years ago. I wish I could say something to make it all better, but the truth is, I can’t. If you are already at this stage where you are asking me when you know it’s time to put down a dog, it’s most likely that you are already there. You are only now trying to cope with the acceptance aspect. Don’t deny Buddy his right to a dignified ending. He’ll still be there for you until the day you are reunited at that Rainbow Bridge.

So take a picture with him (you’ll want it later). Compare it with the pictures of him from a year ago, and you’ll see the difference and how much help he is requiring from you. Give it to him that help. You know he would love you enough to do the same for you. That’s what dogs do…put their humans before their own needs. Now be a dog, and put his needs before yours. At that point, he will give you his final gift: his gratitude for being the best Pilot you could have been for him.

This is the last picture I have of Darwin (2009).  We said goodbye a few days later.  I still miss my boy to this day.

This is the last picture I have of Darwin (2009). We said goodbye a few days later. I still miss my boy to this day.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio