All the bruises have healed, but I'm still crying nearly every day since deciding he had to go, and I miss him terribly. I'm rebuilding my life and self-confidence after spending months accepting his reality as my own and trying to fit my needs in the spaces left by his.
The differences between my dog and the abusive men I've loved are that he didn't have a choice, and they got to live. Ramses was a barker and a biter, and we lived in fear that he'd seriously hurt a stranger, and instead of feeling shame we'd feel the sting of legal action. Threatening and biting our visitors was bad enough, but when he charged two little kids at the dog park, we knew we couldn't keep him any more.
My friend Michelle pointed out that I was going through something akin to a romantic breakup. I had already made the connection (a joke, in my thinking) that I was living in an abusive relationship. Once we made the decision that Ramses had to leave our family, I wanted desperately for someone to come forward and save him. Michelle pointed out that when you break up with someone, you don't need to find his next girlfriend. Yes, I said, but the difference is that you can't put ex-boyfriends to sleep if they don't find someone else to take them. Unfortunately.
I found comfort in the fact that the people at PAWS, where we got him, decided that putting him to sleep was the best option. When my husband contacted them to return him, he filled out an online form that asked detailed questions about what we had tried with Ramses, and they asked follow-up questions about his medication. That helped seal it: Ramses, though medicated, never really calmed down enough to respond to be receptive to training, and nobody was prepared to take a risk on him.
Living with Ramses, I got lost in a destructive version of reality. Thinking of him as an abuser brought back my life before marriage. I lived with two abusive boyfriends in my 20s. Before Ramses, I would have said only one was, yet the more I found myself saying, "Ramses won't let me have any friends over," the more I remembered the pain of living with someone who hated my happiness, my relief, my independence. I would go out with friends to get a break from oppressively long days when my boyfriend and I worked, lived, and played together, and when I got home, he'd pick a fight so I could see how impossible escape was. It seemed better at the time to simply stop going out, since others offered a perspective completely at odds with the reality I was literally inhabiting.
The other, earlier boyfriend gave me a much clearer picture of what abuse was and how even a smart, intelligent, independent feminist could allow a man to redefine her life and take away her sense of self. He hurt me and I explained it away. To myself; of course I didn't tell anyone else about him. He didn't actually STRIKE me, he just pushed me INTEND to hurt my arm, he was just stopping me from leaving the room in the middle of an argument. The pain the following day was an insistent signal that something had to give, and even so it took me a long time before I knew that I had to give myself a way out.
In all these cases, it really wasn't me, it was him. We say the opposite in breakups to reassure another person that they'll be able to find someone who can take their idiosyncrasies in a way we cannot, but the truth is that romantic love, like dog ownership, is voluntary. We can give our love to whomever we please, and if we give it to someone who doesn't accept our behaviors, our quirks, our appearance, our need to feel safe both at home and away, then we need to get away from that person. It isn't me, it's you. It's you who I need to get away from in order to be me, to reclaim my me-ness, in order to take care of myself first and the rest of world later.
I loved Ramses, and I apologized for his behavior, and I did everything I could to make it better, and I couldn't make him change. I grieve the loss of a dog so young and physically healthy, but the truth is, he was lost before he came to us. Me and my family gave him a good life as long as possible, and now, I can rededicate myself to living the best life I can.