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A Reality Check

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

One of the jobs of a mediator is to provide a “reality check”; to be a neutral, dispassionate third party, who can be objective and discuss with a party the “downside” or “adverse consequences” to her side of dispute. The goal is to have that party accept what is being said and to act accordingly.

To be the one giving the “reality check” is one thing; to be the receiver of it, is quite another. My recent experience gave me a profound respect for those to whom I must be the “bearer of bad news.”

How did it come about that I received my own “reality check”? Wesley- an English Springer Spaniel whom we adopted on November 4, 2012 due to Argus’ passing – provided it.

Wesley was a handsome Springer. Unfortunately, what we knew about him was sparse. He had been turned into the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter on September 26, 2012 by someone who claimed they could not afford him. They had had him about 10 months and listed his age as about 6 years old. That was his whole history; nothing was known about his first five years of life.

The English Springer Rescue Association (ESRA) picked him up from the shelter a few days later. They put Wesley in one foster home in which he seemed to be aggressive when it came to his food and so they moved him to another foster parent in El Cajon, Ca. where Wesley seemed to be fine; a very affectionate, well mannered, friendly dog. He spent his days outside with the other dog and then his nights in a crate inside of the house because the foster parent has cats, and Wesley hated cats. Nothing seemed amiss with Wesley. He appeared to be a well trained, affectionate dog.

Wesley was soon posted for adoption. The ESRA coordinator suggested that Wesley would be a good fit. So we went to visit him, fell in love, and a week or so later, brought him home.

Things seemed to be fine. Two weeks later we brought home a second dog, Cookie, so that each would have a playmate while we were at work.

Then, the difficulties began; one night, Cookie, Wesley and I were on the bed and my husband came over to pet Cookie. He was suddenly attacked by Wesley. Unprovoked! We couldn’t believe it. I e-mailed the coordinator who was quite surprised and was telling me that this was a “real” problem, perhaps we should put him down. I was not ready for that and thought the coordinator was making much ado about it. I also spoke to a trainer who thought that Wesley had “unpacked his bags” and had become the dominant dog in the house, viewing my husband as a weakling or underdog and so when he went to pet Cookie, Wesley attacked in an effort to protect Cookie and/or me.

So, at the trainer’s suggestions, we made some adjustments hoping they would work. But, they didn’t.

Over the next 5 weeks, Wesley attacked my husband three more times. One time, he was able to stop the attack before it started; the next was a minor bite. But the last one was last week and was real bad! Again, it was unprovoked. My husband had taken the dogs for a walk and because it was raining, was drying them off afterwards. He tried to pivot Wesley to get to his back end, and Wesley growled. I then took over and finished drying Wesley who was playing with me, waging his tail, jumping up on me and otherwise, having a good time. When I finished, he suddenly lunged for my husband who was on the floor just finishing up with Cookie.

I, immediately, called the ESRA coordinator who, once again, told me that what I was describing was textbook “Springer rage”. It is a genetic defect in which the dog has something akin to an epileptic seizure, goes into a trance, attacks and then has no clue of what he just did. He acts as if everything is fine. (Rage_syndrome ) She again told me I had to put Wesley down; there was no alternative. It could not be trained out of him! She could not put him into another home, knowing his predisposition. Either she would have him picked up by one of the volunteers who would take him to the vet or I could do it.

I had plans to go out of town the next day and suddenly knew I could not leave Wesley alone with my husband. At this point, he was terrified of Wesley since his attacks were unprovoked and unpredictable. So, I had my “reality check” and accepted the sad truth that we had to euthanize him. I called the vet and two hours later, we were there, leaving Wesley so that the vet could perform the necessary task.

I do not know which is more horrible; having to put down a dog whose life has come to a sad end after so many years of living with him (Argus with his spleen cancer) or having to put down a perfectly healthy dog with many good years ahead of him, who 99% of the time was very friendly, affectionate, and well behaved but who either had “Springer rage” or was overly “dominant aggressive”. (springer-rage-syndrome ) (Rage-Syndrome-In-Dogs_5639-1.html )

I use the alternative because from the little bit I have read, “Springer rage” is a very loose term that may be inaccurate and/or inappropriate. Wesley may have simply had too much dominance aggression, viewing my husband as a real underdog. In either case, the “reality check” was the same; he had to be euthanized as my husband’s safety and health come first. It was a hard pill to swallow. (While some of the literature suggests certain medications may work, none suggests that the drugs work 100% of the time.)

I now know what it feels like to be given “rotten” news and have to accept it because there is no Plan B or no way out. I will do my best to remember this feeling the next time I have to be the one bearing the “bad news.”!

… Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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