Losing Lulu

by | Aug 17, 2019 | Uncategorized | 25 comments

Losing Lulu

This blog post is going to delve into a very sensitive and upsetting topic: behavioral euthanasia.  I’m coming up on the two year anniversary of one of the most awful experiences of my life, but I don’t want to rehash those events yet again.  I’ve written other blog posts on that. I did want to do something to commemorate the day and hopefully bring some understanding and education to this topic.  What I decided to do was to ask others who have been through similar experiences to share their thoughts.  

At the beginning of 2019 a Facebook group called Losing Lulu was created by Sue Alexander and Trish McMillan, both experienced trainers.  Trish had to euthanize a foster dog, Lulu, and was looking for a way to help others who have gone through this type of agonizing decision.  The group now has about 2500 members and is constantly growing. It is primarily a grief support group.  

A behavioral euthanasia is unique in terms of the emotional toll that it takes on those making such a heartbreaking decision.  Many, myself included, have been subjected to cruel judgment and relentless criticism for our choice. Having a place without judgment and with supportive understanding is crucial to those of us who have been traumatized by this experience.  

The thoughts and ideas below are those shared by members of the Losing Lulu group.  Most are anonymous. Please note that we often refer to our dogs as “Lulus” as a general term for a dog who was euthanized due to behavioral issues.  I appreciate their willingness to share their pain so that others might understand more about the enormity and devastation of this experience. There were so many heart wrenching and thought provoking comments.  Here are just a few…

1.As a professional I would like people to know that you don’t have to do “everything”. Sometimes everything is much too much. Some of the time, doing everything means prolonging a dreadful situation and continuing the animal’s suffering. Sometimes doing everything puts people or other animals at great risk. Some of the time, euthanasia is the kindest thing, sooner rather than later  Sue Alexander

2. Coming at it from the sheltering side of things, I really wish more shelters and rescues had written protocols around what behaviors they consider to be unsafe to send out. And that they stuck to these protocols instead of crossing their fingers and sometimes outsourcing their behavioral euthanasia to the public.  People are generally ill-equipped to deal with dangerous animals, this is not why they went to a shelter to adopt. And every unsafe pet that you send out probably talks 20 people out of getting a shelter dog. Trish McMillan

3. As a founder of a rescue & longtime foster, it sounds cliche, but people are looking for a pet; not a project. It’s neither fair nor ethical to put dangerous dogs out into the community. Every single time I can remember that we “took a chance” on an iffy dog, the dog ended up ultimately euthanized anyway, but after causing a lot of physical and/or emotional damage to the family, both human and canine. This is not helping promote rescue or adoption or your breed. No one volunteers at a shelter or rescue because they want to kill dogs; however, if you are one of the people who “just couldn’t” make that decision, please do not ever foster dogs or put yourself in a decision making capacity. Part of being a responsible rescue or shelter is taking on this heartbreak and making these awful decisions. 

4. I wish I could tell people how much their judgmental and critical comments cut like a knife, at a time when we are already so broken. And how just a bit of compassion could help our hearts heal, instead of shutting us down even more. I wish people could understand just how much something like this breaks us and changes us, and that we need their support and love now more than ever.

5. The biology of physical illness in the brain isn’t even well understood in humans, let alone other species. You likely will never have a diagnosis or the closure that comes with it. It’s okay to acknowledge that most training only helps biologically normal animals, and very often the Lulus we see in this group are not ‘normal’ animals. You didn’t fail your pet. Mother Nature is a ruthless bitch. Sometimes pets get very very sick, and there are no sustainable good options.

6. I wish everyone could understand that the lives, safety, physical and mental welfare of the dogs and people around them are just as valuable as the life of a Lulu. When you have a Lulu whose fundamental  temperament is incompatible with living in society, with people and/or other animals, someone has to lose, there is no getting around it, and no amount of love or effort or time will change that.

7. I have walked this path with a few clients. I have never worked with clients that did not do all they could, that did not search desperately for answers, that did not allow the quality of their own life, their relationships, life for their other pets, spouses, children and friends to suffer. I have never met a Lulu that was not suffering when they were in the midst of their issue. Every person I have worked with has been tired. The final decision often comes down to risk, many times after a serious injury to another pet or human.  I know that in those instances those who are injured are not the only ones to suffer. If I could change one thing. I would love to stop the suffering before it escalates. Before the Lulu is pushed or triggers on their own to the point of emotional distress that an injurious bite occurs. At that point our Lulus are suffering. Then we all suffer, as so much pain must be physically and emotionally resolved. 

8. Respect that I loved my dog and made a responsible and loving choice. Don’t assume you know better than I do what I should have/could have done or did. It’s really really NOT all in how you raise them, some dogs just aren’t wired right and cannot live well or safely with people. Euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen to a dog, and sometimes it’s the only choice.

9. I would want them to understand that BE is done out of love for the animal. It is no different than ending the suffering of a physically ill dog. These dogs are suffering. It’s like any other debilitating terminal illness that there is no cure for..it just keeps getting worse. These are not happy healthy dogs. I was fortunate that my boy was happy once and could enjoy life. Once his illness took over his world just kept getting smaller…crates or muzzled 24/7 is no life.

10. I’ve never lost a personal Lulu but have had to be part of the decision with shelter dogs. I wish people would realize that there are cases that Love isn’t enough. That the safety of the people and animals in a community, must not be taken lightly or be disregarded. That BEs are serious and are gut wrenchingly hard for those involved but ultimately the right call for (some) troubled dogs. 

11. I used to believe that bad owners made bad dogs. I now know it’s much, much more complicated than that. Selfishly, I wish people knew it wasn’t my fault and that I loved my Lulu more than any other being. I did everything to keep her here and love her as long as humanly possible, but love, training, behavior modification and medication just aren’t enough sometimes.

12. What would I tell people? I would say talk to someone. Someone who understands. Even with all my years of experience I still considered myself a failure. I was ready to end my life. Don’t bottle it up. And don’t hold it against the next dog that comes along.

13. I wish people would realize that real training is not the quick fix you see on TV. That I cannot make this dog safe enough to adopt out. There are no sanctuaries where dangerous dogs run through meadows chasing butterflies. 

14. Placing a dog with true aggression issues into the hands of an adopter without enough experience to carefully manage the dog was not a matter of if someone gets badly hurt, it’s a matter of when. Anyone with enough experience to understand what they’re getting into won’t because they understand the liability. 

15. I did it for her. It hurt. A lot. It still does. But she would have a very bleak future in this world. I loved her so much I let her go, and released her from the demons in her mind.

16. I want people to know that NOT everything can be fixed, not everything is in my control no matter what I do. I want people to know that our souls are breaking and we need kindness as much as our Lulus.


If you have been through this experience yourself, if you are a shelter or rescue worker, a trainer, veterinary professional, or family member, this group is for you.  Our primary purpose is safe grief support for the decision maker. Our secondary purpose is education and understanding of the issues surrounding behavioral euthanasia.  Also, we have a hard and fast rule that we do not discuss or advise on potential behavioral euthanasia cases. We are here for after the fact support.

If you feel that this group would be a good fit for you then you can send a request to join.  Please, please, please, answer the screening questions. Lack of answers means you will not be approved. Then be patient while your request is being processed. We are very careful about who is admitted to the group. We have very clear and necessary rules about the behavior of group members.  Please read them very carefully. The group is heavily moderated to keep it a safe and secure place to share our pain.  

Nothing we ever do can bring our dogs back to us healthy and whole and happy.  We all have regrets and guilt and we all struggle with our choice. But we are also open and honest and brave.  We have been through hell and we are standing here willing to help others make it through as well.  

On a personal note I miss my boy every single day.  I miss what could have and should have been a long happy life together.  It’s not fair, but it’s also not my fault. As others have said, I chose euthanasia out of love for him after weighing all the options.  I also made the decision feeling the total weight of my responsibility to keep others safe and happy. Sometimes there are no good choices.  We make this decision knowing full well we are breaking our own hearts.  

Rest easy until we meet on the other side baby boy

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  1. Sue Alexander

    Very well put Deb! You have done more for the education and acceptance part than nearly anyone. Thank you.

    • Roben Kennedy

      The words “thank you” feel so inadequate, but THANK YOU! This is exactly what someone who has had to deal with BE or is in the middle of a horrible decision needs to read.

      • Maureen

        a very touching and poignant account of the raw grief that accompanies b.e. in my next career, I’d like to be a support to people who have to make such a difficult decision. so much love and respect for those who make the right and difficult decisions.

    • Shelley

      We adopted a coonhound from a shelter. She was beautiful. Sweet, and loving. A puppy. We had 2 other adult dogs also adopted. We then had a baby, when she became a toddler, the coonhound became aggressive. We kept them separated. We consulted with a professional and did training But she bit her twice with no provocation other than they were in the same space. It was the hardest decision we ever made. Because life is precious no matter the species. I so understand the balance. Our vet said sometimes there is a problem with the hardwire in the brain….hardest desion we had to make.

  2. Andrea

    Thanks Deb – beautifully said. As you know I have made the call for a few Lulus and it’s adds layers to already complicated grief indeed. <3

  3. Trish McMillan

    Thank you again, Deb, for putting your heart on the line to help others.

  4. Deb

    I am so sad that people feel so judgey to make the awful comments to folks doing the best they can.
    I personally have not had to make this choice but believe that there are times it most needed for the safety of other people and pets.
    Hugs to all of you and know my heart is with you.

  5. Robin

    Thank you for sharing this and helping to educate.

    I recently helped a friend go thru this. My part was ever so small…a sounding board. Her struggle was real, it devastated her and her family. She is now working on finding peace and healing. Blessings to all who must face this decision.

    • Rebecca Anastasio

      Being a sounding board is no small thing – it helps more than you know.

      • Robin

        I hope I gave some bit of comfort during the decision making.

  6. Melody Snell

    I wish this went out to every shelter. I wish every Lulu had this compassionate journey. I wish I had spent less time blaming myself.
    Brilliantly and lovingly said everyone.
    To all of you, flowers and hugs. You did good.

  7. Rebecca Hintz

    Thank you Deb. I know this is not a movement you wanted to be a pioneer in but you have helped so many people and I am so grateful that you, Trish McMillian and Sue Alexander are helping bring healing to those who have shared this experience. I am honored you chose to include something I shared. #7

  8. Rocki

    As a fanatical dog lover, I was fascinated and moved by this article. And, profoundly humbled.
    I have long advocated the “no kill shelter” conviction without ever giving thought to the “Lulus”. I should have known better.
    As a former dolphin trainer (in the 70’s) I know all too well how quick people are to judge without understanding all aspects of what you’re trying to do. And, that love drives every decision you make.
    I am eternally grateful to know there are people like you caring for the dogs, paining over the tough but ultimately kind decisions.
    Thank you for giving me a better, more realistic understanding for what you all do. And, God bless you for doing it.

    • Melody Snell

      Awesome post!

  9. Connie Shown Lane

    Have had to euthanize 3 dogs over the years for behavioral issues and it is much harder than physical illness decisions.

  10. Ginny Price

    Thank you for your courage and your love. I know this blog will help many people.

  11. ratgirl

    I think we, as humans, as trainers, and scientists, are gradually coming to the realization that animals are fully capable of emotional and rational thought. That they have their own complex inner lives, just as we do. When we know this, though, we also have to recognize that the diseases and damages of the mind also apply. Mental illness, sociopathy, and brain injury are very real conditions that we are only beginning to fully understand in the human mind, let alone the canine, feline, avian, etc.

    I think almost any trainer out there can attest that obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example, is a mental illness that transcends species. So one can hypothesize that we share other illnesses and disorders of the brain with less easily identifiable markers, and it’s likely there are mental illnesses and diseases that are strictly canine that we simply have not yet identified.

    As difficult as diagnosing psychiatric disorders in humans is, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to canine psychiatric care. Vets have found some of the same drugs and therapies that are helpful to humans with OCD are helpful for dogs and cats with this mental illness, but not every illness is as clear to diagnose and when it comes to other types of psychiatric problems, whether genetic, injury induced, the result of seizure disorders, etc, we just don’t have the knowledge right now to provide real aid to the dogs who suffer from them.

    That’s what makes this such a difficult and painful area. We are still fighting to get people to recognize that *human* mental illness is real, treatable, and a genuine physical ailment. We have come a long way in managing these illnesses in humans, but there is still a lot we don’t know, and in many cases long-term confinement is the only option society has found for handling extreme mental illness. It’s rare (as it should be) and imperfect (so we continue to look for something more humane) but it’s what we currently have to do in extreme cases. Now consider that mental illness in dogs is even less well understood, that we have even fewer options available, and that we don’t have any sort of long-term confined care specialty hospital situation for them. I’m willing to be if we did, it would be just as controversial as behavioral euthanasia. But at least there would *be* another choice, I suppose.

    I think we have a tendency, as humans, to want to believe animals only exhibit the “good” things that come with being fully conscious, sentient beings, but in accepting the complexities of their minds we have to also accept the reality that that mind can be ill or injured and on rare occasion, fatally so. I tend to think of euthanasia as being advised for dogs when one would recommend the same for a human with the condition, but there has to be consideration for our current lack of ability to treat some conditions in dogs that we can manage in humans. It’s a terrible thing to have to resort to, but there are situations in which there simply isn’t a humane alternative available. I think some of the criticism people receive when euthanasia is chosen for a mentally ailing dog comes from the same place as society’s refusal to take human mental illnesses as seriously as physical ones.

    Consider how often people are quick to criticize the mentally ill or injured who choose suicide, calling them cowards, accusing them of making an irresponsible or “stupid” choice. I don’t know that that sentiment is all that different from the criticism suffered by those behaviorists forced to come to a similar decision for their Lulus. When the suffering is too much for someone to continue living, how can we force them to live? When that same level of mental suffering becomes obvious in an animal, should we be criticized for not demanding they live on, too? When it comes to any euthanasia choice we make for another, there will always be controversy and fear that we’ve made the wrong choice, whether the disease is bodily or in the psyche. But when it comes to the psyche, we haven’t even really accepted this choice in humans–even when it’s done by their own hand. It’s going to be even less understood in the case of dogs where someone must be the intermediary.

  12. Kathi O'Malley

    Deb, that was truly the most beautiful tribute to this group, and to the dogs who have passed through our lives. Thank you!

  13. Erika

    Thank you, Deb, for writing so that others will know that there is a safe place for those of us unlucky enough, but brave enough, to have had to make this decision.

  14. Jennifer Moon

    Thank you so much, Deb for your honest article. We only lost our Lulu three weeks ago. She was seven. It’s incredibly hard to put a healthy, beautiful, fit dog to sleep. She was an amazing dog in so many ways but things went too far and we had to make that terrible decision. Most people understood, people who knew and loved our Lulu were sympathetic and helpful. We were judged – by someone who I thought was a friend – no longer. I’ve joined the Losing Lulu group and it has been a great help with my grief. The guilt was the worst part and we’re starting to get over that. Thanks so much, Losing Lulu.

  15. Jo

    Hi, all the way through the points I was saying yes. But it does take time and experience. I too did not listen to myself when I fostered a dog and it went on to bite a child. From then on I did not let myself get swayed by well meaning people. I have fostered around 300 dogs. I have euthed 4 because they were not safe to put them into the mainstream of society. I have also worked for or/and with a few rescues and time and time again I saw unsuitable dogs get sent home with people not equipped to handle the dog and then they were moved on again(who knows how many times). Your type of people are needed and should be respected for the knowledge and care you ha e for both dogs and people. Thank you for being on this earth❤

  16. Karen Hathaway

    i volunteer at a shelter and we struggle with this all the time.Not even the other volunteers all get it and they voice their displeasure…It doesn’t happen often but when it does…. I have my own personal Lulu story involving a rescued dog I felt was owed a chance. A real learning experience for sure. Mainly….you cannot save them all.I was so careful, separate everything.muzzles, crates…what a life.All it took was 30 seconds of not paying enough attention…. I had to lose another pet to learn. Not a day goes by that that doesn’t fly around inside my head for a while….

  17. Sherry Staton.

    Thank you for putting all this in words. especially the caution about placing these dogs in “normal” homes. Very few people are prepared to deal with an aggressive dog and some rescues are so determined to place dogs . And of course many shelters do not even have anyone evaluating dogs before placement.

  18. Cyndi Anderson

    I lived with a LuLu for 16 years. I tried every type of training and it only made him worse. I always blamed myself because I had him since he was 6 weeks old and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. He hated everyone except me, I loved and stuck with him until he died . I don’t know if I did the right thing, however, at the time I just couldn’t part with him. As he aged his brain got worse and he started biting me……Living with a dog like this definitely takes it toll……Reading this article really helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault. I had always thought that mean dogs were the result of poor training, however, I just learned that this is not always the case.

    • Melody Snell

      Your story touched me because it lands in my back yard.
      I too use to think puppies were a blank slate. I could not believe all the effort and training and money didn’t make me a better trainer. Meds were a cop out, I thought.
      Didn’t realize how much guilt I was still carrying around until I read this article.
      Just wanted to say, your love for this special dog and all your efforts shine through your story. May he rest easy now and you also be in peace.

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