Three Dog Night: My Failure to Find the “Perfect Pet”

There is a story behind the name of the well-known 1970s band “Three Dog Night.”  The girlfriend of one of the vocalists told this story to the band members:

On cold nights in Australia, Indigenous people would sleep in a hole in the ground, with a dingo curled up next to them to keep them warm.

A chillier night required two dogs.  And if it was freezing, it was a “three dog night.”


“Three Dog Night” should conjure images of warmth and loyalty.  For me, however, the phrase is one that pops into my head when I think about the past two years.  Also, “three strikes and you’re out” and “all bad things come in threes.”  During those two years I was determined to find the perfect, sweet dog, just like the family pets I had growing up.  We didn’t acquire three dogs at once. We adopted a two-year old mixed-breed in September of 2012. She was with us for a week.  In November, we took home a sweet 10-week-old Black Lab/Newfoundland mix, who stayed with us for about a week and a half (although most of that time she was at the vet’s office).  We took a short break, about six months, then adopted number three in June of 2013.  The third time, we thought, would be the charm.  He stayed the longest – one year.

With the third dog, I spent a ridiculous amount of time in obedience class, hiring at-home trainers, and searching the internet for any and all articles I could find that would help me combat canine behavior issues.  I wouldn’t fail again!

The best way for me to sum up those two years is to share my Facebook posts.

First was Sugar, whom I adopted from a shelter that was crazy-full of dogs:


Sugar - Facebook Post 1

Sugar - Facebook Post 1 album


I brought her home without my husband meeting her (in hindsight, not the wisest choice).  I called him from the shelter.  Over the phone, I told him all about her positive traits: calm and sweet with the children, not afraid to be touched, and seemed to be good with other dogs.  “She’s adorable,” I said, “and I feel so bad for her.  She’s never had a real home.  She has a scar on her neck from the rope she was tied out with.  She just gave birth to puppies, who have all been adopted, and here she is all alone!”  I skipped the part about her jumping on the shelter director’s desk, or that, though she was sweet, she wasn’t very playful.  I didn’t want to hear his rational thinking or “what ifs.”

And we paid the price for my poor choice.


Sugar - Facebook Post 2


In November, we adopted Lefty from a rescue that procured puppies from shelters that were about to euthanize them.  We figured a puppy would be a better choice for our family.  We wouldn’t have to deal with any “baggage” that an older dog might have.  She was perfect!


Lefty - Facebook Post - new puppy

But perfect dogs can still have some baggage, even if you’re not quite aware of what that might be.


Lefty - Facebook Post - Sick

Then we found out.  It wasn’t her fault.  There wasn’t much we could do aside from caring for her as best we could.

Lefty - Facebook Post - Parvo

Lefty - Facebook Post - Parvo 2


What happened next felt like a cloud had been following us, and just when we thought the sun would break through, the storm worsened.  It dumped huge drops of cold rain on us, and didn’t let up.


Lefty - Last Facebook Post

The storm left us picking up the pieces of little broken hearts who didn’t understand.  We took a break, we got back to a good place, and then we met number three.  Surely, he would be the one.  Everyone met him, loved him for his playful puppy-ness and his good looks.


Ollie - Facebook Post 1


Ollie - Facebook Post 2


Ollie - Facebook Post 3


Ollie - Facebook Post 4


Ollie - Facebook Post with Stewart


Ollie - Dogsled


Ollie - Smelly Smells


Ollie - Last Facebook Post


April 7th was the last time I shared about Ollie on Facebook.  The next few months we saw changes in him.  More barking, more aggression.  Training and working with him didn’t seem to help.  He was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

On a bright sunny day in June, the kids and their neighbors played in the yard.  Ollie stayed busy chewing on a stick.  My anxiety about him left in that moment, and I took in the sight of a happy, all-American family: children having fun, family pet basking, early summer flowers blooming.  The girl from next-door saw the same scene and walked to the hideout by the back fence, joining the kids in their imaginary play.

Ollie hadn’t noticed her at first.  A few minutes later, he sauntered back to the hideout.  Then I heard growling and barking, saw the girl running out of the hideout toward her house, crying “Daddy, Daddy!”

I ran to the hideout, grabbed Ollie by the collar.  “Did he just scare her, or did he -”

Beatrix cut me off.  “He bit her.”

Last straw.  Unacceptable.  Intolerable.  The worst case scenario had happened.

I dragged Ollie into the house, locked him in the crate, and stated with anger, “He’s gone.  We’re not keeping him.”  Stewart, sitting on the couch and reading, looked up, and he knew, without me telling him, what had happened.

I went back outside, knocked on the neighbor’s back door, and asked her parents if their daughter was okay.

“She’s fine, just scared.  He didn’t break the skin.  She’ll be just fine.”

She was going to be fine, but I wasn’t.  I was done, tired, frustrated, and, once again, I felt like a failure.

Ollie went back to the shelter just two days later.  They understood.  They reflected on other dogs who had the same problems, told me he could have been inbred.  “You’ll see the aggression come out when they become adolescents – around one or two years old.  You’re doing the right thing, bringing him back.  Please, please, come back when you’re ready to adopt again.  We’ll find a dog for you whose been in a foster home.  We’ll know all about their behavior and personality.  We’ll make sure it’s a perfect fit.”

And then, goodbye.  A quick hug and a pat on his back.  My sweet boy, looking up at me, looking innocent and full of possibility.  Tears came as I realized I had failed once again, failed him and our family.

I didn’t know what his fate was, but I could guess.  I told the kids the shelter would evaluate his behavior to see if someone else could adopt him.  I knew it was a lie.  A shelter doesn’t have much choice when a dog has bitten a child.  I kept quiet about Ollie’s return to the shelter, about the inevitable euthanasia.  I couldn’t bare to post another Facebook status.  I told some family, but not many others.  The neighbors had no idea he was gone.  In the middle of the summer, one of them asked how Ollie was doing.  “We haven’t seen you out walking with him in a while.”  I explained that, once again, we lost another dog.  Another dog who didn’t get the chance to be part of our family.



Here I am, four months later.  No more dogs for us.  I don’t have the emotional capacity to handle yet another possible failure.  Maybe down the line, maybe in the far-off future, but not any time soon.

Stewart was right – we weren’t ready for a dog.  I proved that I could take care of a dog, even train one to do amazing tricks (Ollie learned how to open the refrigerator door, along with turning and jumping on command, and leaving food on the ground until we told him to “take it”).    No, that wasn’t the issue.  The problem was I couldn’t handle the failure, couldn’t bare to see my dream crushed.

I cry as I write this.  My vision of the perfect family, complete with a slobbering, frolicking, loyal fur-friend, has been replaced with pain, anger, and misfortune.  Rather than grieving, I’ve put up walls, tried to move on, but now I’m releasing it all, letting go of that vision of the perfect dog.

I hope, some day in the distant future, that we’ll enjoy the presence of a family dog.  Of course, my mind is always filled with “some days.”  I know that “some day” doesn’t always come, but on a rare occasion it might, so I’ll hold on to the hope of “some day.”

Maybe, on cold nights in the future, I’ll cuddle up with my own little “dingo” to keep me warm.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bonniie
    Oct 07, 2014 @ 10:44:06

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx I believe, as other things have happened in your life, your dream dog will just walk in, without you thinking or planning for the dog. Our 4 footed friends can be a cherished gift to us. love you



  2. Anonymous
    Oct 04, 2014 @ 21:26:08

    Oh, I miss my Ollie Boy. You gave it your ALL Mandy!!!




  3. elizabeth
    Oct 04, 2014 @ 16:23:14

    Hey!! I loved the last line. Well, I loved it all. It’s so weird how we can feel incomplete without a dog, isn’t it? My hands instantly gravitate to any dog near me. I want to pet them, stroke their hair, lay on them. Just the other day, I sat in the street full of leaves and sticks and acorns just to cuddle with my friend’s soft dog who’s great with kids. Here’s a link to our dog for now. I’m sure you could find one on Amazon, too. They don’t bite, bark, or make messes, but they are still soft and cuddly.



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