Episode 60: Navigating Difficult Decisions: A Story about Rehoming with Tara Stillwell

Marissa MartinoPaws & Reward Podcast

rehoming my dog

In episode 60 of the Paws & Reward Podcast, Tara Stillwell, a licensed family dog mediator, and I are going to be discussing a challenging topic on the podcast today, rehoming your dog. Our goal is to shine some light on the topic of rehoming dogs to avoid the shame that we keep, experience, or unfortunately, even receive from others regarding the very painful and layered decision. Tara has agreed to discuss this topic on the podcast since she recently decided to re-home her dog, Eva. Watch our conversation on my YouTube Channel.  

How did Eva come into your life? 

“Eva came to us as a 7 ½ week old puppy. I was transitioning out of my career as a horse professional and thought bringing a new pup into the family would be good for me, personally. I got her from an agility trainer. She’s a border collie and was bred to be a high-drive agility competitor. I realized quickly I was in over my head. Starting with a Ferrari when I needed a Honda. She was highly sensitive and due to an injury at a year old, which started a chain of injuries, it became clear that agility wasn’t going to work out for either of us. This meant a change in expectations which was hard for both of us.”

What were the challenges you were experiencing in the home? 

“When we got Eva, we already had a dog (Duke, 3 years old). Their relationship seemed fine until we brought home Curri when Eva was 2 years old. Curri was a re-home, she was 14 months old when she joined the family and had just weaned a litter of puppies. She was still intact and in hindsight their introduction could’ve been done more gradually. However, we didn’t have any conflict with them at first. The tension built over time.

Eva had issues with an early injury at a year old which led to other injuries and that led to handling sensitivities. She became difficult to bring to rehab at the vet and developed an aversion to riding in the car. I had the belief that more training and more control would help the issues but they only exacerbated them. Eva also had conflicts with my husband who didn’t read her appeasing behaviors very clearly and would cause tension and stress in their relationship. I felt like I always needed to be present and vigilant.

Another issue was the fact that all three dogs had big personalities. Duke has generalized anxiety and both Eva and Curri are high-drive dogs. They had the most conflict.”

What were some of the strategies that supported the situation?

“We visited a Veterinary Behaviorist and found meds that would help with her stress levels and handling issues. I learned many new training techniques to help in high-conflict situations at home, such as sending her to a bed across the room with a verbal cue. It became clear it wouldn’t be enough. I consulted with other trainers and experts to help focus our relationship. I focused on the fun parts of our connection, the low-impact outdoor activities we did together. It was hard after we gave up agility, but we found new games and activities to do. We did a mentorship program with Matt Beisner and did deeper trauma work. It made me realize no one was feeling safe at home.

Once I did the Connection Summit, it made me realize I wasn’t alone in this struggle. For the first time, the burden of shame was eased. I did the Reflective Relationship Program which taught me to be more curious, to change the language around the situation, and to recognize her needs and my needs. Being her advocate and her needs ultimately led to my choice of rehoming our dog.”

What have you learned from this experience of rehoming your dog?

“We’re often taught in society not to quit. We think we need to just keep trying and we aren’t doing enough. It’s not the most helpful philosophy. Sometimes we hyper-focus on a specific outcome without being able to see how that’s negatively impacting us (and the others around us). We need to ask “should we be trying to make this work?” Arguing with reality causes suffering. Sometimes we can have this perception of “it’s only easy if I’m doing it wrong”. I had to learn to think differently and to find a way to see the reality of the situation.”

How did you ultimately come to this brave decision of rehoming your dog?

“Rehoming our dog wasn’t a decision we made quickly or came to easily. We struggled with it and went back and forth a lot. Seeing her needs, understanding that no one felt safe or happy in the home was a big factor. The biggest moment was when I realized she wasn’t able to fully be herself. There was so much behavior suppression happening due to stress. She’s such a fun, energetic, and loving dog, and seeing her outside of the environment made me realize she deserved a home where she could be stress-free, feel safe, and be fully herself. I didn’t know if anyone would be willing to take her on, with her medical and behavioral needs, but I thought we could at least try to find a better home for her. She was the one who needed a new environment.”

How is Eva today? And how are you? 

“She is so happy, loved, and experiencing so much joy with her new family. I see her weekly, we spend time together, and even though I miss her deeply and acutely, I know she’s in the best place for her. I still support her behavioral needs and am there to support her new family however they need it. It’s easy for us to think “I’m the only one who can do this” but that wasn’t true. Once I started opening the door of possibility for her being in a new home, I realized there are wonderful generous people in the world.”

Where to find Tara Stillwell:

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