Home / News / The pet I’ll never forget: I had to choose between my baby and my dog. A year later, I still miss her

The pet I’ll never forget: I had to choose between my baby and my dog. A year later, I still miss her

Jul 02, 2023Jul 02, 2023

I loved Penny the spaniel. But after she bit my partner’s face, how could I trust her with my son?

I was 10 weeks pregnant when our four-year-old spaniel, Penny, bit my partner on the face. The bite punctured his bottom lip and spattered blood, slasher-style, across the hallway mirror. The amount of admin that follows a dog bite is surprising. There is the immediate: mopping up the blood; tending to the wound; deciding you don’t think it needs stitches. Then you put the kettle on, wipe away the tears, check on the dog, now cowering upstairs, because, despite what has happened, you love her.

You realise you can’t keep the incident to yourself so you draft a message to the family WhatsApp, to the dog walker, to your boss. You call the vet for advice. You Google “tetanus jabs” and “how long do scars take to heal?” and, tentatively, “rehoming centres near me”.

If Penny realised something had changed after that night, she didn’t show it. In many ways, this made it harder. We walked her, fed her, cuddled her. An affectionate dog anyway, she would snuggle in, nestling into our arms as we sobbed. Because something had changed, irrevocably.

We didn’t rehome Penny straight away. Instead, we enlisted the services of a dog behaviourist who visited our house and diagnosed her with extreme stress due to my pregnancy, our recent move and our lively second dog. We devised a plan and learned about the Ladder of Aggression, a series of gestures a dog will give in response to perceived stress and threat. (Haven’t we all got our own Ladder of Aggression?) As I tried to take it in, my hand kept reaching for the small slope of my stomach. My baby – the size of a prune, apparently – felt abstract compared with the very real Penny who was sitting with her head, soft and warm, on my lap. Yet I knew then I would choose the intangible being growing inside me over the dog who had, until then, been my baby.

I made the decision two months after my son was born. In the end, though devastating, it was easy to make. There wasn’t an incident, just a gradual dawning upon us both that keeping Penny was in no one’s best interests.

For eight weeks, we kept baby and dog separate but noticed Penny’s stress cues: whining when the baby cried, clinging to me when I held him, pacing anxiously. Plus, that kind of segregation was unsustainable. In the blink of an eye the baby would be a rambunctious toddler. It wasn’t fair.

The RSPCA helped us to rehome Penny. She was fostered by a lovely couple who knew her history. A year and a half on, they have decided to keep her. They live locally and, although we haven’t seen her since we said goodbye – it’s too hard, still – they have left that door open.

I know we made the right choice. My partner put it best, as we lay in bed the day we realised it was time to find Penny a new home. He said the price of the joy a pet brings is one day having to make a decision for them that will hurt you. Our decision did hurt. But the joy she brought us in the years we had her … we’ll never forget.