Year of the Dog
2006: How a sock-eating, stuff-shredding, overexcited pit bull moved into my life
I remember liking the way he looked in the pictures--the corners of his mouth curled up in this clownish grimace, and his amber-colored eyes looked so innocent and pleading--pleading for what, I didn't know at the time. Naively, I thought maybe understanding or affection, after living life as just another dog in a yard full of pit bulls.
Yes, I became smitten by this big, white pit bull who'd been looking for a home for a year. An acquaintance of mine in Georgia had been fostering him for months after he was picked up by animal control officers. He'd been chained up, along with a bunch of other pit bulls, next to a mud puddle in bumfuck Alabama. The dogs were taken to a shelter, where dogs like these are a dime a dozen--unwanted, unsocialized, and supposedly unredeemable. Raised for breeding, raised for fighting, raised to help someone make a quick buck--most of them would end up dead anyway, euthanized for being unadoptable, incorrigible, or simply unwanted.
For some reason this one got lucky, though. Perhaps someone else was struck by those desperate eyes and that good-natured expression, because he was sprung by a pit bull rescue on the day before he was slated to be put to sleep, and he ended up in foster care in my friend's home.
How he got to my house from way down south is a long and relatively uninteresting story--he was adopted by someone in Baltimore, things didn't work out, and I was asked to give him a safe place to land for a while. Now, I'm a sucker, and I liked his pictures. Of course I could make a little room for a big white pit bull for a few weeks--it would be fun and I'd get to spend a little time with this dog with the sad-sack story and the sweet face.
And if fun were an anxious, overweight, overbearingly affectionate animal with no respect for personal space, I was in for a treat.
The first day he came to my home set the pace for what was to come: During the car ride from Reisterstown to my southwest Baltimore house, he hovered over my shoulder while I drove, breathing down my neck and intermittently licking the side of my head with gleeful bouts of spastic enthusiasm. We walked in the front door, I let him off leash, and a blizzard of white dog exploded in the living room. He leapt onto the coffee table, perched there for a moment, then plowed onto the couch, where he thrashed around, knocking the pillows to the floor and sending a coffee mug flying. Startled, he looked up, paused and caught scent of something, then took a flying leap off the couch, landing in the dining room. He crashed into the plastic Tupperware bin where I stored the dog food and busted it open, pouring 20 pounds of kibble all over the floor, which he happily scarfed up till I managed to drag him off, tail wagging, whole body vibrating, to the basement. No wonder things hadn't worked out with the guy who'd adopted him.
As the days went by, it became increasingly clear to me that this dog was more than just excitable. When he was awake, he rarely stopped moving. And when he was asleep, he always stayed subconsciously aware of what was going on around him, so he could jump up and join the party, should there be one, at a moment's notice.
Over the course of days, then weeks, it became clear that the rescuer who sent him up north really didn't want him back at all--particularly after we told her of his predilection for humping our houseguests, swallowing socks and other textiles whole, and communicating his displeasure about such things as crating or hunger with an incessant, unsettlingly high-pitched sonic whine that shattered the very core of one's sense of well-being. Not kidding.
But I didn't need another dog. I didn't want another dog. I had two of my own already, and one of them was aggressive with other animals. She was a Labrador retriever, and she had a particular hatred of this dog, named Doc, whom she viewed as a rude interloper. We had to keep them separate for everyone's safety.
Plus, Doc was work: He could bust through or jump over gates and fences without a thought. He didn't like cats. Like many adult male working-breed dogs, he wasn't great with other adult, male dogs. If he was bored or underexercised he entertained himself by shredding, chewing, and ripping through whatever he could find. He was obsessed with food, and if there was anything edible within his reach, he would try to snatch it and run. He needed more than just "training"--he needed a leader, he needed structure, he needed a job to keep his mind and body occupied. Who had time for that?
So I tried to find him a home myself, but finding a home for a dog like this wasn't something to take lightly. The pit bull "problem," such as it is, makes it hard for even the easy-to-live-with bulldogs to find good homes, and I wasn't willing to put a dog like this into a home with just anyone. And the applicants I got for Doc didn't measure up: A car mechanic wanted him as a "shop dog," who would greet visitors by day but keep watch over the yard at night; 18-year-old wannabes who wanted a "cool white pit" and asked if I thought he was a "Colby" or a "Jeep" or some other old-school pit bull kennels that raised dogs for fighting back in the day; a well-meaning but inexperienced couple who thought he was just cute and fell in love with his photo and just had to have him and did I think he'd do OK at the dog park? No, no, and a thousand times, no.
I agonized over the decision to keep him for months--at one point I'd been hours away from having him put to sleep because I didn't want him, the people who originally rescued him didn't want him, and no one else who did want him was equipped to handle him.
I'm not going to get all Marley & Me here and talk about how this precious dog finally endeared himself to me and taught me great lessons about life. In fact, to this day he can make me rue the day I ever met him. But I finally did decide, sometime before Christmas 2006, that his ingratiating smile and woeful eyes were pleading with me for something: A person to attach himself to, and some stability in what, for a dog, was probably a supremely confusing life full of being shuffled from one spot to the next. So I accepted Doc's delivery to my household as fate: He got to stay. Since then, he and I have gone on to do some pretty cool stuff together--we compete in dog sports, we've done dog-safety education workshops together, and this year we traveled to Michigan to compete in the Working Pit Bull Terrier Club of America's national championship, where Doc was dubbed the novice champion.
But what's been most significant about Doc is how he's made me look at pit bulls and the relationship we have with them. I remember the headlines these dogs have made over the past decade--Michael Vick busted for dog-fighting, the largest dog-fighting bust in U.S. history took place in the Midwest, hundreds of pit bulls killed in North Carolina because they were allegedly raised for fighting, a pit bull burned to within inches of its life by Baltimore teenagers. I've always liked pit bulls, and have volunteered for pit bull rescues for years, but somehow, when dogs on the news were being killed in droves for being "fighting dogs" or unsocialized chain dogs or dogs nobody wanted, I found it profoundly sad. But in a distant sort of way, the way natural disasters in other countries make me sad.
Now, it infuriates me so much that I actually went to Missouri this summer and volunteered to work in kennels where 500 dogs from a huge fight bust were housed, until a federal court could figure out what to do with them.
Now, I own one of those dogs. A dog that nobody wanted. A dog that lived on a chain. A dog that was considered disposable kennel trash by most people who came in contact with him. A dog that scared people, not because he was dangerous, but just because he was a pit bull. I guess they never really looked him in the eyes--or if they did, they just didn't know what they saw.
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