Give a Pit Bull a Chance

In the summer of 2013 I started volunteering at an animal shelter near my house. Volunteering my time with animals was something I’d wanted to do for years, however my lack of good health had gotten in the way. But as soon as my body allowed, I hurried at the chance to focus my attention on something other than myself. I had suddenly felt normal again.

Since that summer, I have gone from volunteering 1 1/2 hours a week to 8 – 10 hours, and hope to commit more of my time in the future because I love what I do.

There is a dog at the shelter I have bonded with named Sable. I go to see her on days outside of my “scheduled” shift because she has created for herself a permanent place inside my heart. She is an amazing dog who has been at the shelter longer than she should be because unfortunately for her, she is part-pit bull. She isn’t unfortunate because there is anything inherently wrong with the breed. Sable is unfortunate because there is everything inherently wrong with the stigma humans place on pit bulls.

Just this past week, Sable was twice passed-up because she is part-pit bull. I was told one woman took a fondness of her while watching Sable through her kennel, but when told of her breed, the woman balked that she would never take a pit bull home, and then moved on to the next kennel. And then there was a family who were very interested in giving Sable a home, but found out their apartment complex has a no bully-breed dog policy. This is a big reason why pit bulls and pit bull-mixes are the most-highly euthanized dogs in the country – they are discriminated against by both people and businesses. Statistics vary, but the most solid report is 2800 pit bulls are killed each day. That’s over a million a year.

However, the fate isn’t much better for the pit bulls who do manage to live because this breed is probably the most abused dogs on the planet. With the internet and social media, it’s hard to escape the images of the consequences of dog-fighting. And you know what? It should be hard to escape these images because they show the reality of what horrible and cruel human beings create. And we need to see these images every…single…day because these gruesome acts occur every…single…day.

Sable has no idea how close she had come, this week alone, to finding her furever home. She is unaware of any “pre-determined prejudice” against her. She’s as happy-go-lucky of a dog you’ll ever meet. When I am with her, her body language doesn’t scream out “poor me” or “nobody loves me” or “why am I still here!”

Sable lives in the moment, as most dogs do. When I make my way toward her kennel, (she’s about five runs down from the entrance) and she’s curled up sleeping sweetly on her bed, I’ll squat down quietly and whisper, “Hello pretty girl. Are you ready?” Sable jumps at the sound of my voice and wags her tail madly because she knows it’s time to play in the yard. She’ll lick my face through the cage and then spin her body toward the doggie door, waiting impatiently for me to open the run.

Aside from being part-pit bull, Sable is also half-lab, and it is the lab-side of her that’s been showing a lot this summer as we’ve been playing with the hose. Sable absolutely loves water and I dare anyone not to crack up while watching her leap high to catch the water sprinkling in all directions. She never tires of jumping into the fountain of water I create by sticking my fingers against the opening of the hose and spraying it toward the sky, splashes form all around us.

Sable’s favorite game with the hose is when I spray the hose directly at her face and she tries to catch the water with her teeth. Spending these days with her is the epitome of what summer should be – hot, laughter-filled, care-free days playing with a hose.

When it’s time to put the hose away, I dry her off on a porch in the yard with a towel. Although she will attempt to lunge toward the pool a couple times, when I give her a stern “no,” she knows play time is over and lays quietly beside me and lets me dry her off. I think she enjoys the gentle massage as I rub the towel over her body. Dogs love being pampered…maybe shelter dogs the most. Before I bring her in, we lie across the porch, Sable cuddled against me, and we rest in the shade of a gorgeous summer day.

When I take Sable, or any other dog in the shelter, out, they leave their kennels behind. Each dog is completely committed to enjoying every second out of their cages. They don’t waste precious moments worrying about when their time will be up, and they’ll be back in their small cages with nothing but a bed, a bowl of water, and a nyla-bone to occupy their time.

Once outside in the yards, the dogs are too busy having fun living in the moment to waste their time lamenting about where they’ll be twenty minutes from then.

People, who almost always carry our heavy burdens with us everywhere we go, can learn so much from these loving animals.

Below is a link to a video of me and Sable playing with a hose.

To know a pit bull is to love a pit bull.  sable with ball and tongue

Sable smiling Sable with ball

Sable with tongue out

If you’re looking for a pet, please consider visiting your local animal shelter. Animals at shelters are not broken. They are not “dirty.” Most puppies from pet stores come from puppy mills where their mothers live in horrible condit Please visit thepuppymillproject.org for more information.

Also, if possible, please don’t overlook an animal just because he or she may be a pit bull or pit bull mix. I know first-hand these dogs make great companions and are loving and loyal animals. I’ve had a pit bull-mix for five years and there is no better dog out there – well, maybe Sable runs a close second. 🙂

And Then She Lived Happily Ever After

I heard a story of a woman who loved a man and believed that man loved her, too.

She believed his love was the kind of love that would never falter, was without any condition, and he would love her always.

Forever.

No matter what.

She believed he would protect her, without regard for his own safety, because he couldn’t bear to realize a life without her.

She believed he wanted to be with her always, and if she ever went away, he would long for her, and wait for as long as she took to walk through the door.

And he would be there.

Waiting.

She believed he wanted to make her happy, and her happiness was his happiness, because he loved her that much. And when she cried, he’d soak up her tears. And when she needed to talk, he’d listen patiently. And when she desired nothing but his body close to hers, he’d lay still beside her and never try to move away.

She believed he loved her this way because she’d read all the books -every Cinderella-like fairy-tale- when she was a little girl, and that’s what she wanted.

Her Prince Charming.

And she believed she had found him, until he proved she hadn’t.

She cried most nights, and every time she was alone, because she knew her life didn’t match the stories she had read.

Then one day she stopped crying, and she let the man who didn’t love her go.

Despite the heartbreak and disappointment, she was determined not to lower her expectations. She still  wanted the fairy-tale ending she remembered so well.

She prayed that the next time she fell in love, her recipient would be deserving of her devotion.

She got lonely while she waited for her Prince Charming to come. She went to a shelter and brought home a shaggy dog that wagged his tail every time he looked at her.

She loved him right away and believed he loved her, too.

This time, she was never proven wrong…….

And she lived happily ever after.

me phil smiling phil cuddle

 

Life Gets Better…Thanks Sandy.

Two years ago this month I started volunteering at an animal shelter. The first dog I bonded with was a Collie mix named Sandy. Sandy was an owner-surrender. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the surrender, but Sandy was very depressed. Her sadness showed in the way she moved – slow and heavy. Her body weighted, not from the extra pounds she carried, but from the confusion I suspect she felt when the shelter became her new home.

I’ve been told that for a dog to go from a home to a shelter is as much of a shock as a free-living human-being waking up suddenly in a prison cell. Although the animals at my shelter are loved and well-taken care of, it doesn’t compare to a home once an animal’s lived in one. The confinement of a kennel, even one attached to a dog run, is jail to an animal accustomed to having free-range of a home.

Animal shelters, no matter how well-tended to, are loud. Dogs who are nervous bark. Dogs who are scared bark. Dogs who are anxious bark. And dogs who are just tired of being somewhere (we’ve had animals who’ve waited a year or longer for homes) bark. So when a dog like Sandy comes to the shelter, and is greeted with chaos she is not used, depression often sets in. Adjustments need to be made and these are abrupt for animals who knew a better life.

My fellow volunteers at the shelters love the animals they care for, and talk sweetly to them, but we are strangers to the dogs. And the ones who had an owner, and faithfully loved that owner and lived in a stable home (for at least a little while), being in a place with so many different hands touching you, no matter how gentle, can fill a dog with stress it never knew before.

Sandy wouldn’t eat, and as weeks went by her weight gradually dropped, but she still moved slowly and wasn’t enthusiastic about anything. There were special notes on her cage and on the dog’s track sheets that Sandy was only to be taken out in the grassy yard, and not the cement and pebbled ones, because all Sandy wanted to do was lay down. I’d lay with her in the grass, pet her, and take her head in my arms, and promise her that things would get better. She’d look at me with sadness in her eyes so deep and profound that I’d challenge anyone who dare say animals don’t have a soul.

I felt close to Sandy and bonded quickly with her because she resembled on the outside exactly the way I was feeling on the inside. I had been laid-off from my job a few months before and battling an illness that was threatening to flare-up again, and I was scared and lost in such profound hopelessness that I desperately searched for any sign that promised better days ahead.

“You’re gonna be okay,” I’d promise while kneeling in front of her and holding her head in my hands. “We both are.”

I kissed her a lot, comforted and reassured her, the way I needed someone to reassure me.

Soon, Sandy was adopted. Her life was going to get better and I was so happy for her. She gave me hope that my life would get better, too.

Last summer I took my dog to a fundraising event for animal shelters. There were all kinds of doggie-themed tents there and as I made my way toward one of them, I stopped near a spectacle of people surrounding a closed-off area. I found a spot and watched as dogs performed tricks and ran through obstacle courses with their trainers, or owners, by their side. The happy dogs circled cones, ran through large cylinder-like tubes, slid down little slides, jumped over rope, and maneuvered across small teeter-totters.

One of the dogs looked a lot like Sandy, but i knew the dog now running excitedly through an obstacle course couldn’t be the same sad dog who ignored the toys scattered in the shelter yards and only wanted to lay down, or the over-weight, depressed dog who moved so slowly I often had to take half-steps when walking beside her. It couldn’t be that dog, and I was ready to walk away believing it wasn’t her, when a man holding a mic said, “Let’s give a big hand to Sandy!”

It was Sandy! My Sandy. And I was stunned. I couldn’t even move. The transformation was incredible. She was a completely different dog.

I couldn’t get to her. The crowd was too big. But I wanted to reach her and pet her again and look into the eyes I was sure showed no more signs of sadness.

I wanted to tell her that I was happy her life was better, and let her know that mine was too.

Sadness doesn’t have to last forever. Life can, and will, get better.

Lost and Scared

It was cold last night in Chicago. Real cold. Factor in the wind chill and the temperature fell to a brutal degree that no living being could ever survive, at least not without every inch of their flesh covered under thick layers of heavy clothing. But even that probably wouldn’t have been enough to take the chill away.

Last night was the kind of night you go to bed, pull the covers up to your chin, and say a prayer for anyone who has no other place to sleep but on the streets.

I follow a Rescue group on Facebook and on my newsfeed was a post about a woman who had found a dog, all by itself, while waiting for a bus. The dog wouldn’t leave her side, but she couldn’t take him on the bus with her. So she called a friend. Explained everything. And that friend took to Facebook. She gave the intersecting streets where the dog currently was, somewhere in Bridgeport, and an immediate outpour of responses flooded the thread.

My eyes were glued to my computer screen while I frantically read comments asking for confirmation the dog was still at said location, another stating that a woman was on her way, another, from the original poster, urging swift action because even though the dog seemed attached to the woman at the bus station, the woman still needed to keep a secure grip on the dog, and because the dog had no collar, this wasn’t an easy task with a sixty-plus pound dog. The dog was scared. And scared dogs usually run.

I read the thread as though it were a captivating suspense novel, and I was gripping at the cusp of anxious uncertainty of how this would end…….

I held my dog a little tighter that night as I imagined him wandering those same lonely and cold streets, terrified. And I silently prayed that if I should ever lose him, someone would come to his rescue the way those “angels” on Facebook did for this sweetheart found last night.

This scared baby has been reunited with his family. Humanity at its best. 🙂

John Boy – A Shelter Dog

Everybody hurts. Everyone gets sad. At times, life can seem so hopeless you wonder if it’s even worth living anymore. And then something good happens. You find inspiration in a place you weren’t looking.

A year and a half ago I started volunteering at a dog shelter. I wasn’t prepared for the profound impact it would have on my life. I went into it believing I was the one who was going to save lives, but I was wrong. Those homeless animals saved me.

My shelter takes in dogs from all different situations – dogs from other over-crowded shelters, owner-surrenders, dogs found amid the aftermath of natural disasters or roaming the streets as strays, or taken from abusive/neglected homes, or rescued from puppy mills .

Each dog comes with its own story, its own unique path, that led them to the cages lining the walls of the kennel I work. Some stories are worse than others, leaving you clenching your fists as you witness, first-hand, what the horrendous cruelty and lack of humanity residing within a person can do.

It forces you to question who the real animals are, and they aren’t the ones with four legs, a tail, and a wet nose.

The four-legged beings that I have the privilege to spend time with each week have demonstrated a level of compassion and forgiveness, so heartfelt and ardent, that I fear I will never, in all my life, come close to attaining the emotional intensity attached to the freedom that comes with letting go of the past, and truly allow myself to forgive and forget, while being open to new happiness without the weight of old baggage holding me down or the pain of worn-out, ancient scars running through my body.

Shelter dogs know how to move on. They are eager to love despite the fact that somebody had let them down because they ended up in a shelter. They forgive the hands that have hurt them and forget the dirty shed they were chained to their entire lives because all they want is a home and someone to love them.

The shelter I volunteer at is a no-kill shelter. However long it takes for a dog to find a home, that’s how long it stays. Unfortunately, there is dog who has been there almost as long as I have. His name is John Boy and he is amazing. Despite being passed up day after day, week after week, and month after month, he has not lost an ounce of spirit. Whenever I, or any other volunteer, pass his kennel, he pops to his feet and hurries to the front of his cage, with tail wagging, and watches us with eager eyes, hoping that he is next to go out. He loves his time outside, even in the bitter cold.

When I put him on his leash, he pulls me to the yard with an overflowing excitement he can’t contain, the way I imagine I dragged my mother from one roller coaster ride to the next. But John Boy isn’t hurrying to jump on a fast-paced ride filled with sharp twists and quick turns. He’s rushing toward the same yard, with the same familiar toys, he’s been going to for fifteen minutes a shift, four times a day, for almost a year.

There is nothing “upside-down-roller-coaster” thrilling about that, but John Boy loves it. He inspires me because even though he’s not where he wants to be, he still wags his tail. He still licks my hand. He still enjoys the yard. He still has hope.

John Boy wants to live and he is looking forward.

He deserves a home, like every dog in the shelter, but he’s one I wish for the most. Every Friday night I say goodbye to him hoping I won’t see him the following week, but I always do. I will miss him so much when he’s gone because we’ve bonded during his long stay, but I anxiously anticipate the feeling of joy that will rush over me when I pass his kennel and don’t see his nose pressed against the metal or the stub of his tail wagging side to side.

I can’t wait for the day I don’t recognize the name sprawled across his cage. I’ll smile big because John Boy will finally have found his home.

Millions of dogs are euthanized every year. If you are looking for a pet, please consider visiting your local animal shelter. There are many loving animals in need of a second chance. Most pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills that breed dogs under inhumane conditions. Please Adopt and Don’t Shop. Thank you for reading.

“A Dog Loves At All Times”

Hug your dog. He/She deserves it. They give so much, but ask for so little. IMG_20140616_134429

No matter how sad, frustrated, or upset I may be, when I walk into a room and see my dog, Phil, stretched out on his back, legs bent across his chest, his front paws relaxed over his face while flashing me an upside-down smile, I can’t help but laugh because he looks so silly. And we need a little silly in life to make us smile.

 

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I’ve realized that in many ways I need to be more like him.

Phil’s a great listener. He never leaves me, even as I drench his fur with tears, he stays right by my side, and listens to my sad tales no matter how many times he’s heard it. I need to be a better listener. No more interruptions. I will listen to your side of the story, from start to finish, even as you tell it for the six-hundredth time.

He’s patient and patience is a virtue that often eludes me, especially since I started sharing my home with children. But no matter how comfortable Phil may be curled up in his favorite spot on the couch, once those kids barrel loudly into the room and trample on the cushions he was peacefully sleeping on, he jumps off.  He doesn’t bark. He doesn’t growl. He doesn’t bite. He simply leaves the room without appearing too upset about it. Maybe it’s because he knows  he’ll find some other quiet place in the house and be grateful for it, even if it’s on the floor.

The kids have tested my patience like this before, when I’m quietly reading a book or practicing yoga, only I don’t usually handle it nearly as eloquently as my dog. I argue that I was there first. I stubbornly fight for my spot and when I do finally admit defeat, I leave the room in a huff, hardly ever grateful that there’s another quiet space somewhere in my home waiting for me.

I rescued Phil from a shelter and although he’s a pitbull, there were no signs that he was involved in dog-fighting, but there were major signs of neglect. He was found as a stray roaming the streets of Chicago. He was an abandoned dog, without a home, but he was also a survivor.

Painfully, I force myself to imagine him cold and hungry, lost and alone, wandering around with no place to go. I think about all the people who saw him but did nothing. I get upset, but then I imagine those who fed him scraps of food or offered water to get him by. It wasn’t much because when I brought him home, he was all ribs, but it was enough to give me a chance to find him. I’m so grateful that I did.

But no matter how badly he’s been treated or how many times his heart’s been broken, he is so willing to love and it doesn’t take much to win him over. A pat on the head. A stroke underneath his chin. A kiss on his nose. He knows how to heal. He knows how to forgive. He knows how to let go.

He also knows how to love.

He loves with all he has, without holding back. When I open my arms, he comes to me without hesitation, undeterred by the risk of being turned away. My baby lays it all on the line and I don’t plan on letting him down…ever.

My dog gives me hope. He lights up my darkest days because I know he has suffered to end up here, in a pretty good place, with a mommy that loves him so much. He survived his battles and won. I will too, and so will you.

A picture hangs in my room with the saying “A Dog Loves At All Times.”

Can anyone disagree?

 

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To Love You Like a Dog

I have loved and I have been loved. I know love. There is no greater feeling. There are all kinds of love and I can’t live without any of them. I need the way my mother loves me or my brother, my sisters, nieces, nephews, my friends, and of course, a partner.  But what about the love of a dog?

A little over three years ago I decided I needed a pet, a dog. While growing up my family always had a dog and it was time for another one. I didn’t know what kind I wanted. All I knew was it had to be a shelter dog. So I took to the Internet and scrolled through page after page of dozens of dogs – too many dogs – who needed homes. One by one, I browsed every page, every face, and then I saw him. A tan and white Pit bull mix. His name was Phil and he stopped me. I had to meet him. He was in a shelter in the city. I live in the suburbs.  Surely, there were shelters closer to me. Yes, there were, but Phil wasn’t in any of those and there was something about him. So I grabbed my shoes, my wallet, and my best buddy and off to the city we went.

My friend and I walked into the shelter and instantly were greeted with loud barking from the many nervous and anxious dogs crammed into rows upon rows of kennels lined up in the room – a doggie prison for sure. I rushed inside and hurried down the aisles, peering into each cage, looking for the dog from the Internet who had captured my heart.

The rest can play out like the greatest love story of all.

I was walking so fast I almost passed up a cage where all I could see was the back of a dog and then he turned his head sideways. I stood still and for a few seconds we just looked into each other’s eyes. I smiled. I had fallen in love and from that moment on he was mine.  He was quiet and calm, unlike the other dogs, and I still ask him if he knew his momma was coming for him that day.

I hurried to the front desk after instructing my friend to “stand guard” to make sure nobody else takes him. After telling the lady sitting at the computer that I wanted Phil, she asked, “Have you taken him out yet?”

“Um, no, I haven’t.”

“Well, you have to meet him first to know if you get along,” she stated, with an obvious tone, but the joke was on her because I didn’t need to meet him cause I just knew. But not wanting to argue, I waited for them to set us up in a room. He came to me as if he knew me. I felt it, too. Even the volunteer commented that he’d never seen Phil take to anyone like that before. I’m aware that could have been a sales pitch because there were a lot of dogs there who needed homes, but maybe I’m a sucker because I believed him.

Yes, I thought to myself, it’s as if we are truly meant to be.

After some completed forms and a short interview, I opened my car door, as well as my heart, to my new four-legged, furry companion. Days later, the same volunteer would call and say, “I’m just checking to make sure you’re still in love.” I was sitting on my couch and glanced beside me to where Phil lay and smiled. “Yes, I’m still in love.”

And three years later our love is still going strong.

A dog’s love is irreplaceable. He is always happy to see you. Whether you left the house for a quick spray tan or a three day road trip, he will wag his tail while greeting you at the door, knocking down anything that gets in his way. He’ll let you take funny pictures of him at all times of the night and never complain when you post them on Facebook or Twitter (even if you didn’t get his “good side”). He will always be up for a ride in the car or a walk in the park, but is also just as willing to be a couch potato with you, never leaving you to feel like a lazy bum by yourself  – a true team player.

He will wait patiently on the other side of the door when you accidentally shut him out. He will let you drench him with your tears when you need a good cry without ever leaving your side. He will rush to get between you and anyone, or thing, he perceives as a threat, with complete disregard for his own safety.

Best of all, he will love you unconditionally and lick your face when you need it the most because dogs know; they always know.

I was 35 years old the first time I experienced “love at first sight” and it was with a dog. Sad? Probably, but it turned out great.

Since then, only one other person has ever stopped me in my tracks, with just one picture, the way Phil did. I looked at this woman and just knew, the way I knew with Phil. It was in her eyes. In her smile.

And I wonder if someday we will look each other in the eyes, smile, and just “know.” And maybe, I’d have to call a friend over to “stand guard” so nobody else takes her.

More than ever before, I want to love someone like a dog. I don’t want to be a dog, I only want to love you like one.

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