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. 🙂

“Mommy” Promises To My Dog

To Phil,

I promise I will love you and care for you always.

I promise I will never dump you at a shelter when you get old.

I promise to give you at least 147 kisses a day and just as many snuggles.

I promise to comfort you during thunderstorms and never leave you alone on the Fourth of July.

I promise to always roll down the car window at least halfway so you can stick your head out, no matter how hot or cold it is (unless it’s raining. I know how much you hate to get wet).

I promise to give you my sundae bowl when I am finished so you can lick it clean (as long as it isn’t chocolate).

I promise to never get stingy with the amount of peanut butter I smear on your bone.

I promise to always add a little table food to your meals because I know how much you love steak.

When we’re on a walk, I promise to let you sniff as many trees and bushes as you want, but I will pull you away when you start sniffing other dogs’ butts. (I know that’s how you guys roll, but it’s really gross.)

I promise to replace old and worn blankies with new blankies because I know how much you love your blankies.

I promise you an endless supply of tennis balls.

I promise to be an advocate for pit bulls because you’re a pit bull and you’re awesome.

I promise I will weigh all potential dating partners with you in mind because the woman of my dreams will love you as much as I do. (That is a requirement and is non-negotiable.)

Lastly, when it’s your time, I promise I will not make you endure unnecessary pain and suffering because I’m not strong enough to let you go. I will kiss you goodbye and keep close to my heart the memories you leave behind…..

And never will I forget the day I brought you home from the shelter…the day you rescued me.

phil cuddle   phil 8 phil bed 4 phil blanikie phil in a blanket phil sleeping

When looking for a pet, please consider adopting from a shelter. There are millions of wonderful animals looking for a home. Most of the puppies sold at pet stores come from puppy mills. For more information on puppy mills, please visit the Thepuppymillproject.org. Thank you.

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.