"A breed of satin and steel. Pit bulls are a mixture of softness and strength, an uncanny canine combination of fun, foolishness, and serious business, all wrapped up in love."

-D. Caroline Coile

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Love at First Sight

On her one-year anniversary of adopting a shelter dog, an adopter reflects on her pit-bull terrier’s positive effect on her family and community.

Last year, July 5 to be exact, my boyfriend and I went to the Washington Humane Society on New York Ave. in Washington, D.C. to meet a sweet-looking dog we saw on Adopt-A-Pet.com. We were about to buy our first home and move several counties away, but I had spent months aching for a dog. He wasn't exactly sold on the idea, having, I believe, only had boring dogs in the past.

I started my search with Boston terriers, but soon turned my efforts to finding a pit-bull terrier. I always loved how happy-go-lucky they are, and I knew they needed all the help they can get, as I was learning more and more about their plight every day. I had been convincing him how wonderful it would be to have a dog around, how rewarding it is, and how glorious waking up to doggy kisses can be. I had apparently convinced him enough to "just go see her."

Nina was described in her profile as "a cuddle bug" and "a perfect couch companion." We walked through the kennel trying to find the face with that perfect pit-bull terrier smile we saw online. We found her and her telltale grin, and asked to meet Nina along with two other dogs. A volunteer led us into a small room with a couch, some treats, a window, and a few toys. They told us they would bring in the dogs one at a time, and left us there to go bring out the first dog. I kept telling myself that we don’t have to adopt a dog today — if these dogs aren’t exactly right for us, we shouldn’t take one home. There was no use getting into this if our hearts aren’t all there, I repeated.

The first dog we met was a little to "hot" for us — bouncing off the walls and understandably excited to get out of her run. The second dog was aloof and probably a little scared, a bit too "cold" for our home. Nina was last.

The door opened just enough for her to see us on the couch, and the moment she did her face exploded with that wonderful smile.

Within a split second, Nina had pushed open the door, jumped into the air, rotated 180 degrees and landed belly up across both of our laps. She immediately began licking us. We spent the next five minutes together being thoroughly cleaned all over our faces and ears, doling out treats, and giving each other knowing glances, whispering, “We have to get this dog.” Nina was just right.

We put in an application. The woman interviewing us mentioned that Nina had been there for several months, and that she had almost been adopted. A man, she said, had come in and fell in love her (how could you not?), but didn’t realize that the county he had just moved to- Prince George’s- had in effect breed discriminatory legislation (BDL). Discriminatory, expensive, ineffective, dangerous, unfair, and baseless laws prohibiting its citizens from having dogs who look like Nina.

Dogs with big heads, short fur, and wide chests are automatically deemed “vicious” and “dangerous,” and are euthanized and outlawed for nothing more than their appearance and peoples’ willingness to ignorantly and blindly follow urban myth rather than common sense and scientific fact (but I'm sure you know all this, I just get riled up ha ha).

She told us that he started crying right there in his interview, saying he never would have moved there if he had known, and he left the shelter in tears that day. I can’t imagine how awful he must have felt leaving her there — a needy pit-bull terrier in an inner-city shelter. Her chances were so slim, much like every other dog that shares her physical characteristics and their attached social burdens. He must have gone home, hating his pathetic county government and hating the ignorant people who condemn innocent dogs based on fear-mongering sensationalism and moronic legend. I imagine he wept because he thought for sure she wouldn’t make it out of there.

But she did. We adopted her, and everyday I think there isn’t any way we could ever possibly love her more than we already do, and every day she proves us wrong.

She’s completed several advanced training courses at Pat Miller's training school, which we are lucky enough to live very close to, and she’ll be taking her test for Canine Good Citizen certification this year. From there, we hope to get her certified as a therapy dog so she can use her natural love for people to administer love and Nina —kisses to people in hospitals and nursing homes.

She has a veritable fan-club in our town — people I don’t even recognize hang out of their cars and yell “Hi Nina! How’s it going! I missed you!” Strangers sang “happy birthday” to her on May 7 (the date the shelter gave us), one man who doesn't even have a dog bought her Milkbones to keep on hand when we see him, and a few ask for some special Nina-luvin’ if they’ve had a hard day. These are people who don’t even know my name.

She loves visiting the bookstore, cafes, stores, high school, and firehouse downtown where she's guaranteed to get some pets. I make it a point to never say no to someone who might want to pet her — the more wonderful pit-bull terriers people meet, the better— and Nina has absolutely no concept of a stranger, only new friends.

There is a group home nearby where she is particularly popular, often walking off from an extended petting session to a chorus of "We love you Nina!" It's a little embarrassing for me, but I can tell she loves it. Bands of neighborhood kids will swamp her on our walks several times a week, having her do tricks, and giving her all the attention she can handle. She's especially popular in the winter when we bundle her up in children's hoodies from Goodwill.

What makes me the happiest is the people who come up and say they've seen us around town so often, that they've noticed how well-behaved she is, and ask about clicker training or pit-bull terrier stereotypes. She isn’t spoiled, she just has a natural ability (as many pitties do) to radiate love and happiness, and they say you get what you give. Nina has no idea that every day, she is smashing the stereotypes and ignorance that kept that person from adopting her while teaching people about positive training and pit-bull terrier advocacy — she just loves everyone she sees.

There are pets like Nina available for adoption from the Washington Humane Society. Check them out.

Read about the Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls Washington, D.C. Pit Crew.

By Laura Cooke
Photos courtesy of Laura Cooke

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