An artist and author tells the story of how he came to share his life with pit bulls
By Todd Parr (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)
You may have seen this on the Web: “Pit bulls can’t be trusted, they steal your heart.” Many of you already know this, and I learned it 14 years ago on my way to a grocery store on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, Calif. I wasn’t shopping for a dog, but there he was, in a box, shivering from the cold and scared. I picked him up, put him inside my coat pocket and went into the store. I bought dog food and treats, all the while thinking, “What am I doing?” I walked through the store thinking this little guy needs me, but I didn’t realize until later how much I needed him as well.
His name was Bully, named after one of my paintings. When I found Bully, I didn’t really think about what kind of dog he was. I did think he might be a pit bull, but I wasn’t sure. It just didn’t matter to me. A dog is a dog, right? I grew up with dogs all my life and never thought about their breed.
Well, as I started to introduce Bully to the rest of the world, I quickly realized that he was not just a dog, he was a pit bull! We would be on our walks, and people would cross the street or walk out into the street just to avoid us. When Bully was off leash at the dog park, people would pick up their dogs when they saw us coming. I tried talking to everyone with a dog so that I could let them know how friendly and great Bully was, but most people couldn’t be bothered. They had their opinion about pit bulls, and there wasn’t much I could say to change that, despite how lovable Bully was.
At first, I was always on the defensive with people over their reaction to him, and then it turned into an “education” mode and finally to the “I don’t care what people think” mode. The one thing I quickly realized was that I was going to have to be extra careful with Bully around other dogs in a scuffle. Chances were he would be blamed, even if he was not at fault, all because of his breed and the negativity surrounding it.
(Photos of Bully above by Jerry Giovanini)
It’s not just a “pit bull” thing. Anyone with an animal has to be responsible and committed to making sure that their pets are well cared for and trained. You can never assume that licking your face and cuddling on the couch will make them exempt from being provoked into bad behavior.
Over the years, Bully developed many health issues, including tumors, rectal bleeding and cancer. We did everything we could do for him, and like others do for their pets, we spent thousands of dollars to keep him well.
After Bully’s last surgery at the UC Davis, he was lying on the bed and I whispered to him that I would do everything I could do to keep him well and that when he was ready to go I would be very sad. I asked him to please not make me decide for him. He died in his sleep several months later while I was out of town.
It took many months of tears before I could even entertain the idea of another dog, but when I felt I was ready, I went to the Berkeley Animal Shelter and spent time with many different dogs. How do you decide? There were so many dogs just waiting to go home with me. It overwhelmed me and I had to leave.
A couple of months later I went back to the shelter and spent more time with the dogs, playing with them, holding them and hand fed some that wouldn’t eat their food. Again I left, overwhelmed. A couple of days later I decided to go back and not over think the process, and this time I ended up with two dogs, Pete and Tater Tot. Pete is a pit bull mix and Tater Tot is an American Staffordshire Terrier. They are the most amazing, loveable and resilient dogs. I look at them both and ask them how I got so lucky. Like Bully, they are bed hogs, lap dogs and kissing machines, always ready to play and just full of love.
I want to mention that the volunteers at the Berkeley Animal Shelter, like those in so many other shelters, were amazing throughout the process of adoption.
I was talking about Pete and Tater at a school a couple of months ago, and one student asked me why I like pit bulls so much. I said, “I like all animals, and I would take every single one if I could, but there are so many pit bulls that need good, loving homes.”
I do believe there is nothing like the unconditional love you get from an animal, but if you want that love multiplied times 10, adopt a pit bull.
(Photos above of Pete and Tater Tot by Jeff Fielding)
A special thanks to StubbyDog for doing what they do and to all of you who make a difference in the world for animals.
Editor’s note: To learn more about Todd’s books and artwork, visit his website.