A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
By the way, I'm dead. I read the story of Kilo the brave pit bull from Staten Island, and my heart filled up with pride and love and daaaaaw - and then it exploded, and now here we are.
In case you haven't heard, Kilo is the 12-year-old pit who got shot in the head trying to protect his owners from an armed intruder. Amazingly, he lived to reap the glory of his heroics, and now he's recovering with the saddest, sweetest bandaged face I've ever seen. All amazing dog tales hit me hard, but I have a special place for the ones that also help to exonerate a tragically misunderstood breed.
I don't deny that there are some terrible stories out there. And yes, pit bulls have been irresponsibly bred and ill-used to take advantage of their natural physical capabilities for causing bodily damage. They're strong. They have massive jaws, thick skulls, and lean muscle. They're stubborn and eager to please, and if you train them to be violent they will oblige. By the way, if you train a Chihuahua to be violent, he'll oblige too. But nobody is afraid of a Chihuahua bite, for obvious reasons. Actually I have to be honest, I'm a little afraid of a Chihuahua bite. You just don't see them coming, those little guys.
But for every wildly sensational "mad dog" pit bull story that gets splashed all over local news, there are dozens upon dozens of sweet, gentle, loving pits helping to make happy homes—and wasting away in shelters. As I write this, my own pit mix is quietly attempting to shove his head under my arm and on top of my keyboard, licking my hand every time I try to shoo him away. Wait, now he has wedged his body behind my back on the couch in a never-ending quest to cuddle as closely as possible with someone every moment of his waking life. Now he's hanging upside down off the side of the couch, swatting his paws in the air and lolling around until someone rubs his belly. I am not exaggerating for effect. This is an actual depiction of Gus's behavior.
He loves every single person he meets. He kisses children's little fingers all over the Upper West Side and calmly offers the smaller ones his backside to pet if they seem scared. I love him more than I can express, and I almost didn't rescue him because I understood the subtext on his tag at the shelter, which read "Lab/Terrier." He seemed sweet enough, but what would develop once we got him home? Could we trust him? What would happen when we have a baby? His card was marked "for all ages," meaning the vets and trainers at the North Shore Animal League tested his tolerance level for all sorts of kid-like poking, pulling, hugging, and yelling. Still, when I looked at his telltale broad features, I felt a little trepidation and heard the voices of the many cautionary tales and heavily publicized headlines. Fortunately, I trusted my instincts and observations over my vague and uninformed fears, and we gave a home to a dog who had been carelessly tossed aside. He is scared of his shadow and can't walk on a leash worth beans, but he's the most loving, charming animal we could have hoped to find.
At first, when people on the street asked me what type of dog Gus was, I told them he was a Lab mix. If they pressed, I usually either said "we just don't know!" or "anyone's guess!" or I'd use the terrier euphemism and shrug my shoulders. I knew how wonderful my dog was, but I didn't want to deal with the looks people gave when they heard the "P" word, the way they'd suddenly worry if their kid should pet him, the way they'd say, "oh!" and grimace a little, as though I'd just told them he was part hyena. But over time, I realized that in Gus I had an opportunity to change a few minds. And when he walks up to people on the sidewalk and melts at their feet, soaking up their attention, wagging maniacally and licking them like he's known them his whole life, I'm grateful for the opportunity to tell them that this sweet, goofy boy is part pit bull.
If you pay attention when walking around, there are a surprising number of people around town who have pits. Some are friendly, some are nervous and hand-shy, and some would rather be left alone. You can hardly blame them—this is the case with many shelter dogs, regardless of breed. The difference is that if you see a person walking a pit, it's easy money that the dog came from a shelter. These pups have had a tough break, and they require attention, sensitivity, and care. If you treat them right (even after someone has treated them wrong), they're as good if not better than so many other more popular breeds. For instance: I used to have a cocker spaniel who treated us and every other human like estranged butlers and hated every other dog who came within 10 feet, despite the fact that he'd been coddled by us since he was 12-weeks old. He threw up in the apartment every single day until he passed away at the ripe old age of 13 and taught me the true meaning of mercilessly unrequited love, as well as incontinence.
I miss him anyway, of course. But suffice to say that while I'm pretty sure the next dog I adopt won't be another cocker spaniel, you can be sure I won't hesitate when I see a sad, broad-faced pit waiting for someone to come along.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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