Sunday, October 19, 2014

PBRC Volunteers and Their Dogs: Karen and Jackson

In honor of Pit Bull Awareness Month, Pit Bull Rescue Central's volunteers are sharing the stories of how their pit bulls became part of their families. PBRC envisions a compassionate world where pit bulls and pit bull mixes reside in responsible, loving homes and where their honor and positive image is restored and preserved.

After the Panic: An Adoption Story, by Karen Stein

While sitting in the lobby of the veterinarian office down the road from the shelter, waiting for the dog I’d just adopted to get the rabies shot that would allow me to take him home, I flipped through breed books to get to know more about what to expect from this American staffordshire. When I saw the classification “pit bull” screaming at me from the page, I may have stopped breathing in a flash of panic. I knew nothing about pit bulls at that time—including, clearly, that American staffordshires were among them—except for what I’d heard on the news, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this dog that (in my mind) had the potential to be a monster.

While still at the shelter trying to find the dog I wanted to take home, I'd thought him to be particularly odd as we sat in the shelter’s greeting room and tried to get to know each other. While the other dogs I’d met were bouncy and licky and jumpy, he just sat quietly and stared at me intently, as if he were waiting for me to say something hilarious or otherwise entertain him. I handed the leash back to staff and told them I wanted to keep looking. But every time I paged through the binder of doggie profiles, I kept pausing at his photo before I realized it was that same extraordinarily mellow dog from earlier. Finally I accepted that I had to see him again. But this time when he came sauntering back into the room, he was carrying a bowl in his mouth—apparently the thing he always did when let out to play. This time his weirdness was so endearing that there was no way I was leaving without him.

For a fleeting moment in the vet’s waiting room, I had the thought that there was no way I was taking him home. It’s easy to become angry at statements like that, and of course I wish I'd known then what I know now, but at that time I'd never known anyone who owned a pit bull, and never interacted with one as far as I knew. My knowledge of pit bulls had been shaped entirely by the anti-pit bull media noise machine.

I did take him home, though. Admittedly, for the first month or so I was acutely aware of how leery of him I was. He played rough—his kind of play was to do an airborne 360-degree spin into a hip-check into me, to whip his plush toys all around and against the ground until the squeakers and fuzz came flying out and left a toy duck murder scene on the living room floor—a kind of play I’d never seen in any dogs I’d owned previously.

After hearing the inevitable suggestions that I take him back—“he’s going to snap, and you’ll be sorry”—I rejected them, knowing that returning him to the shelter would not make me a better person nor, more importantly, him a better dog. I knew there was nothing wrong with him, I just didn’t understand him, and in that way I was failing him. I became a member of the pit bull listserv managed by PBRC volunteers to get information and advice, share my experiences, and trade funny stories. I enrolled him in obedience classes. I quickly learned that the dog park was not a place where we could succeed, where we would both be comfortable and welcome, and so I stopped taking him there. But for as much as I hated each sidelong glance or utterance of distrust directed at my dog based on no more than his body type and the structure of his face, I enjoyed witnessing just how much he was letting down these people by not meeting their behavioral expectations of him.

He’s just a goofy little kid (so little that I’m often told “he’ll be so big when he’s full grown” by people who don’t realize he’s 7). He nearly insists that everyone who passes says hello to him. He waves goodbye. When he’s not whipping the stuffing out of them, from time to time he arranges his toys. He follows the sun around the house until it is just his front paws in the day’s last bits of warmth.

I adopted Jackson in 2008, and he has since become my heart dog, a 40-pound mix of energy and empathy. He went with me when I moved from Chicago to Mexico and then from Mexico to Michigan, and all along the way, he has done what he does best—change people’s minds about pit bulls.


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