I’ve put off this post since October because it’s been a sea of emotions and it’s all because of a four-legged puppy I picked up from the animal shelter. Oh it’s time to be frank and honest about the new member of the Gramlich household, Bob the Dog. (But you can call him Bob for short.)
As you might have noticed, it has taken me since April of 2017 to write a blog post. During the time from then to now, I’ve been involved in a couple of residencies for an upcoming one-woman-show I’m doing, dealing with my son’s newfound depression, dealing with money issues tied to all sorts of things (who doesn’t have those?), and generally dealing with myself and my own depression and anxieties. Sounds about like the worst time to get a dog… but I told Pepsi when she was ready, I’d find her. And so it seems she was.
It started when I saw a picture of a puppy online named Pepsi who happened to live in my city. Just to be clear, in the 11 years I owned Pepsi, I’d never seen or heard of any other dog by her name. I looked online and there was this sweet little dog – GSD cross. Adorable. However, the people wanted to do a house visit to even consider me, and I am very protective of my home. It is my family’s sacred space and I don’t just let anyone come in. Maybe that’s weird of me, but I take it very seriously. If you ever get an invite to my home, consider yourself special! The longer it went on, the more I realized that it just wasn’t going to be. I relegated myself back to life without a dog… a life that felt like it was missing something.
I realized right about that time, too, that I could look back on the pictures of Pespi and see her as a frail, old lady. She really was tired, all her pictures showed it, and she really was hanging on – so it seemed – for me. I knew when I recognized that, I could begin moving on. Then I saw little Pepsi’s picture, and it began the odyssey. I think that was my old gal prodding me onto new things.
I told myself I would look with no set goals. I didn’t want just any dog, I wanted *the* dog. So I set off to the pound (that’s where I found my Pepsi, and I felt she’d want me to go save someone else from the same fate). I went to the one in the mall – no one. I went to the west side shelter – no one. I went to the east side shelter and found a wonderful dog named Yoko who was destined to go to the training center for Veterans with PTSD (Come on, how could I be anything but delighted at that). Besides him, however, there was no one.
About now is the time to discuss my fears, because like most people, I have some. Most of them are valid – I’m scared of bees because I am allergic to them. I’m scared of my teens driving because… who wouldn’t be? But there are many others that are based in irrational, anecdotal, media-fed frenzies. Such as… not letting your child go play outside alone, or pitbulls. Ahhh, the crux of the situation.
So, yes. Me, Nicole, afraid of pitbulls. Now, this is nevermind the fact that every pitbull I’ve ever personally known has been the sweetest, butt-waggling, tail-thrashing, face licking ball of goodness. Forget about the story of Pupcake, the Service Dog. Forget about Cesar Millan’s favorite dog, Daddy. Forget about Petey of the Little Rascals! I decided to forego my own experiences in favor of the one that replays all the time in the media: vicious, face-mauling, baby-killing monster. I decided to buy into the “numbers” that “proved” that these types of dogs were devils in fur coats waiting to angrily rip out your throat the minute you turned your back. That they “snap” at any moment. That they’re somehow not dogs, but the boogey men lurking in your house… waiting to taste your blood. Oh yes, I bought into it completely.
Thus, when I set off on my search, the one type of dog I didn’t want was anything that had a pitbull in it. I was adamant. (Let’s forget for a moment that Yoko, the dog I fell in love with? Was a pit mix, but I digress.) I traveled around my own city and found no one… but realized that there was a shelter 35 minutes away that was brimming with puppies of all kinds. It was baffling…
I wanted a puppy simply because we have two cats and chickens… I wanted to be sure that we could head any prey drive off at the pass and work with it. I drove down to the Valencia County Animal Shelter in Los Lunas. I brought a box just in case, but felt no elation. If the puppy wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t bring it home.
I got there and just about every dog in the place was a barking, tail-wagging, slathering mess. It was clear that contrary to Albuquerque’s pound, Valencia county didn’t seem to have a lot of visitors clamoring for a pet. There were SO MANY dogs, and it broke my heart. I went in to look at the little pups. I saw a wall of pitbull babies – and saw a future where my life was in danger. Scared half to death… of baby dogs.
I walked past the wall of cages and about 20 pups of various ages – from 6 weeks all the way up to 8 weeks. The man volunteering asked if I’d like to see any of them. I declined. “I don’t want a pit bull.” He frowned a little and said, “Well, these are mixes. Like here, German Shepherd mix…” I cut him off. “You can see they’re a pit mix,” I proclaimed very knowingly. “Well, okay. Just let me know if you want to see any of them.” I nodded my head and continued my search.
I came across a cage with two pups in it. A fawn colored one and Bob. My heart was set. Though I held his sister first, Bob, from the moment I picked him up, put his head right up to my neck and snuggled in. I melted. German Shepherd mix… check. 7 weeks old, found abandoned in a box on the side of a highway. After getting him cleared to go home, I packed up my pup and drove back to Albuquerque.
Imagine my horror, then – me – scared to death of pit pulls, when I noticed the black markings under his mouth. When his ears began to fold up in that tell-tale pitty way. I am sitting here, ashamed to admit but going to anyway, how many nights I searched through statistics and stories, scaring myself so senseless that I couldn’t eat. Yes… I couldn’t eat. I was in a panic nearly all the time… somehow, this monster in dog’s clothing had come into my house. I hadn’t even noticed… and looking up info on Pit/GSD mixes? Oh I had doomed my family to a mauling for sure. (Let us nevermind that I love GSD’s and tons of people are afraid of them, too. Go figure…)
Let us briefly touch on a few things during the time I was scaring myself stupid. Such as: Bob didn’t have a name when I got him. He picked it. As we were driving home, he was sleeping in his box, I was shooting out names of what we’d call him. Silly ones like Hollywood, Coke (antithesis to Pepsi, but sounded more like an affinity for a drug…), Osuna, and then I said, “Well, we could always call you Bob the Dog.” This pup shot his head up for the first time since getting in the car and looked over at me. GSD mix, Bob the Dog… check.
He learned how to sit within that first week. He was a laser focused little dog who was smart… I mean like… really smart. Sit, stay, lay down, wait, turn around, jump, in your box (even if he hears a knock on the door or the doorbell), leave it, turn around, come… smart. As I write this he is now 5 and a half months old. The biggest obstacle we have is his leash manners… the guy is so excited to greet and go that he will choke himself to do it. So… we enrolled in puppy kindergarten and have been working LITERALLY one step at a time forward but oh when he gets it…
I watched this pup’s face light up when he understood what I was asking him to do… when he learned how to do what I was asking. In between it all, his favorite thing to do is snuggle. When I did “dog lips” (where I moved his lips under his nose like he was talking) and he let me? I KNEW Pepsi had come home.
So, what about all that devil dog evilness? I finally understand a few things. 1) When the numbers are broken down what you discover is that the majority of pit bites that are reported fall into categories of either a non-fixed dog, owner neglect, unsocialized, or abused. 2) Several countries that had a pitbull ban reversed them when they realized that the incidents of dog bites did not go down as expected. (Italy for starters.) 3) The most reported dog bites are pit bulls – not that they bite more or less… no one reports small dog bites, and in general, when it’s anything other than a pit (lab for instance), people tend not to mention the breed. 4) You know the lady who had her face eaten off by her dog and had to get a transplant? A lab did it… and that means that the media definitely mentions a breed if it’s a pit, but doesn’t seem to care to tell you if it’s anything else. 5) With a good owner, with good training, with good socialization, with a good outlook you get a good dog… because in the end… that’s what Bob is. (As reminded to me when I say his full name…)
I won’t say I don’t have fears that creep in every now and again. Especially as we go through his puppy adolescence and I see him being a testy little brat some days… but I also have instances where I get to see the dog he’s going to become. I love seeing that smart pup in him, love seeing how much he adores people and (lo and behold) how many people adore him. (All the neighbors know Bob and every last one of them went goo-goo. No one seemed to care when I told them what he was… and I have two neighbors that always tease me over my fears: “Oh, I see you’re out here with that vicious guard dog.”) My husband jokingly told me that Pepsi came back as Bob because she wanted to be smarter and wanted more energy… she had been tired of being old and tired. I laughed, but it rings of so much truth. I see so much of her in him, the intimacy he craves, the desire to go anywhere you go… he’s still a puppy, still trying some days… but he fits.
The final thing I had to understand was about myself. Bob came to me to challenge my notions of what owning a pit mix was, and to challenge what I chose to believe about pits. He came to me to challenge my understanding of what kind of dog person I was… I fully believed that it took a certain type of person to be able to give a pitbull (or mix thereof) a good home and good life… I am working to realize that the person I’ve been talking about was me.
Getting through this puppyhood is a challenge… it still is. We’ve gotten through the house training, now we’re onto leash manners and impulse control, and there’s much more to do… but the glimpses I see are wonderful. And… the fear I had is fading away. I hope what we have is our forever dog. I look at Bob and what I see is a dog that likely wouldn’t have gotten a home. A dog that, like many of the pups and dogs at the shelter, were probably destined to death because there simply isn’t the room. Above all, I see my old dog teaching ME new tricks: be loving, be firm, be fair, be kind, and above all, don’t be afraid.