18 June 2010

True Story: Téa née Nilla

I got an email today from Carolyn, who runs Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue (CBBR). CBBR is the rescue group through which we adopted Téa. Her name was Nilla at the time (though she also went by Yellow Fever among close friends). At any rate, Carolyn sent along the photo above, which is Téa's adoption photo (like our version of her baby photo, I guess) and when I lamented over how skinny she looks (because she was), I got the following in reply:

"i remember at the one event we had this guy ask us her name. i said nilla like nilla wafers and he says you need to feed her some nilla wafers...just let her go through the manufacturing plant and eat them all!" 

Well said, buddy, well said.

Thanks to Petraits for the beginning of our funny Téa photo collection!

15 June 2010

Practicing to become a vicious, scary pit bull

This is not exactly a story about Toni, nor is it exactly a story about Téa. It’s a story about the horrible, horrible things that pit bulls can do to children that never make the news, by way of being a story about my nephew Nate. And by “horrible, horrible things that pit bulls can do to children,” I mean, share their crates with them, teach them to sit quietly when asked in order to get a treat and other heart-breaking activities.

T2 and I took a road trip recently to visit my families in North Carolina. The first stop was Charlotte, where we stayed with my sister, her husband and my nephew Nate. Nate, coming up on three years old, spends plenty of time with
dogs. He’s practically a younger sibling to my father and step-mother’s dog Osgood, right down to chewing on Osgood’s chew toys when Os isn’t looking. My brother’s pit bull Pearl is really just a taller, brawnier version of Os in his world. Sometimes he gets their names mixed up, but as long as the names are said with affection, I don’t think Pearl or Os much mind. Nate’s been taught all of the right things—no pulling of tails or ears; no bothering sleeping dogs; no yelling at them…. In fact, if they could just get him to stop sharing the chew toys, I think he’d have the whole list of dos and don’ts down pat.

Nate also knows Toni, though he probably doesn’t remember her from her first two visits. He met her during the visit resulting in the infamous claustrophobia incident at my parents and then again when we went to Charlotte for my brother’s wedding a month later. He had never met Téa, but actually no one in Charlotte had met Téa yet. My sister shows Nate family photos every day, though, so that he will know who all of his relatives are even if they live far away. For our part of the family, those photos also include ones of T2.

It didn’t take long after our arrival to realize that not only did Nate get along with T2, he actually wanted to be T2. Every morning when Toni crawled into Téa’s crate for a little nap (and possibly a moment’s rest from Nate’s constant chatter), Nate needed to crawl in with her. “Look. Look. Pearl and I get in crate.” He was really in with Toni, but all of those
brindle pit bulls look alike anyway, right? When asked what they were doing, he would close the crate (which for some reason didn’t trigger Toni’s claustrophobia) and say, “We sleepin’,” which sounded a lot more like, “We sweepin’.” Toni was actually making a fairly good approximation of sleeping, if you can call lying in a ball with an “I’m so over this” look on your face sleeping. Nate did more of a fidgety, fussy, twist and turn kind of pretend sleeping that ended up looking nothing at all like sleeping.

Then there was trick time. T2 have to work at least a little for nearly everything. They sit before going outside, sit or lie down while a meal is being prepared and so on. So did our new “puppy,” Nate. Nate sat with T2 before going outside. He sat while I made their dinner. One morning, when Nate was feeling particularly chatty and that he ought to be touching or petting the dogs every other second, my sister was feeling particularly short of patience with
him. So when the dogs laid down, as dogs often do throughout the day, we told Nate that the dogs were having a time out quiet time. Well, if the furry dogs were having a time out quiet time, then the human dog needed to have a time out quiet time, too. So Nate got down on his belly on the floor, put his rear end toward Téa, put his head down on his hands and whispered very loudly that he was having a time out quiet time, too—look! When everyone was “allowed” to get up 10 minutes later, T2 got a liver treat each and Nate had a pretzel stick. Win-win.

I did have to stop myself short of picking Nate up his own collar when we stopped by a Target during my visit—my sister would have invited us back but I think it would have been touch-and-go with my brother-in-law if we’d put a collar on his son. Which I think makes it clear that the moral of this story, with apologies to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, must be “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be pit bulls.”

06 June 2010

“You think that’s funny?”

We went to the vet this morning. We go to the vet unfortunately often. Luckily, everyone at our vet office loves T2—and I mean loveslovesloves them. So when we go to the vet, even though some unpleasant things may happen there in the course of the visit, the affection, the fawning and the endless treats they get along the way make it more like a visit to their own personal fan club than to the vet.

We don’t usually go to the vet for emergencies, so usually our trips are fairly uneventful. But today when we approached the vet, we came upon a massive
line of people (three and four deep in some places) that began at the doors of gigantic high school on the block and wrapped around the corner. When we turned the corner to get to the parking lot, we could see that the line wrapped around the next corner, and if it wrapped around the corner beyond that (which we couldn’t see) it would soon become a perfect city square block of a line. It was a mixed demographic—mostly youngish adults; some older adults; all shapes, sizes and colors represented; and a certain style among them. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but when I learned from the vet staff that the line was for auditions for the new Transformer movie, it all made sense.

At any rate, as I waited for the line to part so that we could drive into the lot, I decided this was the kind of crowd in which someone was certainly going to make a big deal out of two pit bulls hopping out of a jeep. It would be similar to the reaction I might get tossing a leash around Cerberus, the mythical multi-headed hound who is said to guard the gates of hell, and taking him into the vet for his annual vaccines. So I let T2 out of the back hatch and ignored the commentary I could hear starting among the crowd closest to us. I “excuse me-ed” our way through the line to the sidewalk, smiling at the few people who made eye contact so they could see that a nice person like me probably has nice dogs, regardless of how intimidating they may appear.

And then it happened. I almost thought it hadn’t, because I really couldn’t believe anyone would do it. But it did.

One of the young men closest to the path we had just cut through the crowd barked at Toni and Téa. Not a friendly, “woof, woof, doggie” like we sometimes get in the park. A loud, abrupt, startling bark.

As I turned and processed that Toni was (not surprisingly) completely freaked out, tail between her legs and tucked against her belly, which was nearly on the sidewalk she was crouched so low, I also realized I was watching this ignorant, immature young man snigger about it with his buddy.

I think years ago I might have been the kind of person who would have kept walking, steaming on the inside but afraid to confront them for fear of being rude. I probably would have told my friends about it later, wishing I had had said, “(insert clever, cutting comment here).” But since Toni has come into our lives, I’ve become the kind of protective mama bear that you have to be if you have pit bulls in the city. I will say something when people disparage the breed or my own dogs to my face; I will tell people to step back if they are acting inappropriately toward my dogs (for instance the crackhead who tried to rile Toni up as if we were about to go into the fighting ring, but only succeeded in getting a stern talking-to from me); and I will not let some ill-mannered idiot terrorize my dog for a laugh.

“Who did that?” I said it loudly and aggressively. Even if I hadn’t seen them laughing, it would have been so obvious who the offenders were—they were the only ones who weren’t looking directly at me by then. “Who did that? Who freaked out my dog?” Bent heads like ostriches—as if I couldn’t see them eight feet in front of me. “You. You think that’s funny? It’s not.” I had everyone’s attention by then. “It’s not cool. And everyone here knows it but you.”

Okay, so it wasn’t the clever, cutting comment I would have liked. But based on the looks on their faces, their body language and the way they turned their backs to the glass windows of the reception area when they saw T2 and me enter reception from the exam rooms, I think I got my point across.

01 June 2010

The strange conversations we have – Part I

Anyone who has a pit bull knows what I mean when I say that a lot of people say a lot of strange things to us about our pit bulls. Some of the things people say are actually nice, complimentary or even just curious. But most of the things people say are uninformed, inappropriate or just downright mean-spirited. Sometimes we get both from the same people.

I was out one morning on a Saturday. We live near a homeless shelter and many of the guests there are out and about in the early hours. I’ve had various morning conversations with a few of them about pit bulls: ours, pits their families owned when they were growing up, pits they’ve met along the way, etc.

On this particular morning, I had both Toni and Téa with me. We had stopped to talk with a man for about five minutes about pit bulls, their personalities, how he bet no one ever messes with me when we go out walking. Then he said, pointing to Toni, “It would be really scary if that one got off his leash.” (Poor Toni—a lot of people think she’s a male due to her size and brawn.)

I was thinking we were on the same page, based on conversation up to that point. “I know. I can’t imagine how worried I’d be that someone would pick her up and try to make her fight or use her as a bait dog.”

He looked at me a little funny, paused and said, “No, I mean because she’d kill all the other dogs in the neighborhood.”

I laughed out loud. “That one?” I was cracking up. “No, that one is even afraid of cats. I wouldn’t be worried about the neighborhood dogs if she got out.”