26 April 2011

The strange conversations we have - Part IV

T2 and I were out in the yard this weekend as I tried to get a leg up on our garden before the flowering weeds (known as wildflowers to some) begin their treacherous assault on the flowers and herbs I actually like. We did not own our house last spring, so this is our first opportunity to make some sense of what's there, what gets to stay (nice flowers that don't irritate my allergies, herbs, rose bushes) and what must be relocated to the trash bin before it has a chance to turn on us (about 75 percent of what's growing there).

I was up to my elbows in dirt and phlox while T2 worked on their tans on the deck. We have a bit of privacy from the street, so people on the sidewalk, though they have a clear view of the deck, cannot see me as I work in some parts of the garden. Because if they could have seen me, the woman walking by with her husband, two small children and a set of grandparents would have had more sense and manners (I hope) than to say, "Oohhh, look at them. They look mean." 

Now, I imagine that at some point in my life it would not have ever occurred to me that anyone could say anything disparaging about the people or animals I love so dearly. At some point. But I have pit bulls now and I am always ready with a polite response when misguided, ill-mannered people say horrible things to my face about the clearly loved-and-cared-for dogs at the end of the leashes in my hand. So of course, I knew this woman was talking about my sweet girls and I knew it didn't occur to her that they would never be left out in the yard unattended (who worries about their vicious dogs being stolen, right?).

Up I popped like a marionette. I felt ridiculous even as I was doing it. I could not stop myself and yet in my head I thought, "Well, that's it. You've become that woman. There's no turning back now."

"Nope," I said, as if I were already a part of their conversation. "Not mean at all. In fact, they go to daycare each week to play with other dogs and they're great with children. Actually, they're the most affectionate, well-behaved dogs we've ever had." I could see the grandparents smirking a little, though I am not sure if it was at me for being a crazy dog lady or at the woman for being called out in her remarks.

"Oh. Um. Are they pit bulls?" 

"Yes they are. Really stellar family pets when given the opportunity to live in a loving home. No different than people."

"We have a friend who has a pit bull. It's a really nice dog."

"Right. So you know what I mean, then. Have a good day."

That's what I said, because that's how I have chosen to handle people's rude behavior toward my girls—with a chipper voice, a big smile and a firmly positive message.

In my heart, though, the conversation goes more like this:

"Oohhh, look at them. They look mean." 

"Huh. Your kids look stupid. I guess we're even."

19 April 2011

What's better than one pit bull pup?

I recently had an opportunity to attend a "pittie party" at the Chicago Animal Care & Control (CACC) facility. I went willingly, if apprehensively, as a volunteer with Project Rescue Chicago

I'm all for attending any number of outings, events or meetings that will help educate people about the many stellar and admirable qualities pit bulls bring to the table. But I also knew that there would be many, many sad, confused and frightened faces looking out from the kennels. I knew the conditions, though a step up in quality for some of those sweet pups, would not be up to my hopes and expectations for basic decency. And I knew that the signs of abuse and neglect would be far too plentiful and far too obvious. 

Still, you cannot love pit bulls without also addressing what is happening to them in the current social and political climate. To be a truly strong advocate for all of the pit bull breeds currently victimized by criminals as well as misinformed, misguided upright citizens, it is critical to be painfully aware of what is happening to pit bulls who are not in loving homes. This is why I went willingly, though apprehensively, to the pittie party.

I had the good fortune, however, to know that we would not leave CACC empty-handed. Two Pitties in the City had written about Shy, a diabetic pit bull who had been saved from euthanasia. In addition to needing a home and a family to call her own, Shy also desperately needed cataract surgery, so Two Pitties began a fundraising campaign. And although Shy did find her forever family as well as a new name (Khloe), and although Two Pitties was able to raise a substantial amount of money to cover the costs of her surgery, little Shy/Khloe passed away unexpectedly one night from unknown causes. Two Pitties offered to return all donations to her cause, but the many generous contributors were set on doing a good deed, even if it could no longer be to Shy/Khloe's benefit. "Luckily" cataract surgery is quite expensive, so I happened to know that there was a good chance that we would leave CACC that day with not just one but two lucky (if temporarily broken) pit bulls who might otherwise be overlooked due to medical conditions.

I won't lie. It was hard walking through the facility. There were so many beautiful dogs there. Some were as happy as if they were hanging out in someone's backyard, but most were resigned or, harder to see, depressed. There was one handsome white pit bull/boxer mix with brindle spots who still puts a lump in my throat when I think about him. He sat in the middle of his crate shaking, shrinking into himself from sheer misery. When I reached out to him, hoping to give him a little comfort, the most he could do in response was lift the tip of his tail off of the ground, drop his eyes and lower his head. I never saw Toni in her crate at the shelter from which we adopted her, but I've seen her in confined spaces. This boy was Toni—except his hell was just beginning (he'd been there just one day), whereas we work hard every day to ensure that her hell is far in her past. People need to know that this is the reality of unwanted animals. They need to know because it's hard, not even though it's hard.

For the broken dogs—dogs with illnesses, injuries, unattractive yet treatable ailments—the likelihood of making it through the system and into a home is even smaller. For these dogs, there is a better chance that they will be killed in the near future than there is that they will find a home. So walking through all of that misery was a little more bearable knowing that we were changing the odds that day. And we not only changed them, we multiplied them by two. Because really, if there's anything better than one pit bull pup, it's two pit bull pups!

"I think everything's gonna be okay now!"

Follow their journey through Project Rescue Chicago's program by reading their stories on the Two Pitties in the City blog, starting with this introduction.

12 April 2011

Sweet Georgia on my mind: The happy ending

This is the flier we put together to help publicize Georgia, her adorable charms and talents, and her need for a home—pronto. It reads:

Hi. My name is Georgia. I am about 10 months old. I used to live in a building in the hallway. No one fed me very much or paid much attention to me. But some guys in the building gave me to some nice people who are supposed to help me. I am very affectionate and happy, even though I have no idea what’s going on right now. I know how to sit and shake and am learning how to stay and lie down already. I am housetrained, too! I’m not crate trained yet, but I’m a quick learner and am very food motivated so I think with a little more training I will really learn to like my crate (so far I think it’s just for eating and I don’t mind it then).

Unfortunately, the people who are helping me right now have two other female pit bulls, and that seems like a lot of ladies all in one condo, even to me. So they can’t come home until I find a new place to stay, either for a while or forever.

If you can help out, please call XXX.

If I were writing that flier today, I think I would include something about how when she ran down the hallway of our condo building after a ball, she looked like a miniature deer bounding through a forest clearing. I would maybe throw something in about how she was a dainty and well-mannered eater, despite the fact that she probably had more food in the week she was with us than she had in the whole month prior to that. I might add that the little lamb in the photo above was in serious danger of drowning in dog saliva, but that it might remain intact for years since she was not a stuffie slayer. I would still not include the part about how she was definitely condo trained (as in, she did not have accidents in our condo) but that she was having trouble getting the hang of building trained (as in, she sometimes confused outside of the condo with the real outside, though in her defense she was experiencing about 12,000 new things that week and a mistake here and there was entirely understandable). I would also not mention how tempting it was for us to fall for her, for fear of discouraging a potential adopter.

"Hi,it's Ymelda...from the vet. I was off yesterday, but I'm wondering if you still have Georgia."

As a matter of fact I did have Georgia, right at the other end of the leash in my hand. She and I were just getting ready to take food rations over to Toni and Téa. As it happens, the vet was exactly halfway between the condo we lived in and our dog sleepover camp. Would, um, right now be a good time to stop by so Ymelda and Georgia could meet?

"You want to meet me. You know you do."

This exact moment is the beginning of the end of my part of Georgia, sweet Georgia's story, but it's really just the beginning of her story. Because it turns out that Ymelda, whom I have always liked, loved Georgia. She was moving to a dog-friendly building in just two weeks. Her friend and co-worker, Jackie, would live just downstairs and they were already sorting out joint dog walking schedules. Ymelda was even pre-approved as an adopter through Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue, which is the group we worked through to begin some sort of paperwork and accountability for her welfare. 

"My friend Lucy is kind of fluffy, but I love her anyway."

I sometimes see Georgia when I am at the vet. She and Ymelda walk to work together when the weather suits—a canine version of Take Your Daughter to Work Day. She met Toni and Téa once. As expected, Toni liked Georgia just fine but Téa felt that perhaps she wasn't really a dog we wanted to hang out with, effective immediately. (Téa can be very particular about who she wants as a friend, even though it means she misses out on meeting some very cool dogs.) I got to hear about Georgia's reaction to the Great Blizzard of 2011 (pro-snow but not a big fan of snowbanks—thank goodness she had a new winter coat!). I know that, like Téa, she can be particular when choosing friends. And I heard that she just celebrated a birthday, complete with her very own cake:

"If I can just get my paws on that cake, all of my wishes will have come true!"

We are grateful that our friend took Georgia when a stranger offered her up, even though our friend had nowhere to keep her. We're grateful that we were able to play a small part in helping sweet Georgia along the way. We're grateful for the timing, mishaps and dumb luck that brought Georgia and Ymelda together. But I think we are most grateful every time we hear a Georgia story from Ymelda because it is clear that she is loved and protected in a way she might never have known otherwise.

Many thanks to Ymelda for contributing the photos included in this post and for opening her heart and her home to sweet Georgia.

05 April 2011

Sweet Georgia on my mind: The middle

Having just been given a bundle of pit bull in need of some rescuing and learning that our two favorite rescues were full-up, we found ourselves lacking a clear vision for next steps. Additionally, since this had come up a bit suddenly (as in, "I'm on my way with a dog I need to give you. Where are you?"), we hadn't even eaten our lunch and I was getting a bit testy due to the hunger pangs. So we headed home.

As we walked into our condo, I mentioned that we might do well to at least give poor Smelly (as we were temporarily calling her) a bit of food. I was certain she had gone a long while since her last meal and wouldn't turn her nose up at anything we had to offer. Chris announced that while that he thought that was a good idea, he was giving her a bath first—no arguments. We were only going to have her around for another hour or so, but it could at least be a more pleasant hour. 

Chris has a whole routine that he goes through with T2 and baths. Lots of talking and finger massaging and "good, good girl" comments are included. The canine lady on the receiving end gets a lift in (whether she wants it or not) then gets wrapped in a warm, fluffy towel at the end and lifted back out again to commence the zoomy, air-drying portion of the process. I wish I had thought to take a photo of this little girl's bath (most likely her first bath ever). You could just see in her face that while she might not entirely understand what was going on or why, she was willing to let us do what we needed to do and be a good sport about it.

After a little running around when she was finished, she came over (smelling delightful!) to the kitchen area of our loft where I was putting together a little kibble and ground chicken for her. Not enough to make her sick, since who knew what or when she had last eaten, but enough to stop the grumble in her belly and buy a little more affection from her. I set the food down and watched her wander up to it for a sniff. I'm not sure she entirely understood what I was putting on the floor. She was just beginning to realize that it was food and that the whole bowl was for her when she heard Chris coming toward us, having finished cleaning the tub. Bless her heart if she didn't completely abandoned that bowl of food immediately, prance over to check on him and give his hand a little lick before finishing her meal.

"What luck—someone has left a fluffy bunny for me to nibble on!"

Somewhere in the process, I texted a friend who had a connection with one of the larger shelters here in Chicago. I was hoping she had insight into their policies on taking strays. She did. Without going into the gory and disappointing details here, I'll cut to the chase: The shelter publicly states an open policy for animal drop-offs and relinquishing. The catch is that if the animal brought in is a stray, it goes immediately to Animal Care & Control. I have yet to see that fact in any of their literature—and believe me, I've looked. So that was the end of that option.

Apparently this next step in the process was going to take a little more thinking than we had anticipated.

The next day seemed to bring no further ideas, insight or options other than the acknowledgement that T2 would be staying for an indefinite time at sleepover camp. As the owner of our daycare/sleepover camp facility put it, "Three bitches in one home is too many." (We later revised that to "Four bitches in one home is too many," which I continue to quote every once in a while when the occasion suits.) The other realization that came was that we couldn't, if she was staying for more than a few hours, continue to call her Smelly. This is how she came to be known as Georgia...sweet Georgia on my mind.

The next several days were a whirl of activity and stress. I took little Georgia with me every time I walked out the door, extolling her virtues and need for a home to anyone within listening distance. We posted on Facebook. We made flyers and tacked them up at Starbuck's, pet stores, the lobby of our building. We drove to our daycare/sleepover camp each day to drop off a day's worth of food for Toni and Téa. (Yes, I know it would have been easier to take it over in bulk, but I felt like I wanted to do something for my own girls every day as well and taking them food was about all I could come up with.)

"I just met a cat! I am pretty sure it didn't want to be my friend—even though I think I would have liked it. Exhausting!"

As you may remember, we love our vet and our vet loves us. I just knew if I took Georgia to the vet with me to post a flyer, someone there would click with her, either adopting her themselves or sending a friend or family member our way who would fall in love with her. As I was pulling up, I got a call from a potential adoptive family (actually, the friend who gave me the down-low on the shelter process I mentioned above). They had fallen for sweet Georgia, but well-meaning friends/volunteers (from the shelter mentioned above) got involved. My friend felt compelled to explain (aka, drag out in great length in the hopes that she would feel better delivering this difficult and unfounded message) her explanation for what we suspected from the minute the well-meaning volunteers laid eyes on sweet Georgia: She seemed fantastic, but gosh, you just never know with a pit bull so there was no way the friends/volunteers could give their approval of her...since she wasn't part of their program. So the recommendation was, if this friend wanted a pit bull, skip Georgia (apparently now known in their minds as The Loose Cannon) and take one of the shelter pit bulls. (For the record, it has taken me a long time to tell this story because of this particular part of it. While this family may not have been the right family for Georgia, neither she nor we deserved the behind-the-back treatment and excuses aimed at her pit-bull-ness that the volunteers brought to the situation.)

With that on my mind, I walked into the vet's office with my "dog available" flyer...and stopped dead. No one I knew was at the desk (I basically thought I knew everyone). So I hemmed and hawed and stammered out my story and handed over my flyer to the new person. And then I just stood there. I was done. I had no more ideas, no other places I hadn't paraded her sweet face and posted a flyer, nowhere to take her little self except back to our homewhile our girls remained in sleepover camp purgatory (comfortably so, of course, but Glenda the Good Witch had it right when she said to Dorothy, "There's no place like home.").

So I did what I am certain anyone in my position would have done. I took Georgia back to the car, had a good cry and then drove her home.