Post by ARLP Volunteer & Foster Laura M. ~
There's a lot of pressure within the pit bull community to have dogs as close to perfect as possible, and with good reason. The media holds our dogs to a higher standard, and so must we. Behaviors that most people wouldn't bat an eye at in other breeds, even as simple as jumping up, are unacceptable in pit bulls. Because of the closer scrutiny, we owe it to our breed to make them good ambassadogs. To not only keep them off dangerous dog lists, but to push them positively into the public eye in order to make up for those owners who are not as responsible as we are, to try and combat the Michael Vicks of the dogs world. Out of necessity, the pit bull breed cannot tolerate any bad publicity.
I have a confession to make:
My pit bull is not perfect.
In fact, he's broken.
When my husband and I bought our first house last summer, it was the realization of many of our dreams. The most exciting of which (at least for me, a self-professed dog geek) was the chance to get a pit bull of our very own. In my head, I had visions of another brilliant competition dog, a therapy dog, a dog I could use to do my part the help support our noble breed through this difficult time. I wanted a dog much like my boxer, but without the health problems and personality quirks brought on by generations of poor breeding. I searched far and wide for the perfect dog, fantasies of greatness dancing through my head. Eventually, we settled on a sweet, handsome pup in Ontario, a refugee from the BSL war in Canada. Born a pit, banned for it? What a great background story for the breed's next icon.
Sometimes, God doesn't give you what you want. He gives you what you need.
Maus is broken. And I don't mean that he's not perfect-even I know that "perfect" is an ideal, not a reality. It's not that he jumps, or cries in his crate, or doesn't come when called: Maus doesn't like people. Many of you will realize what serious flaw this is in a breed that was not only bred for hundred of years to be friendly to people, but also cannot tolerate any more bad publicity. When we got him, Maus would bark and snarl and growl and basically do everything to strangers that most people assume pit bulls do and which we who love the breed know they shouldn't. With a lot of hard work (alotalotalotalot), Maus no longer vocalizes his displeasure with the whole human race (er, at least not very often), but the message is still there: Maus really wishes everyone would drop off the face of the planet.
For all intents and purposes, I should have had Maus humanely put to sleep the minute I realized what a liability he was (and really still is). I remember sitting in on a therapy dog workshop listening to a breed advocate talk about how important it is to get our dogs their CGC, their TD, to show the public how wonderful pit bulls can be in the right hands. I remember wanting to cry because I knew even then that Maus would never be a great pit bull ambassador. Hell, he would probably never be entirely comfortable in his own skin. It was the death of a dream.
There are decisions in life that you make not because it's the right decision, or the best decision, but because it's the only decision you can make and still live with yourself. I could not have slept well at night knowing that I did not do everything I possibly could to help Maus cope with life. After all, he was no longer a rescue dog, relying on the resources and aide of an over-worked, under-appreciated rescue group. He is an owned dog; he is my dog, and I couldn't turn my back on him.
So we have embarked on this fantastic, interesting, embarrassing, and oh-so-rewarding journey together. I have learned more about canine behavior from Maus in four months than I did from my two "normal" dogs in five years. For every step forward, we took two steps back. Then, suddenly, instead of taking two steps back to every one, we were breaking even. From the perfection of hind sight, I can see that Maus and I have moved forward far more than we have fallen back. It is a relief to know that we have made progress, but there is still an underlying guilt involved, that feeling that I am doing the pit bull breed a disservice by allowing myself to indulge in an imperfect dog.
You may know that I am a quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) stubborn person, and dreams do not die easily. I routinely make a decision, listen carefully to points and counterpoints, asses and recognize all the facts, and then do whatever I damn well please. So you will understand if I still harbor that desire for that "perfect" ambassadog, even as I realize that it is an impossible ideal for Maus. So I hope that you will forgive me for getting my jollies where I can. For the past couple of months, Maus has been in a tracking class, an activity he seems to have a natural aptitude for. (That isn't what I'm apologizing for). So when TCOTC asked for volunteers to demonstrate tracking at the Hennipen County government building in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, I am ashamed to say I jumped at the chance, knowing that it would seriously stress Maus out and put to the test all of the coping mechanisms we had so pain-stakingly created to deal with people. The demo had "potential disaster" written all over it.
I determined to take it slow, to not push Maus any further than he seemed willing to go. I brought my boxer, Piper, with, knowing that she would be a stabilizing influence. I kept Maus crated and hidden until the last possible moment, know that it would help keep him calm. I laid his track methodically, taking in wind direction, heat, and spectators in order to make it as easy as possibly. I took Maus out, harnessed him up, threw up a quick but fervent prayer, and let Maus do what he does best.
There's something beautiful about tracking. It has to do with the wonder of watching a dog employ senses and skills that we as humans have only the vaguest notions of. On the field, Maus is in control, and I am-quite literally-just the idiot holding the leash. It is a pleasant and ultimately peaceful activity for both Maus and I. People clapped when Maus found his first article, downing perfectly while I stood dumb founded. People were clapping for my little ball of neurotic? I was, I'm a little ashamed to say, rather shocked.
After the track was finished, Maus was still buzzed from the work out. His body language was relaxed and he seemed genuinely happy, a rare state of mind for him. So I made the decision to visit with a few people. I won't say it went perfectly (ha!). Maus had to use all the skills we had worked so hard to develop. He shied away from people a few times, but I doubt anyone realized what he was doing. At the end of the day, as we ate pizza and discussed the demo, my fellow TCOTCer's and I came to an amazing realization-the crowd had loved Maus. It was not the half dozen shelties that ran the show (even though I was fascinated by them), nor sweet Livvy the field spaniel, nor Brita the rott (on whom I have an enormous crush), nor my own darling (if slightly bizarre) Piper Ann. It was Maus who people would remember, who they would go home and tell their spouses and children and neighbors about.
My Maus had made a positive impact on the world.
This story does not have a happy ending. I took a serious risk bring a dog I knew was unstable into a public, crowded place, and I should not be easily forgiven. Maus will never be a perfect dog, or even a great ambassadog. We will always be just muddling through, fighting his personal demons side-by-side. Maus is and ever shall be a dog that requires careful, constant monitoring and management, and I will never be able to recommend any other person willingly take on a dog like Maus. I am a hypocrite. But I do not regret Maus, and will be secretly pleased to have him for as long as he shares his life with mine, no matter how much work he is.
Maus is my guilty pleasure.