Alison, a Pit Bull and a lady
Some people say the best dogs choose you
I agree, and I'd also add, the smartest, most loving dogs you'll ever know aren't necessarily pure-bred, and they aren't necessarily puppies. Just like best friends, you can never know when you're going to meet them.
When I arrived at the shelter to pick up Alley (aka Alison, according to my fellow Whistlers), I won't pretend I wasn't second-guessing every next step as I took it. I had never owned a dog before, had no backyard, no canine training skills, and no dog food. I knew nothing about caring for a dog, but I knew I wanted one.
Alley was not the first dog to emerge from behind the chain-link fence, but she was certainly the most intriguing. At first, she paced calmly while the other dogs indulged in a bit of freedom. There were several other dogs at the shelter, and while they each ran around one another in circles, Alley enforced a steady circle around me. While one eye evaluated my character, the other was obviously anxious to snuggle, and I found this complex dance of hers beyond adorable.
As tough as she looked, her mean-girl facade didn't last long. Soon, she was running at me full speed, attacking me with kisses. By the time we left, the woman running the place had explained to me Alley's entire life history, and even got teary-eyed as we drove away. Apparently, Alley was her favorite, but due to Alley's advanced age (about 4 years old), she was starting to worry Alley would always be overlooked for the puppies in the bunch.
Alley’s first days at home
In the beginning, Alley acted like every day was the first day at a new school. She didn't trust anyone but me, and made messes whenever I would leave her for more than 10 minutes at a time. I would take her to dog parks, but got embarrassed and nervous when she became aggressive with the other dogs. My dad and sister thought I was crazy, and my brother-in-law was skeptical too. Before long though, my Dad was tossing her whole waffles for breakfast (ignoring my requests for no human food), and my brother-in-law quickly gave in to snuggling with her on the couch.
Sadly, the rest of the world wasn't quite so easy to win over. Many people would shift to the other side of the street as we passed, visibly concerned for their safety. Others who were a little more bold would ask outright, “Is he a Pit Bull?” “SHE”, I would answer, “is a Staffordshire Terrier mix.” It was a truthful answer, though admittedly a bit misleading. I was simply using a synonym for Pit Bull, one that seemed to set most people at ease.
Teaching an old dog new tricks
It's a shame to see the resistance people have when it comes to caring about the fate of bully breeds. The truth is, when trained to be over-protective and aggressive, most dogs will perform exactly as requested, regardless of breed. Alley, just like any other dog, is a people-pleaser. She’s intensely loyal, and seeks praise wherever she can find it. Luckily, this loyalty also makes it easy to teach her fun tricks like:
- Holding a treat steadily on her nose until she hears the release word, "okay."
- Waving hello, a variant on the traditional shake.
- Rolling over, a trick she’ll happily perform if asked to “be an apple.”
With Alley, the best part is seeing people get past her exterior to learn that she’s really just a gentle giant at her core. She's afraid of water, infatuated with everyone who passes her, and a sucker for a treat. Despite her good nature, I've always tried to read as much as I can about training methods for bully breeds. What I've consistently found is there's no silver bullet for training a dog—any dog. Similar to people, dogs require patience, understanding, and a willingness to keep trying new things.
Giving rescues a second chance
Alley is a rescue, and I've had her for almost 8 years now. Over the years, she's calmed down a little bit, and even learned to make friends with other dogs. I don't know her real age or her birthday, and I've never been sure what kind of dog she is, but I don’t think any of that really matters. I think she's ridiculous and adorable, and I know for a fact she's changed my life. Without Alley, I might never have joined Whistle.
I'm not saying it's been easy, and I'm not saying I've made her life perfect. I live in a small studio in San Francisco with no backyard. From what I've observed though, no dog is perfect, even the pure-breds and the puppies. Alley is happy, healthy and loved, and in the end, I hope that's all that matters.
Jun 13, 2013