Friday, October 26, 2012

How My Pit Bull Changed My Life

Tomorrow is National Pit Bull Awareness Day and in honor of pit bull type dogs everywhere, here is the story of my Sadie and her impact on my life.  A celebration of the bond between girl and dog and how my pit bull mix changed my life.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might have picked up on a few details about my life.  I own a pet store in Portland, OR.  I have 3 dogs, who are my life, and one of them is a pit bull mix.

What you might not have gleaned from my stories & posts is how I got to be where I am.  You see, I wasn't always this dog-crazy person.  While I did have dogs throughout my life, before Sadie & Maggie I knew nothing about training, behavior, or nutrition.  I watched The Dog Whisperer, thought he was a fantastic trainer, and believed Iams to be a high quality pet food.  A lot has changed since those days!

We got Sadie from a family who needed to rehome her.  It was because they were moving, they said, their new apartment had weight restrictions.  These were also the people who advertised her as "Free Lab Mix to Good Home".  Their ad did not mention the pit bull part of her breed heritage.  It also did not mention the behavior problems that quickly arose once we took her home.  I do not resent nor judge them for how Sadie came to be with us; she is the one of the best things to happen to me and for that, I will always be grateful to fate for bringing together a family who needed someone like me to help a dog like her.

Sadie was a fearful dog.  She is the most sensitive soul I have ever met, canine, human or otherwise.  Sadie feels deeply.  She is intense.  She is also the most loving creature.  She is more than just one of my beloved pets. She is my heart dog and she is the driving force behind the person I have come to be.  And she wouldn't have been any of those things without also being a pit bull type dog.

From the moment I first saw the fear in Sadie's eyes, I knew we were meant to be.  I saw this dog who didn't know how to deal with the big, scary world and behind that fear, I saw an intense need to love and be loved.  Ask any pit bull owner and they will tell you the same thing : pit bulls love love.  They exist to please and to receive affection.  Her fear is not a typical pit bull characteristic, especially because it was people who scared her most.  But it is one characteristic that speaks to her as an individual; she was a product of her early life experiences, her breed heritage and her individual genetics.  And if there's one thing I would like to shout from the mountaintops, it is the wish that we could stop seeing pit bull type dogs as stereotypes and start seeing them as individual dogs with individual strengths & weaknesses. 

It took us years to help Sadie overcome her fears.  It took us months to even begin to get a clue on how to best deal with her challenges.   I am happy to say that she is no longer a fearful dog.  The gal who once would snap at every new person she met now seeks attention from strangers.  I never thought that she would be an ambassador for her breed but with each day, I continue to see a happy, well-adjusted girl who has left her fearful past behind her and I gain confidence in our ability to become a human-dog team who is capable of showing the world how wonderful pit bull type dogs can be.  She even spent her first day in the shop with me last week and was, dare I say, a better shop dog than Hurley!

Sadie changed my life by making me realize how fulfilling working with and for dogs is.  I consider her rehabilitation to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.  She inspired me to volunteer at our local Humane Society.  She showed me how dangerous punishment based training methods could be and led me to learn more about dog behavior and to embrace positive training methods.  She also showed me that it's not just about treats or clickers but about forming that relationship with your dog where a simple look or quiet no can achieve more than any jerk of the leash ever could.  And through all that, I started to become the person I am today - a proud pet professional whose mission is to give back, to foster a community of responsible dog owners and to share my knowledge and experiences to help others who may be going through similar challenges with their dogs.  One of the other greatest accomplishments of my life has been opening my business - and without Sadie, I don't know if that dream would ever have dared to be dreamed.

I am not alone.  I am surrounded by a community of pet bloggers who are inspired by the dogs who have made an impact on their lives.   I think by the time you get so dog-gone dog crazy that you become a pet blogger, you are already well into the realm of being a responsible pet owner but in the real world, it's often the pit bull owners that are the best, the most responsible, the ones who "get" canine behavior.  Pit Bull Awareness Day, to me, is not just about celebrating the dogs but also about shining the light on responsible Pit Bull owners.  I am one of them and we are the majority.