Shelter Me: A Pit Bull Love Story

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Chapter 2

Wednesday, July 26

Once upon a time dogs were wolves. But we are not like wolves now. We know that pack is a fluid thing; packs are formed and dissolved at a moments notice, even several times in the same day. All it takes is a few exchanges of nonaggression body language and some butt sniffing, and whoever happens to be in the area is accepted as family. But when we go to visit my human’s relatives, though I can smell the blood relationship, she doesn’t behave like pack with them and it’s very odd. There’s a strain and a tension in the air. I’m not allowed to greet them: I have to “down” and “stay” quietly in the corner, and I can tell that most of them don’t like me. Dogs can always tell when people don’t like them. The ones who are the most apprehensive about me are the same ones my human is most nervous around. She doesn’t act like an alpha around her family: she acts like a puppy trying to do a dance of submission, wriggling with her belly to the ground and licking their chins, but afraid at the same time to be annoying with any overt gestures. So instead she stays very quiet and tense, almost like a prey animal, and they avoid eye contact and hover on the periphery of one another.

Her father likes me, but in the mindless way of people who stare at me like they are making a dominance challenge but at the same time make kissy noises and say, “good doggy” in sing song voices that lack any shred of dignity. I can smell the sickness in him, which is why he’s one of the few people I feel entitled to jump up on, even though I’m usually very naturally respectful of humans, even tiny ones that haven’t learned to walk yet. For some reason my human doesn’t like me greeting her father: after the first few times she now gets annoyed when she’s close to me and intervenes before the opportunity to show my elevated social status presents itself.

My human has the sickness inside her, but she tries to keep it tightly controlled. Sometimes it spills out though, and even though she’s alpha and she’s normally the one who keeps me safe, I’ve come to learn that there are situations in which it is my job to be in charge temporarily.

This is okay with me because I am a dog. Not all humans seem to understand this, but dogs are working animals and were meant to have jobs. Honestly, I feel sorry for the dogs I meet who are often smarter than me and mostly higher in rank, but haven’t learned how to learn and live their days bored and idle and restless because no one gives them jobs.

Yesterday we did a lot of work. When we are inside buildings my work is called “ready,” and it means that I have to focus on my human exclusively: I can’t sniff anything, and I can’t even glance at other humans who coo at me and occasionally drool shamelessly. My human sporadically rewards me with pieces of meat warm from her hand, so even though it’s work and it’s exhausting, “ready” is a good game. Once we leave the buildings, my human tells me “free.” Then she gives me the leash, but I’m still working because until we get to our car I have to protect her from other cars. I think being in buildings exhausts my human too, even though I’m the one doing “ready” because she often doesn’t smell right when we leave, and she walks wrong, like she’s confused.

I got very tired from doing a lot of “ready” yesterday, at the place where my human laid on a chair and people spent a lot of time smelling her mouth (I’ve smelled it, and it’s not that exciting unless it’s got food inside), and at the lunch place, and at obedience class. My human cried at the first place. I didn’t smell any danger or injury, and she sensibly didn’t look at me or at the other people in the room while she was showing weakness, so we all politely pretended it wasn’t happening. My human is a good alpha and I don’t feel like she expects me to fix it when things break inside her and she cries. I know it doesn’t work that way in other packs - some dogs have it rough, and their humans insist on spilling their volatile emotions all over their dogs, even though we don’t know what to do with them. And they insist on touching their dogs even though the dogs lick their faces, asking them to please, please stop. Humans are supposed to be dominant, to keep us safe, otherwise dogs are lost and adrift and struggle to make sense of a world with rules we didn’t have any part in creating. That’s too big of a job for any dog. So I’m grateful that when my human cries she seems to understand that she can’t be alpha and gives me space.

There has to be balance. That’s the bottom line. Mostly the human has to be dominant because it’s their world. When I’m in charge, it’s only for short periods of time, and the rules are clear and defined. So I don’t have to worry all the time like some dogs who have no leadership. I do my job and I get rewards and then I enjoy my well earned rest because I am a good dog.

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