Shelter Me: A Pit Bull Love Story

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Chapter 26

Sunday, August 20

Today we started practicing “ready” at a brand-new church. That’s a pretty big change. The floors had a rough texture under my belly, but the air conditioning was just as excellent. We got to sit in the same row as my human’s family, like we were pack with them. Magda and her human were nowhere to be smelled. I don’t really mind because Magda is fun, and it’s flattering to have somebody roll belly-up so easily for me (not even little Nikki does that) but when we get together there’s no true spark of magic. We greet each other like we’ve both been locked away in kennels for a year, deprived of all canine company, but once we’ve had our noisy say we break apart and each pursues their own interests - mine peeing on everything nose-level, and hers panting and pacing back and forth between abjectly licking the inside of my mouth and waddling about her human’s ankles. She grovels for everybody equally, so she isn’t a girlfriend. And lately my human has had a disconcertingly prickly scent around Magda and her human. But the most drastic change of all was no “down, stay” at the cafe. My human and I have been working at the cafe for more than two years. When we attended trick class on Monday instead of Sunday, we used to walk three miles from our house to the cafe before spending the day there, then we’d ride back home in my human’s mother’s car. To refresh myself after the journey, I cooled my parched tongue with bowls of powdery ice on particularly hot days. I wouldn’t mind a frosty bowl, right now. While it lasted, the cafe was good to our pack, and it became so routine that I would have thought it would stay a part of us forever. Dogs understand “good bye,” but don’t really have a way to say, “good bye” to a place. We just move on.

After church my human obsessed on cardboard boxes and scent items for several hours so that my breakfast was unacceptably delayed. It turned out alright though because we drove to trick class and I was the only dog there! The boss’s dogs (they are shelties) don’t count because they stand inside of a pen barking demands to be allowed to perform but don’t actually do anything. After the long, long, break from class for two whole weeks, I burned with eagerness to work and show off all the practice my human and I had been doing on my commands. “Sitting,” on my haunches between tricks, I quivered from snout to tail, leaning forward on my heels and jabbing at my human’s treat pouch with my blunt nose to urge her cues faster. My yellow eyes darkened to twin pinpoints of orange fire. We played a lot of games that involved attention. The boss held treats right by the corner of my eye where my peripheral vision is sharpest, and I had to “take it” with my wooden dumbbell instead of eating the treats. They smelled amazing; I breathed in a rainbow of intoxicating roast chicken and liver and fish flavors, but I never got any of them, which was really unfair. Instead I scarfed my usual ground turkey rewards. We practiced “ready ” with the tantalizing treats right by my face in an open bag, teasing me, and still I couldn’t even glance at them for a second. We also practiced “limp” but in a brand-new way. Instead of my human holding out her hand and running backwards while I haphazardly swiped at her, she asked me to “stand” then “wave.” I rapidly caught on to the fact that when I “waved” too quickly I just got a “good” but if I “waved” in a slow exaggerated way I got a “yes” and treats! Best of all if I kept my paw lifted off the grass and just stood there holding it in the air, my human fed me reward after reward and laughed and cheered enthusiastically until my paw was tired and I set it down. Sprawled languidly on my seat in the car, I panted from all my hard work, shooting intermittent grins at my human because my nostrils couldn’t even handle all the pride radiating from her. The boss’s combination of exuberance and tenacity never fails to bring out the best in me, so that we both rode home high on my brilliance.

Over the course of the next few weeks, my human and I started playing a game called “in” with my crate. It involves me running into my crate on my human’s command and dropping to my belly. Then I get a treat. At first, I did not want to go inside because I had a nagging suspicion that I was going to be locked inside the crate and left imprisoned, alone, and abandoned. But I learned that most of the time all that happens in this game is that I gobble a slimy hunk of banana and then my human tells me “okay” and I dart out of the crate at top speed. Occasionally my human does shut the squeaky gate, which initially made me a little nervous, but even when she does that mostly she just swings it back open right away and I wolf down another reward and get my “okay” release. Even MORE occasionally, my human walks away after she shuts the squeaky gate. But it’s so random that I never know when it’s coming, so I always sprint for my crate willingly when I hear “in.” And when she leaves, she returns sporadically to feed me a tidbit through the bars. My crate is full of soft, snuggly, fleecy blankets and is just big enough for me to curl up tail over nose, like a little den, so really, it’s not all that dreadful spending a little quiet time on my own.

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