Shelter Me: A Pit Bull Love Story

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Chapter 4

Friday, July 28

This morning I woke up frisky and I rolled onto my back, belly up and wriggled in my most endearing puppy fashion so my human would rub my belly. She laughed and obliged me for a few seconds and even roughed up my muzzle before getting distracted by my eye boogers and her phone. I stood up and wobbled into my legs, in a half crouch so my belly was still puppy-low, and then I climbed on top of her. I almost go flying off the edge of the bed in the process. “How am I supposed to get up, huh?” She said, so I settled down on her chest for a short nap.

We have a routine where she gets up first and putters around the house doing human things - relieving her bladder, brushing her teeth (she brushes hers first thing but mine After breakfast) putting on walking-clothes that smell like days of rank sweat. I stay in bed and enjoy the life of leisure until she gets all the way to the front door and picks up the keys and my leash, and then finally she calls me, and I yawn and stretch and leap from the high bed. I find her at the front door - sometimes I zoom over there and sometimes not - and I feel more frisky so I weave and worm between her legs and rub against them asking for attention and I lick her face. She scratches the itchy spot above the base of my tail and rubs up and down my sides and pats my chest and scratches under my chin before clipping on my lead. I’m supposed to sit for this and I usually do without too much squirming, even though I’m eager to be off. The only time it’s really, really hard and my human’s voice commanding me to “sit” gets sharp and harsh is when the drier is on: then I whine and pace in circles because (horror of horrors) the exit we use is inside the laundry room, and I want to bolt outside just to escape the terrible rumbling that I can hear reverberating inside my skull.

Friday is laundry day. My human strips the sheets off the mattress and layers of my shed undercoat go flying into the air like a white cloud. I shake my fur and curve away with one paw tucked up protectively and whale-eye her to tell her laundry is a bad idea, but my human doesn’t take the hint. The dreadful creaking and rumbling of the washing machine begins and suddenly I’m a fish in a bowl that’s too small, circling furiously, desperate to break out because the monsters are watching me.

We travel together every day. It cements our bond as pack. At first I’m a little antsy because of the laundry, and I jump when the first two cars roar past, but my human’s hand on the leash is steady and firm, so I quickly calm down, drinking in the smells of our familiar territory with my open mouth.

At the dog park my human presses a button and I lap cool clean water straight from the pipe, not the dirty stagnant water thick with other dogs’ slobber that fills the bowls.

I acquaint myself with the dogs gathered at the park today, reassured that there are no intact males, and nobody is too insecure about their dominance level. I make a few halfhearted attempts to dig up old gopher holes but mostly I just lie with my tummy pressed to the cool earth and grin expansively, gelatinous strings of drool hanging from the corners of my jowls.

At home my human cooks my breakfast and gets ready for the library but I can’t contain myself because the drier is still on. I pace and pace and try to press myself against her legs even though she gets frustrated and tries to push me away. I’m sure that the sounds coming from the laundry room mean that the house is about to coming crashing down around us and we need to get out before it’s too late.

I’ve never been so relieved to see my human pick up my leash. I sit automatically for her to slip my blue vest over my head, and can barely keep my butt from lifting off the mat because I’m so eager to be out the door that my tail is wagging furiously. I hear my human’s command “in” and hop into the car. Then I curl up on the front seat with my chin over my paws, but my human is annoying and insists on disturbing me. I have to sit up so she can buckle my seat belt. This time when I lay down I rest my chin on the center console between our seats and gaze at her whenever she’s not looking at me. The air conditioning is glorious on my face. My relief over escaping the drier must be contagious because my human sings along with the radio while she drives.

Later I wish I could nudge her arm with my nose and make her remember the air conditioning and the freedom and the singing, because she goes away for a while, into a dark place where I can’t follow.

If I was a human, I’d tell her “I’m here. You’re enough for me. Why aren’t I enough for you?” But I’m a dog. I am exactly what I was created to be at every moment. Even in the shelter when I was a bad dog and nobody loved me, I didn’t worry that this was something wrong with me or that I was somehow unworthy of a better life, any more than it bothers me that some parts of my anatomy have gone on to doggy heaven before the rest of me. Dogs are complete, and we have no need for soul searching. But humans are creatures of deep unfillable longings. They act like somebody bit a chunk off their souls and they just need to chase this person down and find it again in their mouths to be okay. I’m aware of myself, but it’s like humans are aware of some other, better self that they aren’t but feel that they should be, and that’s why it’s hard for them to be totally happy and carefree like dogs. And also why fulfilling a human is way too big of a job for any dog to be called upon to do.

That’s also why it’s easier for dogs to forgive than it is for humans. Humans stay angry because they’re secretly afraid the hurts they’ve suffered are really their fault. If they had been that better human they carry around in their heads, it wouldn’t have happened. But even the stuff before the shelter - even the really bad things that have happened to me - It doesn’t gnaw at me inside because I know it’s not my fault.

The rest of Friday wasn’t much different than Thursday. There were more kids at the library, and they were younger and rowdier. There were two other dogs on duty - both females - but we didn’t get to socialize with each other beyond a passing sniff. Afterward I practiced “ready” at the grocery store with my human, where she bought bananas and eggs and ground turkey, all of which are things I eat. I sat patiently by the front door while she unlocked it, casting apprehensive looks at the drier once the door was open. I stuck close to my human for the remainder of the night in case laundry happened again. Because of this recent trauma I was more than willing to accompany her into the shower. She opened the door and told me ” in” and I trotted inside and arranged myself against the smooth porcelain wall. I never mind showers, even though they involve my human dumping countless buckets of lukewarm soapy water over me, and especially not on laundry day because the shower is an enclosed space that feels almost like a den for my human and me to hide inside. I was actually reluctant to get out after my human rubbed me down with the towel, and she had to shoo me outside. I was too dispirited to roll around on the carpet like I normally would after a shower, and instead hovered around my human while she cooked first my dinner (ground turkey breast, fried eggs, and unsalted Irish butter), and then her own. Even though I’d just eaten my meat and was still licking the last traces of butter from my chops, when she cooked her turkey I still lingered by the stove, because any time meat is cooking I hold out the hope that it’s for me. My human is confident in her dominance over the pack’s resources and never allows herself to be swayed by longing looks or begging of any kind, unless it’s the command “beg.” My fur was still damp when I snuggled up in the bed that night, but it was okay because my human is especially cuddly after I have a shower. Between my human curled around me with her nose buried in my shampoo-smelling fur and the warm blanket, I fell asleep just fine.

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