Shelter Me: A Pit Bull Love Story

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Chapter 6

Sunday, July 30

I dreamed so hard last night that I woke myself up thumping my tail against the mattress. I dreamed about jumping in the waves with my girlfriend Sadie (not little Sadie). My girlfriend is a year and a half old pit bull husky with a truly boundless supply of energy. When we get together we play like linebackers, wrestling and chest bumping and chasing each other. The earth trembles under our paws. The only time I ever get so well and truly exhausted that my legs can barely hold me up is after I’ve been playing with Sadie. For two months my human took us on walks together every morning, but now we just get together for play dates from time to time. I’m not much of a water dog and normally don’t do much more than cool my feet in the ocean when we’re at the beach, but if Sadie’s there I’ll follow her lead all the way past where my toes reach the sand.

When we woke up on Sunday morning I knew something important was going to happen because my human hummed with nervous tension even though she tried to act nonchalant. I jumped out of bed while she was still pacing the house readying for our walk, and rubbed myself against the rough stucco of the bedroom wall to wake myself up (there’s a long grey stain at the level of my shoulders left from this particular habit of mine). I sneezed the anxiety smell from my nose and wagged at her with a low head and tail, butting my muzzle against her legs until she laughed and scratched me obligingly.

It was early and cool so we passed lots of dogs out with their people. Most of them walked together like a pack, but one boxer who wanted to lunge at me dragged his human along like dead weight. I heard her shoes scrape the concrete.

I picked up a coyote trail complete with fresh spore near the bridge. I gulped the air until the scents dissipated. Coyotes smell not quite like dogs and they act like dogs who are friendly and alluring. Their ears and tail invite me to go off-leash and play chase in the hills, but I need to stick close to my human, otherwise how can she do her alpha job and protect me?

We passed delicious cooking smells so strong even my human paused to drink them in. About halfway through our walk a cat darted across the sidewalk in front of us. I pricked my ears and licked my lips nervously but it hid while we were still too far away for me to feel called upon to do anything about it.

We stopped at the dog park but just long enough for me to poop, and we went in the empty middle pen instead of the big pen with the large pack of dogs. I greeted the same lunging boxer and two huskies through the chain link fence. It’s hard for dogs to be friends across any barrier. Often just having a fence there is enough to put bitter enmity between us.

The rabbits were not afraid of me.

A small poodle on a very long leash made her owner jump by suddenly charging at me. I paid no attention, trusting as I had with the boxer that my human would keep me safe. She did.

The main feature of Sunday’s is the cafe.

The cafe is another place, like obedience class, where my human is happy. I do a “down, stay” on a towel by the door while she bustles around, interacting with other people and touching food but mysteriously not eating it. Everything smells very good at the cafe, but I’m not allowed to eat anything, even if one of the kids who sometimes pets me tries to sneak me a donut. I’m a good boy and I lick my lips and avert my eyes, disappointed about the donut but glad to feel my human’s glow of approval.

My human is never entirely at ease with other people, but she mostly manages to act like a dog at the cafe and keep it light and friendly. She’s comfortable in her role just like I am when I have a job and the rules are clearly defined and I know I’m a good dog.

My human’s family was there, grandma and grandpa as well as my human’s mother and some of her brothers and sisters. Like any true alpha, my human’s mother is always the biggest dog in the room and even Juliet listens to her when she’s around. Today things seemed to go better with my human and her family; I caught the tentative puppyishness in her body language, the silently asking for approval, but none of the other people seemed to take offense or treated her like prey. That happens sometimes when somebody approaches with their tail between their legs; they’re trying to appear harmless because they’re so afraid of being attacked that they make other dogs disgusted, because nobody wants a weak link to drag the whole pack down.

Normally we take a break and drive in my human’s mother’s car to the house with the wood floors, but today everybody else left for a while and my human sat with me in the cafe instead. I enjoy having a break and running around with my friend Magda, who stays outside the cafe because she’s not a working dog. Magda is submissive to absolutely everybody (even me). She licks the inside of my mouth so thoroughly that all I can taste is her saliva for hours. I puff up my chest when she does this, because it’s nice to have somebody so enthusiastic to curry my favor. I watched my human closely from my corner when it was the usual time for us to “stand” and meet Magda at her mother’s car. When I was sure the time had come and gone and that we’d missed it, I sighed resignedly and curled up on my towel. The break in routine was a little disappointing, but I always enjoy taking a nap.

Between periods of activity we did “ready” and then “down, stay” at church. Church is a wonderful place with a tile floor and amazing air conditioning. I take the best naps there. My human and I used to sit way far away from her family and she looked at them now and again and smelled sad. Today we sat right in the same row with them and even the ones who normally curl up their lips in disgust at me smiled and chatted my human. It’s good to be part of a pack.

Afterwards, we went to the third type of dog school. This is trick class, where we learn new commands to practice with bananas in the morning. Today there were three huge German shepherds: two of them were even males, but I stayed calm and focused on work without needing to resort to preemptive self-defense.

My human got very hungry and grumpy and she wasn’t as pleased as she should have been when I very enthusiastically performed a new trick called “limp.” She kept putting her hand out like she wanted me to “shake” then walking backwards so I was forced to chase her. I worked hard to be really fast, so I could paw at her arm before she jerked it away, but for some reason her voice sounded disapproving even though she said “yes” and rewarded me. It was confusing. Also, she didn’t let me lick the scratches on her arm clean afterwards even though I smelled blood.

On the way home we briefly dropped by the house with the wood floors. My human’s mother was absent, so Juliet decided today was the day to drive me from her territory. She even growled at my human for intervening, but since she knows my human is a bigger alpha than she is, she hid behind my human’s brother, using his legs as a body shield. Juliet obviously expected him to stroke her, soothing her bruised ego, but my human barked at her, so she laid down. I had a challenging time leaving the house without antagonizing Juliet further; I would have liked to flee headlong but instead I had to slink away slowly because any sudden movement I make always brings her down on my heels.

All in all, though, it was a good day. I got to ride in the car a lot and my human didn’t go away inside. I felt satisfied that maybe she’s learning to be a little more doglike.

To wrap up Sunday, my human and I went to the park with my friend Jade the vizsla and her human and my girlfriend Sadie. Walking up to their house, I greeted them through the fence. The grass in that yard is long and lush, perfect for grazing on and rolling in and digging up. We three dogs were so overjoyed to be reunited, we couldn’t contain ourselves. We wagged and wormed and wiggled our butts shamelessly, whimpering and whining and prancing in order to let out all the energy supercharging us and to let each other know that it had been SO SO long since we were a pack. The anxiety was so much that I desperately needed to pee on that grass, but I was stuck on the wrong side of the fence! Jade and I usually don’t pay much attention to each other, but Sadie is my main squeeze right now. Sadie is the most fun dog that I know, and we speak exactly the same language of play, like two dancers perfectly in tune with each other’s movements. She also almost never listens when humans give her commands, because she thinks it’s more important to constantly scout for prey sounds in case all the humans suddenly disappear and she’s left to fend for herself. Nobody’s perfect.

I first met Jade on the hiking trails where my human and I travel every day in the fall and winter. We walked as a pack together, and since Jade’s human is a bit of a lallygagger Jade and I had plenty of opportunity to thread our way through the brush, exploring prey trails while the humans shuffled up the hills at their glacial pace, chatting. We also used to drive to fiesta island with them a lot in Jade’s human’s car, which has a long, enclosed back with soft blankets and dog beds and a small window separating it from the front. Jade usually jumped through the window onto the backseat at some point in the drive, but I liked to sprawl out on the blankets or close my eyes and sniff the wind through the tiny holes in the side walls.

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