Shelter Me: A Pit Bull Love Story

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Chapter 7

Monday, July 31

I hate when the car stops abruptly, and I go sliding forward. My claws can’t get purchase on the fabric seat. A few times I’ve actually gone crashing into the hard panel below the windshield. Afterwards I take great care resettling myself and bracing for the next earthquake with my claws gripping the center console. My human snorts and says, “such a drama queen” which doesn’t seem to mean either “nope” or “hey” (bad) or “good boy.” She sounds amused, though, not annoyed. There are actually a lot of names she uses for me. I’m “Monkey,” but I’m also “Puppy,” “Dude,” and “Sir.” Occasionally I’m also “Beautiful,” or “Buddy,” or “Dawg.” My two-word names are “Hey Baby,” “Baby Boy,” and “My Man.” Not that my human talks to me all the time like some people do to their dogs; her tone of voice is either playful or melty soft, so I understand that these names are ways of saying “good boy” which is feedback rather than an actual command.

I wasn’t always called “Monkey.” The people at the shelter used another name to refer to me. My human named me “Monkey.” I realized immediately that I should pay attention to this name, because she looked at me and I heard “mine” in her voice. I knew that was special. She was letting everybody know I’d been claimed for her pack.

Dogs are very good at the concept “mine.” A terrier husky mix named King Harry whose pack was loosely affiliated with ours for a time used to demonstrate “mine” by standing over me and holding a bone in his mouth. He didn’t want to chew the bone himself; he was 11 years old and deaf and blind and arthritic with barely any teeth, but he held the bone over me because he had it and I didn’t. He’d pant heavily from the effort of standing on his creaky joints, and I’d hear his heart race. His milky, cataract-dulled eyes glazed with his sense of power. The fix went to his head the way delicious aromas go to mine. I always dropped my head to my paws in submission, but my gesture wasn’t really the important part. He was a true alpha and we both already knew well enough that I respected him. Anywhere he went he was king and he never had to exert any effort beyond walking into the room to establish his dominion. But he was old and there were few pleasures left in his life, so he needed to bask in his power now and again.

We rode in the car even before our pack traveled together, so by the time we arrive at our destination I’m in a state of acute distress. I’m so keyed up that I can’t sit when my human gives the command. I know we’re by a front door; I’ve never visited this house before, but inside is a feast for the nostrils. I can’t wait for the door to open and for this new pack to become our pack and to submerge myself in the smells that make up their life. The house smells thick with activity, with footsteps and shed skin and sweat and food. Who lives here? I can’t wait to know them and for our pack to be one with them. My human strokes gently down my back from shoulders to rump and I manage to sit, but I’m right back up again and waiting to plunge my nose into the house, past the new human that blocks the doorway, as soon as it’s open. We never go to houses; they are not like public buildings at all. The excitement is too much. I shake it off with palpable relief and only a tiny hint of regret for missed opportunity when the door closes, disgorging the new human male but locking its mysteries away.

We take a grand long journey together, more than doubling our usual 5 miles. My human and the male talk a lot. My human is at ease. There are so many new things to smell. I’m not allowed to mark when I’m on leash unless explicitly invited to do so. My command for peeing is also “free” which might sound confusing, but I’m smart enough to put it in contexts. For example, when my human sets my bowl down and waves her hand over it, “free” obviously means breakfast, and not it’s messier, less house-appropriate definition.

We walk up and down streets, past three other dogs who all stare rudely at me, and past countless humans. We also take a dirt trail edged by so many tall fragrant trees I can hardly smell the traffic and garbage cans and food places beyond it. I go off-leash for this part, and I can mark at will. I’ve never been here before, and I know it’s not territory I’m claiming, but my clever nose easily differentiates every trunk and bush that’s been visited by another dog in the past. I leave my scent painted over theirs to say “It’s me! I was here!” I don’t smell that anybody here recently was ready to mate, but I’m not either, so it’s no loss.

The trust I give is total. Not barking at another dog or lunging out as they do because they’re staring at me might not seem like a lot to a human. But I’m putting my life in my human’s hands and shelving my instinctive reactions for self-defense because I know that if the other dog attacks, she’ll lay down her life to protect me. That is an alpha’s job. I would jump off a bridge at her command because I trust with everything I am that she’d never tell me to do anything dangerous unless it was absolutely necessary. Next to that, letting her decide when I pee is a very small thing.

I’m on the beach. I’m running in bounding strides just for the joy of exercising my strong muscles. I’m standing ankle deep in the surf and smelling a million live things miles away in the water. I’m circling and pouncing at the crows who squawk their indignation at me and hop a few feet away. I’m drinking the fresh salt breezes. I’m peeing on everything without restraint. I’m smiling my widest smile and meeting my human’s gaze with my softest worshipful eyes. The tip of my tongue lightly rests on my front teeth as I inhale the ocean and the perfume of freedom soaks into me through the roof of my mouth.

I am a dog. It’s wonderful to be alive. On the beach my soul spreads its wings.

We take a break and my human pours water for me and feeds me a banana, then we practice my commands. She’s distracted a lot of the time by chatting with the new male. I nose her treat bag hopefully but she’s not giving any more commands. I practice “chin” resting my head on her knees and wagging my tail endearingly and peering up at her with my most adorable, wistful, piteously starving expression just in case there are more rewards in the offing.

At home I’m tired and sore and deeply content at a job well done. My eggs for dinner are extra crispy because my human is distracted with her computer. I like my eggs crispy. I also like them not crispy. It’s been such a joyous day that after I scarf my dinner I get a second wind and zoom around the house in a big loop. My claws skid crazily on the kitchen floor and my paws almost slide out from under my legs.

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