To be a Pit Bull in the Valley


Perhaps it was a good thing each of our dogs chose us.

Lucy pushed her way to the front of a scrum of puppies boiling from a pile of wood chips. She gnawed our fingertips with Disney-esque alacrity.

Woody jumped the neighbor’s fence the day we closed escrow, parked himself on our front porch as a house-warming gift. He slept on our bed that very night, then every night for the next 12 years. The neighbor was glad to be rid of him.

Giles followed us home one day on a walk, panhandled a free meal, and never left.

Jack was a foster dog who somehow never made the car ride back to the rescue shelter.

They insinuated. They wiggled in.  They knew a good thing when they saw it and they stayed.  We never really weighed the pros and cons of any of them.  They just worked out well.

Circumstances never obliged us to go a shelter to pick out a dog before now.  Woody being buried in the garden for nearly a year, properly mourned and missed, we have reached the point of readiness to journey to the Best Friends shelter in Mission Hills.

Picking one was more difficult than we expected.


One would think pit bulls would be easy.   Shelters are bursting at the seams with them. They would be so happy to see us, so slavishly grateful, the hardest part would be winnowing down the many, many semi-finalists to a manageable number.

None of them picked us.

Half of them didn’t even walk to the front of the cage to say hello.  Of those that did, all but one wouldn’t look me in the eye.  Some issued warning barks.

It was humbling. I entered the shelter like Daddy Warbucks at the orphanage, dangling the promise of a life transformed: a big yard, siblings, plush bedding, daily walks, toys, trips to the beach, blue skies and grass. I slunk out as just another shnook, another in a line of interchangeable human faces at the bars.   And these were the good pits, the ones selected out of the city shelters for their sociability.

Reading the kennel cards, one saw they had issues. Cat chasing. Food aggression. Territoriality. Separation anxiety. Some had been adopted before and returned.  People come and stare at them each day, trailing the chaotic scents of the outside world on their shoes.  Then they leave.  People leash them up, walk them around the play area, then return them to their cells and never return.

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Operating out of a learned sense of caution, drawing on instincts inherited from the wolves who first drew near to the fire circle many millennia ago, they’re sussing us out.  Perhaps waiting for someone in particular. Perhaps just not me.  Will they know Him when he comes?