In honor of Pit Bull Awareness Day tomorrow, October 27 , I thought I’d share the story of how one pit bull changed not only my perception of the breed, but the direction of my entire life.
It was my very first day volunteering at a local shelter, PAWS in Lynnwood, WA, when I met Gilmore. At the time I was making a good living as a master finisher in the hardwood flooring business, but the main focus of my life was my band. I had been a musician since a young age and was living out my rock and roll fantasy playing nightclubs, making albums, and going out on tour. I was never concerned with “making it big” but after nine years we had achieved modest success receiving airplay and critical acclaim from all over the world, and even had one of our songs used in a popular video game. I thought that there was no greater buzz than the feeling of standing on a stage, watching an audience rock out to the music I was playing. I lived for that feeling.
I had always wanted to volunteer at a shelter but put it off for years mainly because I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. Just going to the shelter to pick out a new companion had been an extremely emotional experience for me. I was overwhelmed by the number of great dogs looking for homes and saddened by those who were victims of abuse or neglect. But after watching an episode of Animal Cops with tears streaming down my face I decided it was time to get tough because I simply HAD to do more.
I got to be a kennel attendant which meant that I helped tp feed and water the dogs, clean their kennels, monitor post-surgery dogs, and my favorite part: help to socialize them. The minute I started, all my preconceived notions of being in the shelter environment vanished. Far from being a dismal place, it was instead a place of hope where these societal misfits were given a second chance on life. The truth was that for some dogs, it was the best place they had ever been because they now had food twice a day, clean water, and a warm dry place to sleep.
On my first day, after all the cleaning and feeding duties were finished I got to walk through the shelter and go into the kennel of almost any dog to socialize with them. I was immediately drawn to those who looked sad or frightened and it was amazing to watch most of them come around after a minute or two by just being calm and non-threatening. I had worked my way through the wards when I came to Gilmore. He was a young male pit bull who seemed really stressed out, circling in his kennel. While I had an open mind about dogs in general, I was still wary of pit bulls because like most people, I bought into all the bad hype that is continually perpetuated by the media. I had never actually met a pit bull before and Gilmore was a little scary looking with his cropped ears. Still, there was something in his eyes that made me look past all that. I took a deep breath and stepped into his kennel.
I was immediately overwhelmed by the happiest, most wiggly dog I had ever met. His circular pacing was now replaced with enthusiastic jumping, happy cries, and a determined effort to lick my face. I was caught entirely off guard and just decided to sit down so he would stop jumping. As soon as I did he climbed into my lap, flopped over on his back and let out a great big sigh. He calmed down in an instant and then looked right into my eyes as if to say “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me today.” I knew right then and there that there was a buzz much more powerful than standing on any stage, and it was as simple as helping an animal in need. In that moment I made the very conscious decision to dedicate the rest of my life to helping dogs and I have never turned back.
Gilmore was sweet, gentle, and goofy -the antithesis of the media image. This big marshmallow was so content to just sit and snuggle that I stayed with him until the end of my shift. This single dog opened my eyes to the real nature of pit bulls: loyal, loving, and eager to please. I have worked with many, many pit bulls since then and they have become my favorite breed because of those qualities. The truth is, if you adopt a pit bull from a shelter, he is going to be one of the best dogs you will ever have because in order to make it through the shelter system he has to be PERFECT: no aggression, no guarding, and good with kids, cats, and dogs. Sadly, pit bulls with minor behavior issues that can be corrected tend to be put down because most shelters don’t have the resources to rehabilitate them.
It took a few months but Gilmore did find his forever home and I bet he’s snuggling in a lap right now. I went on to volunteer for several more years before taking a job at the Seattle Humane Society, graduating from the Seattle School of Canine Studies and becoming a professional trainer. I still play music and I still love rock and roll, but now I live for dogs and that’s the greatest buzz of all.