I have considered sending you our story a number of times. The story might not even interest you. And it certainly isn't as horrid as a lot of stuff on your website. But in the interest of (maybe) understanding the poor 'soccer moms' who end up with these dogs, I think I should give it a go. I ask that you please not vilify me for this story. I made my share of mistakes. I don't know how I could have done it any differently, besides giving up earlier or not trying at all. But no hindsight frees me from the ultimate result. And I know the conclusion sucks. I am much, much wiser now, and back then I hadn't yet realized that it isn't all just hype, and there is a possibility (even if remote) that it wasn't all my fault. When this story opens, I had a lifetime of dog-owning experience. I love dogs, consider myself a dog person with a special soft-spot for the terrified ones. I have trained a few, loved many, and always felt like I could handle myself well around a variety of them. I have been growled at, lunged at, and once got a nip from a tiny dog when I was a kid (totally justified). I've read many books, attended a few obedience classes (none were at a chain store), and was extremely comfortable.
It is quite a long story, but I will try to sum it up here:
Within two weeks, there were multiple dog fights in my house. The resident dogs (a lab/husky and a lab) were both 12 years old, and neither was prone to fighting. Actually, they NEVER fought each other. One particular fight ended with my daughter getting a dog-tooth shaped bruise on her leg, even though she had just been sitting nearby. If I could have been sure it was the new puppy, it would have ended the roller coaster ride immediately. I worked hard to establish pack hierarchy here (as I always did with multiple dogs), but the fighting continued. When she wasn't fighting with our elderly dogs, the new dog was licking our male (neutered) labX's mouth until he growled at her. The rest of the time she just ignored us completely. She did not initiate play, did not ask to be petted. And anything said to her (praise, her name, anything) was met with a blank stare and no body language at all. More like a shark than a dog. I (probably wrongly) assumed her neglectful past had left her with no idea how to read inflection, so I exaggerated my facial expressions and tone. It made no difference. I describe her behavior as 'an island', she truly didn't seem to care if we were there or not.
On an almost daily bases I was training her in basic obedience. I think it helps to strengthen a bond, and gives everybody confidence. I tried praise, then food rewards. In desperation, I re-read articles and books on dog training. I tried play-training next. But no matter what I tried, the results were abysmal. It took me a month and a half to teach her to lie down. The worst part: I only knew she knew the command because dh got frustrated and told her to "Go lie down!" in a much less-nice voice than I was using. She did it immediately. She only became housebroken after 5 months, and only because there was snow outside. (that sounds like a joke, but it's not). All the sweet talking, cajoling, treats, and catching her in the act didn't work.
She became an escape artist. She broke the tie out potty-break line we had used with the labs for years. Dh fixed it, and she broke her collar. She was constantly running off, and we had to go catch her. Another time, she got loose and launched herself onto my goat's back (going for the back of his neck/base of his skull). Thankfully, he escaped. We came home from a trip to town to a slaughter of chickens and a broken window. We changed our management style, bought a crate, and used it religiously anytime the door was opened, if an adult couldn't watch her, if we were going to be out in the yard (she couldn't be brought out on a leash due to the most abhorrent leash manners I have ever seen in a dog), or if we were leaving. It's a miracle she didn't harass the neighbor's livestock during one of her.. outings. No dogs were attacked, either. I worked to teach her to come for the 'oh shit!' moment that happens to everyone. She gave me a blank stare and didn't comply.
Inside the house, with supervision, things weren't going as well. She got in the trash if we weren't directly in the room with her, or went after it as soon as we went to the bathroom. She stole food from the counters, becoming so bold she would steal even if I was a foot away. She kept picking fights with our dogs.
And I cried.
I consulted books, questioned everyone I could talk to, relied on the vet and behaviorist. I could feel something brewing, something seething under the surface. It was there in the blank stare, the mid-level head, the not showing interest in us at all otherwise. Something undefinable. I told my husband I could feel it. Our lives became crating, dog fights, ripped trash, and stealing. The puppy who would play with the kids in the yard never materialized. She did sit patiently to wait for her food bowl, and wasn't food aggressive, but that was the extent of what she would give us.
After 6 months of this, I decided she needed to be rehomed. In my heart, I felt that she needed someone with a much harsher method of discipline than I could or would give out. Despite what I thought I knew, and what I had tried, the bad behaviors were getting worse. I did manage to teach her some basics commands, but there was zero connection between her and the rest of us (oh how we tried!). I contacted people and kept my ears open for the right home for this dog.
And then the growling began. Only at my son. The first time, she was next to my chair. I thought it was guarding me. Concerning, but in an young dog, correctable still. And a few days later she growled at him for no discernible reason at all. Discussions and websearches offered nothing: it wasn't about a resource, wasn't about territory, wasn't about me, wasn't about anything he had done. He wasn't yelling, running, or less than 10 feet away from her. He wasn't threatening her at all. He had no food and hadn't been around any other dogs.
My husband revealed, in our conversation that day, that she had been growling at him, too, from her crate for weeks. I just didn't know. We immediately put her back in her crate to stay (except to go outside) until we could decide what to do.
And here's where we did what I would not do now. We discussed options. I would not keep her here to train because I have children, and I had clearly failed already. I was no longer comfortable just giving her away: I had screwed things up so badly, how the hell would I pick out the right person for this? We could have her pts. Or we could bring her to the shelter (well funded in this area), let their professionals assess her and treat her in a safe environment, and find her a home or have her pts if they thought she was too dangerous. I absolutely abhor shelters- I think they are dens of disease. Taking a supremely pack oriented animal and locking it in a cage, by itself, with limited human contact would drive a less sensitive creature mad. (and I get it. I know most shelter staff have their hearts in the right place. But the entire thing is just so... wrong). I promised myself I would never send any animal to one, ever. Now, I would have her pts in a heartbeat. But at the time, I didn't know as much as I do now, and I thought, as horrid as the idea was, that at least it might give her a chance. I thought maybe a different owner could bring her back before she crossed into actual biting. A note here: if she was, say, a generally friendly dog who had started resource guarding, it would have been a different story. But she was neither overly friendly nor was she guarding anything. The blank stare, the lack of interest, the absolute refusal to be part of our 'pack' coupled with the growling was like a cauldron set to boil a nasty green goo all over. With no loyalty, what was to stop her from attacking us all? She was just 11 months old.
The shelter told dh that they 'don't do that anymore' when he said we thought pts might be the best answer. I'm still horrified by that. Not necessarily for this particular dog (who knows there), but for the ones who have already bitten. They don't put any of them to sleep for aggression?
Does this dog represent pit bulls? I don't know. I certainly don't have enough experience with that breed to make such a conclusion. I'm sure similar stories could be told about lots of different breeds of dogs. What strikes me is how often, and how terrifyingly awful, this stuff is when it happens in a pit bull. How permanent the results of mistakes can be. I certainly can't bring back my birds, no matter how much I regret it. I have seen that same blank look in the eyes of another pit bull very recently. The owner (pit bull savvy and honest about this breed) has said he is sweet but dumb. Who am I to question that assessment? I wish her luck with him. I'll be keeping the kids away.
It was an extremely difficult time for us. I will say that that dog changed my life. She taught me that love isn't enough. She taught me that 5 months old is too old, that rescues aren't to be trusted, no matter what source. She taught me that no matter how hard I try, how patient I am, dogs don't give a flying fuck. She taught me that dogs aren't safe, and that maybe I'm not. She taught me that I could be angrier than I thought. She broke parts of me, and I don't know how many kisses, belly tickles, and perfect heels it will take to get that back. For awhile I tried to blame her (unknown) parentage, the first people who owned her (who got a strongly worded letter from me, to which they replied in asshole fashion: she was a fucking PERFECT dog when we gave her to you!), and ultimately.. I was just left blaming myself. Oh, she changed my life, exactly like they tell you. It is only by the good graces of a supremely wonderful Border Collie - the dog worth waiting for- that I am not terrified of dogs now. He'll exchange a kiss for every tear you give, check on you if you fall down, and loves everyone furred or feathered, no matter how small. He wears his heart on his collar, and spares no display of giddy enjoyment at your company. He is what all dogs ought to be- what all good dogs, from balanced breeds and mixes- ARE. He is the fundamental dogness of dogs, with no shark blood coursing through his veins. Just like millions of other, non-shark dogs. The only thing lurking beneath his surface is more him.. the same him you see. And yes, I'm grateful every day that I have this dog, who is patient and kind with me. Who reminds me that I can still get it right, sometimes, when I trust myself. Maybe I truly suck with other dogs, but not with this one.
So those fur-mommies with their 'babies', who's dog rips the face off a child, get zero sympathy from me. I did my absolute, no-holds-barred, every day in the trenches best with that pitX. And knowing how hard I tried- how hard my entire family tried- we would still have taken total blame if she had hurt someone. While in our care, we tried harder than I certainly have with any other dog, and yet it would still be my fault if she had done something terrible. I don't believe dogs suddenly bite- well, almost never anyway. I don't believe 'he's never been like that before!' I think it's a crock of poo excuse to cover the fact that they saw it coming but don't want to admit it. At any time on that train wreck they could have stopped it, but they didn't. They had a million excuses, until it was too late. These people make me far more angry than the dog-fighters. Those assholes know what they have, know what they are doing, and know why their dogs are killers. The lipstick and high-heeled set pretend until they can't. They flood my fb page with cutesy pictures, with stories, with nauseating messages. They would have to have never been around any other dog, ever, close enough to breathe on to believe the crock about how extra cuddly, or extra friendly, or reliable those dogs are. They would have to have turned off their brain and ignored their newspaper. They would have to be willfully, illogically ignorant. I get it- I fed into it (albeit briefly, and I was never a nutter.. I fell into the 'it's how you raise them' clan, though, and pretended the news stories were mistaken identity).
And maybe my reaction seems like an over-reaction to everyone else. There was no attack on a human. We were never bitten. I know I was had by the propaganda machine, but so what. That is nameless, faceless. What I see, when I think about that time, is my exaggerated facial expression, my constantly calling her name in a happy voice, the love we tried so hard to project, with the shark-eyes staring back at us. In some primal way, it is like we had a murderer living in our attic, stealing our food, and we never knew it until we heard him on the stairs. The police may have caught him in time, but I still feel violated. We loved that dog, we cried for her, we gave her structure, time, patience. We trusted her. And in the end, she betrayed us all, she told us as clearly as if she had spoken that she would come for us when she was ready. And I think about those other poor morons, the ones hugging their doll's-eyes dogs. The ones who don't see the nearly indefinable danger, who don't feel that undercurrent pulling them down. The women in the SUVs, with their prettied up pitties, who wear bandanas that say 'kiss-a-bul' or something else grotesquely dangerous. Maybe they don't want to lie, when they see the signs. Maybe, like me, they just don't want to be the one who sent that sad old pit dog back to the shelter, who work so hard to balance it all that they can't -can't- admit they made a mistake. They don't hear the footsteps on the stairs. They don't call the police. And by the time they realize who they have, he's already in the livingroom blocking the tv.
I don't know what you will draw from this e-mail. I don't know how I feel about sending it. But ultimately, I think I need to say this: sometimes good people are suckered into things they are convinced they can handle (by dog trainers, by the shelter staff, by their own good intentions), and only educating people about the truth can combat that sort of.. innocent disaster. We can vilify assholes in high heels who set these dogs up as princes and princesses (and when their satan dog kills/maims someone or something, and they claim surprise or blame the victim, we SHOULD) but they won't stop adopting these dogs until they learn the truth. I'd like to see the stats on how many first-time pit owners go on to have a second. I know I will never be among that number (nor will I own any other 'bully' breed. Who needs the fucking headache? Give me a dog that actually likes people).
And shelters should be ashamed. They know, they know far more than the middle class women trying to do a good deed. They feed on the ignorance, the malleability of people who just want to do the right thing. It's a slogan for a pyramid scheme: counter their excuses until they run out! Then SELL THEM THAT PIT BULL! Smile as they head out the door- no matter how it ends up, you know the dog won't be back up for adoption. Don't waste time on the popular dogs of yesterday, they are so out of fashion. More fighters! More ticking time bombs! More sharks in the tank for naked ladies to swim with! And who cares if they are so heartbroken they never adopt again, there are 17 million more next year. It's all in how you raise 'em, you know!
Your website has been instrumental to me. I can let go of some of the guilt, some of the regret, some of the blame. But not all- for who knows what happened with that dog we sent to the shelter. I hope, more fervently than I have ever hoped before, that the shelter listened to my husband, that some foster mom or dad had her pts before she ever made it out into public. It's a lie I tell myself. I know my border collie will kiss my tears away long enough for me to believe it.
Thank you for your time.