Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Waiting For the Dogs to "Turn"... Still

From my pit bull website I get nice emails from nice people and nasty emails from nasty people. When it comes to the nasty emails, I'm frequently surprised to get them, since they usually come from some person who has clearly done no research or critical thinking whatsoever, yet this person nevertheless takes it upon themselves to write an elaborate email to an absolute stranger (me), the contents of which are generally a combination of threats, myths, stereotypes, personal experiences, and so forth. Now, I'm not one to back down from a worthy opponent, but I prefer to match wits with someone who is at least equally knowledgeable and has something to contribute to a genuine conversation - not Joe Schmoe who's getting his "facts" from his beer buddies and the newspaper. So I try very hard to ignore or discard the really nasty emails, and occasionally I'll try to correct the misinformation someone tries to pass off as fact if I think it might do some good. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

One of the most common and frequent threats I receive tends to be the "I can't wait until your 'sweet' pit bulls turn on you!" Usually this precedes or follows some suggestion that one day my dogs are going to maul the entire neighborhood or some nonsense like that. Never mind that Felanie has already had eight whole years, and Dozer six, with ample opportunities to "turn" on me and countless other people.

When I first got Felanie, I totally bought into the any-minute-now-ticking-time-bomb theory. I was incredibly nervous around her for months. "Today could be the day that she flips out," I would think. In the back of my head (and I still remember it clearly to this day) I recalled a video I had seen on television. In the video, a reporter was chatting amiably while sitting next to a police dog. Seconds later, bam! Out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, the dog lunged at the reporter's face. I thought, "That could be Fel. One minute everything's fine, and the next, my face gets torn off by a bloodthirsty beast."

But day after day, month after month, and year after year went by. Nothing happened, except that I got a lot smarter. My fear drove me. I did a ton of research about dog behavior and dog attacks. And finally I understood what all the behaviorists and trainers kept telling me. "If you just learn how to read dog," they'd say, "then you'd never have this silly fear. There are always warning signs, there is always a reason." Years later I saw the same video clip of the police dog and the reporter. And as I watched it, I could see all the signs, and I knew the reporter was going to be bitten. Now that I could read dog, it was oh-so-obvious.

Meanwhile, as I got smarter, Felanie got older. She's been through dozens of baths and nail clippings without so much as a whimper. She's been through surgery and misery at the vet's office. She's watched me vacuum the house hundreds of times. Byrd and I have had our fair share of loud, furious arguments. We've had thunderstorms and massive remodeling projects. We've had a number of family get-togethers and total strangers come into our house. There have been, in sum, literally thousands of opportunities for Felanie to bite me for a perfectly justifiable reason (like fear of the nail clippers), and, similarly, infinite opportunities for her to bite me or maul me for no reason whatsoever, for her to "turn" on me. But it hasn't happened. Felanie's chin is now cinder-gray and her aging hip joints are more tender than ever. I catch her sleeping in the sunshine in our living room like a big kitty. She's eight years old and has become a very graceful, mellow, quiet old lady. I can't help but wonder how anyone could possibly think that this dainty old lady could "turn" on anyone... her best opportunities passed by years ago, and all she wants now is to sleep the days away.

Not to exclude dear Dozer, he is six years old, but he hasn't aged as quickly as Felanie. He's still a playful, rowdy, and clumsy fellow, and when playing he can be dangerous simply because of his sheer size; he requires more management in general due to the fact that he is both larger and more active than Fel. But like Felanie, he's endured so many trials of temperament that I have no fear of him ever "turning" on me either. I know his likes, his dislikes, and his limits. I can read him very well; he is quite the dramatist and likes to make his feelings known to everyone in a grand style. He's had six solid years to maul us all (and has even had some opportunities to chew up some little kids) and has simply failed to do so.

The simple fact is that very, very few dogs ever really "turn" on people. There's always a reason, always a warning. Millions of pit bulls (and millions of non-pit bulls for that matter) have lived to a ripe old age without "turning" on anyone at all. I expect my dogs will cross that rainbow bridge in the sky one day as really, really old dogs, after having lived a full life as beloved, faithful family members. Alas, a lot of nasty emailers will be sorely disappointed when my pit bulls pass on without biting anyone. I suppose it's good for those nasty people that, assuming my dogs have an average life span, I won't be able to say "I told you so" for many happy years to come.