Photo credit: Katrina Dill
When I began helping with adoptions at Northside Animal Shelter, I was happily surprised by the unexpected matches that occurred. There were so many dogs who had nothing special to recommend them – the kind that one staff member described as “your basic dark-brindle pit/Lab mix.” There were also some dogs who had real challenges, either behavioral or physical: they were old, they were missing a leg (the shelter had a number of “tripods”), they were hectic and uncontrollable, they were shy and scared, they were– well, ugly.
But experience was teaching me that love often bypasses such obstacles. Ordinary creatures, seen through the eyes of love, become beautiful. Drawbacks are tolerated or even become endearing distinctions. (I often heard other dog owners say, with obvious affection, “Oh, I can’t bring anything new into the house – he just tears it up.” “She’s terrible on the leash with other dogs. If I’m walking her and we pass another dog she acts like she’d kill them if I let her go.” “He’s a mess.”) Love makes people willing to work patiently with a problem animal to help him become a good pet – or to accept behavior that is hard or impossible to change. As St. Paul so beautifully puts it, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
When our shelter and two other rescue groups held a big adoptathon in the parking lot of a pet store, a young couple instantly bonded with Ringo, a coffee-colored pit bull. Every time I looked over at them interacting with him in the meet and greet pen, the dog was stretched out across their laps, or standing up on his hind legs for a hug.
“We want him,” the beaming young woman said, coming over to the table where we processed the adoptions.
I went through the counseling questions with them and all their answers were great. They worked staggered shifts — she as a nurse, he for the highway department — which would mean Ringo would be alone only four or five hours a day. The husband wanted an active dog to run with him in the park every morning, the wife would take Ringo out when she got home in the afternoon, and the two of them planned to give him another good walk before bed. It all sounded ideal. Ringo leaned against the young woman the whole time and she patted him; clearly they already belonged to each other.
The couple lived in an apartment downtown. “The last step is for me to call your landlord,” I said, “to be sure your building allows pets.”
“Oh, I think it does. We just moved in, and lots of the other tenants seem to have dogs,” the woman said. “Let me see if I can find the number.” She looked on her cell phone. “I think this is the one,” she said, holding the phone up to her ear. “Hope somebody’s there over the weekend.” Then obviously the phone was answered on the other end, and she walked away to talk in a quieter place.
She came back with her eyes brimming with tears. She put her hand over the phone’s speaker. “We can have pets,” she said, “but not his breed.”
Oh, shoot, I thought. Like all the major animal welfare organizations – the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States foremost among them – our shelter opposes this kind of breed discrimination and believe that pit bulls (the dogs most commonly stigmatized) should be treated just like any other dog.
“Let me see what I can do,” I said, and she handed me the phone. I explained to the pleasant-sounding woman on the other end that all of our dogs are given multiple behavioral tests to be sure they are good canine citizens, safe to adopt out. “Ringo is a really good dog,” I concluded, and held my breath.
“Well, okay,” she said, “if you say he’s well-behaved we’ll make an exception. We just try to be careful.”
I thanked her for being flexible. If only it could always be that easy! We said goodbye and I handed the phone back to the young woman. “You’re good to go,” I said, smiling at the couple, and she and her husband hugged each other, and then me, and then Ringo.
As they drove away in their pickup truck, I saw Ringo sitting in the woman’s lap, her arms around him, his head out the open window, lips stretched in a big, pink, pitty smile. Love never fails.
Next: The Pit Question