Who I Was Before My Pit
On October 18th, 2014, or around about there, only several days after I moved 800 miles south of the only city I had ever really known, I walked into my favorite bar in Charleston to see my favorite bartender. The move was still weighing on me, I was still adjusting to my new life in Charleston, still worried about triggers for depression after such a big shake up in my life. And I needed a drink.
He introduced me to two lovely ladies. Recent graduates of the College of Charleston, Emily and Eli became two of my closest friends in Charleston. And somewhere in that first conversation that night, they told me about Dobby and Cooper.
“We’re fostering these two puppies,” Emily said. “We can’t keep them much longer so if you know anyone looking for a dog, keep them in mind”.
My first dinner at Emily and Eli’s two weeks later introduced me to what is now, arguably, the biggest love in my life. I was sitting on the couch and over trotted this bald little peanut of a thing. In theory, he was white. But mange and malnutrition — the litter had been found under a house in North Charleston, I believe — made him pink and hairless. But you could still clearly see the black spot around his eye. He put his head on the couch cushion and looked at me.
“Hey. Who are you? Wanna cuddle?” That’s what he was saying to me.
“Oh man, this might have to happen,” I said. The first thought I had, looking down at this wrinkly little thing, was, “it’d be nice to have someone to watch TV with”.
I’ve been single, on and off (but mostly off) for quite some time. I’ve gotten used to doing things on my own, without purpose for anyone else. I go where I want, when I want, come home when I want, and move where I want. I’m a bit of a loner at times, a home body, impatient and sometimes unsure of myself despite desperate efforts to be brave and bold. I remember wanting to adopt a rescue greyhound in New York around the time of my depression, hoping it would help alleviate some of the issues. But it never happened. A combination of narrow stairs and fear of having something dependent upon me stopped me from pulling the trigger.
By December, Eli and Emily had made a decision. Three dogs (Dobby, Cooper, and Emily’s first dog, Boo Boo) were getting to be too much. They were going to keep Dobby, but Cooper would have to go back to the shelter if they couldn’t find anyone for him. The urged me to think about taking him, and if not, to try to help find someone who would.
On December 11th, after a dire conversation that implied Cooper would go back to the shelter the next morning, I made the decision.
“I’ll take him”. I said on the phone to Emily, who was driving back from Raleigh.
“I’ll take him for two weeks so he doesn’t have to go back to the shelter.” My rationale was clear and confident. I wasn’t adopting him, I was just preventing him from going to the shelter. That’s it. Nothing more.
Because the truth was, the idea of that dog sitting in a shelter killed me. He was small and fragile. Scared of loud noises, low man on the alpha totem pole. He wasn’t meant for a shelter. He was gentle and sleepy. He was crate trained and non aggressive, potty trained and didn’t bark much. The idea of him wondering why he was being left — though I understood completely why Emily and Eli would have to make the decision for themselves and the other two dogs — was enough for me to throw on a pair of sweatpants at 12:30 at night, put his crate into the back of my jeep, and plop him in the front seat of my car, heading off into the unknown relationship between a girl and a dog.
“Hey, listen,” I grabbed one of my roommates who was sitting on the couch with his girlfriend watching TV before I headed out. “Would it be cool with you if I bring a dog here for a week or two? My friends can’t keep him and he’ll go back to the shelter otherwise. He’ll be my responsibility and stay in my room, and if he’s destructive I’ll bring him to the shelter myself”.
I put my sweatshirt on, keys in hand. If he had said no, I don’t think I’d have gone against him. I loved my roommates too much to mess with them for a dog I didn’t know.
“Yeah, that’s no problem. I hope he has a patch on his eye”.
I was relieved. I didn’t want to be tha asshole who brought a puppy into the house that pissed and shit all over or chewed up carpets and shoes. Their approval meant everything, and I was happy to bring home a dog with a traditional patch on his eye to make the deal even sweeter.
I’m driving back from Emily and Eli’s apartment, now in panic mode.
“Why are you shaking?”
Cooper is sitting in the front seat of my car, shaking. I mean, violently shaking. I have the heat on, the windows are closed, it isn’t cold, plenty of room.
“Dude, why are you shaking?”
I’m gripping the wheel asking this dog a question like he’s gonna answer me. Cooper, scared of basically everything, hated sitting in the front seat. But I didn’t know that yet. I was a frustrated girl, not used to finding patience to deal with people, let alone a dog who couldn’t tell me what was wrong with him.
I sat with him in my bed that night. He was laying on a towel. I bit my finger nails and stared at him. Fuck. What did I just do? I’m going to get stuck with this dog, I know it. I don’t know how to raise a dog. I can’t keep plants alive. What am I doing? Why did I bring you here? How am I going to do this?
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” I told him honestly, as if I were confessing something to someone. I needed to admit that, out loud, to something. I had no idea how to have a dog. I had no plan, no dog food, no dog toys. His first meal in my house was a bowl of cheerios. He just looked at me, curled up in a little ball, probably scared, his eyes flicking around the room, wondering where he was and where his brothers were. I let him sleep in my bed that night, swearing it would be a one off thing.
Two weeks turned into a month. And eventually, my search for another forever home for Cooper was being self sabatoged. I stopped responding to friends on Facebook who inquired about him. I stopped posting all together. And at the encouragement of my sister — the owner of a dog supply and grooming store in New York, and the mother of two big labradors — I made the decision to adopt Cooper.
“It’ll change your life,” she assured me.
“Sign here and here,” the woman at Charleston Animal Society told me on the day of his adoption. I sat at the table, my license out, forms being completed. I noticed on the portion she had filled out, she marked his birthday as July 23rd. That was the anniversary of my dad’s death. Maybe it was fate.
But I was still weary. It was hard having him with work, and sometimes feeding him fell to my roommates, but they came through and helped like champions. My roommate Jamie even taught Cooper how to go up and downstairs (and videoed it for me for posterity). Colin and his girlfriend Courtney would routinely let Cooper hang out in the living room with them and watch TV and chew a bone. My roommates helped make the transition from “total loner” to “chick with a dog” much easier.
But still, I was nervous. Cooper was part pit. What if I wanted to move to a city with a pit bull ban? What about finding an apartment? What if people were mad at me for having him, or scared of him? Pits kill people right? Everyone hates pits, meanest dogs in the world, what if Cooper turns mean or bad or bites someone? What if I wanted to stay out all night, or had to work long hours? What if I wanted to move back to New York? What if my allergies bothered me? What if I met a guy who didn’t like dogs?
“And now we just need the $125.00”.
I looked up at the woman. “I don’t have $125.00” I said. It was a total and absolute lie. I was just panicking. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I could be a dog owner, and money seemed like a good reason. I was backing out, putting the breaks on. This charade of me being a dog person had gone on long enough. And it seemed I had an excuse to bail.
The woman went into the office, talked to someone and came back. She sat down and looked at me sternly.
“We’ll give him to you for $85.00”.
I was getting a bargain bin puppy. And it made me feel bad. I knew Cooper was worth $125.00. Of course he was worth it. He was crate trained and potty trained and knew sit and shake. He’s worth more than that, damn it. I felt guilty that maybe someone else didn’t think he was. I had no excuse now. I took my on sale puppy and loaded him into the car with his paperwork and shut the trunk. We were going home, together, officially owner and pup.
“I just saved your life, kid.” I said to him as he had his head out the window on the way home that day. The reality, looking back, is it is Cooper who has saved mine.
It is coming on the two year anniversary of the night I picked up Cooper and all I can say, is he changed my life forever. Despite a rocky start — I figured out Cooper was noise sensative when a garbage bin outside tipped over and he refused to walk by it for months, I had to carry his 45 lb ass across a street when he refused to move because he was scared of construction workers, he chewed and destroyed my favorite hat once, he wouldn’t eat out of bowls for a while, and he suddenly grew hair and began shedding — Cooper and I figured each other out. And suddenly, every night I came home from work, he would hear me come up the stairs and I could hear him in his crate, whining, stomping his little paws in excitement. So thrilled just because I was home. I had never had something that loved me so much that me coming home was the greatest part of its day. And weirdly enough, my cold, loner, single self, suddenly couldn’t wait to get home to him, too.
When I figured out Cooper was totally fine in the trunk of my Jeep, he became my driving buddy. His head out the window, he seemed to love the smell of the low country that fills your car when you drive over the James Island connector as much as I did. He was afraid of the ocean at first, but a year later, he is a Folly Beach bum, a regular at Bert’s and a champion wave jumper. The second I let him off the leash at the James Island dog park, he tucks his butt and hauls ass to the beach, overjoyed to say hello to every dog and owner he meets. Poodles, Yorkies, pits, black, white, Hispanic, labs, hounds, pugs, guys, girls, gays, straights, he sees no breed, no race, no gender. He drops his ball at the dogs’ feet as if to say “here, we can share, I’m cool”. I pick the ball up instead and toss it out into the lake. He races to get it and brings it back, looking at me as if he has died and gone to heaven. Best day ever, mom. Can we do it again tomorrow?
When I made the decision to move to Los Angeles, he was my first concern. How would this dog, now used to lakes and beaches and a house, react to the baordwalk and an apartment? But there he was, four days in the car with a friend and I, walking through a casino in Vegas to go potty, by my side in what was a big upheaval in my own life. The closest I think I’ve gotten to falling back into depression was when I moved to LA. But Cooper was my best remedy. He gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of home, a sense of comfort. And without him, I don’t know if I would have made it a day in LA. He was everything I loved about the low country, wrapped up in a face that when I cried with homesickness, said, “don’t worry mom, I’m here with ya”.
I wasn’t sad to see LA in the rear view mirror. At one point, a woman stopped me and Cooper on a jog in Pallasades Park to tell me I shouldn’t have “that kind of dog” in public. She asked me to move him off the pathway so she could pass by. Cooper just wagged his tail, hoping she would pet him, unaware of the cruel bias the woman was showing toward him. I got it though, and when I told her not to worry because I didn’t let me dog chew on raw hyde so he would never bite her over tanned fanny pack wearing ass, I realized how much I loved my dog, and how much I hated people who judged him because of what breed he was. And when I made the decision to move back to Charleston, it was just me and Cooper in the car for six days as we drove across the country again. My buddy, my companion, my fake protector, always popping his head up from the back to make sure I was still doing okay after seven or eight hours of driving.
“I’m good buddy, lay back down”.
When I drove home with him to New York for Thanksgiving, I was worried about him being in my mom and her boyfriend’s house. What if he shed too much? What if he barked or suddenly got destructive? But it was clear, the second he walked in the house, he knew this was home too, and these people were family. My mom fell in love. When I would go out in the city, he would curl up in the den with my mom and her boyfriend Tommy and watch Three and a Half Men with them. Then my mom would tell him to go up on my bed, and he’d wait for me to get home. He was like a little person. He knew what you were saying, he knew what you were feeling, and he knew how to make it better if he could.
It is safe to say, my dog Cooper has made my life better than I ever thought it could be. When I have trigger days with my depression — they still happen — Cooper is there, giving me distractions and motivations. When I cry, he is there. When I’m scared, he is there. He is my shadow and my best friend, my blanket heater and my garbage disposal. He is my driving buddy and my motivation to get up on a beautiful day and go out to the park or beach when I just want to sit home and mope. He loves me without makeup, with the extra few pounds I’ve put on, in ugly lacrosse shorts and no bra. He loves bacon as much as I do, and cocks his head when you ask him a question, almost like he knows what you’re saying. And yes, he sleeps in my bed every night.
He lays on the couch and watches TV with me (he really digs Stranger Things and Gilmore Girls), falling asleep and making these ridiculous wookie noises. He is still scared of trashcans, and if you drop a pot near him, he will run away. But he is sweet and kind, loyal probably to a fault. Sometimes I don’t think I deserve his unwavering friendship and devotion. He is gentle and loving, patient and smart. He laid with me after I got back from the hospital with a kidney stone, and barks like a faux brave dog when someone knocks on the door, because don’t worry mom, I got this. Oh it’s a trashcan or vacuum cleaner? Peace, I’m out.
When I look at Cooper, he is me in dog form. A little scared, a little unsure, a little awkward, a little lazy, a little brave, full of love and a desperate desire to be happy. He makes me laugh every single day, with his little quirks and personality traits that are unique to him and him alone. He has made me more patient, more thoughtful, more organized. He gave me the strength and courage to move my life across country, and to move it back again when I was done. And when I sit on the beach with him, salty and sandy, watching the sun sink over Folly, I can’t help but think, “this is so much better than what it was before him”.
Had a ban, like the recent one passed in Montreal, been implemented at Charleston Animal Society, the story I just told you would not have existed. My best friend would have been put down immediately after he was found under the house in North Charleston. My pink little piglet, my shaking car buddy, the best treatment against depression I have ever found, would have been killed and never given the chance to change my life. If someone had judged my dog simply by what part of his DNA said, instead of what his personality and temperament said, he would have been lost in some self righteous witch hunt that solves no problems and fixes no fears. A victim to the cruel stereotyping and complete lack of understanding of someone who just can’t see past the breed name on the paper.
Pitbull bans do not solve the major issues for the breed. Dog fighting will always be the number one problem for pitbulls. Harsher penalties for dog fighting, breeding with the intent to fight, and aggressive training is a much better step in the right direction for fixing the pitbull problem. Harsher penalties for animal abuse and neglect, more opportunity for rehabilitation and temperament checks, so the right owners can be matched with the right dogs. Not every dog is like Cooper in terms of how they handle other animals. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a loving dog to a devoted owner who understands his or her dog’s temperment and needs. Educate owners, do not kill the dogs. Spay and neauter programs as well as background checks on potential adopters can also help alleviate the issues that face the pit breed every day, but do not define it.
Montreal, your ban solves nothing and encourages unjust fear and stereotyping of an animal that is capable of more love and loyalty than most humans. I implore anyone with a voice to condemn this ban and give the hunreds of pitbulls in shelters across Montreal a chance that Cooper got. The chance that I got. Please do not kill those dogs because of what you think they are. Let them live for what they might be.