5.20.2007

The Dog We Had and the Dog We Hadn't

I remember everything about the first time we met Deacon - at least the parts that really mattered. I know that he was the first dog I laid eyes on in the rescue shelter. He looked directly into my eyes, with those mournful, lovey-dovey eyes that we would grow to know so well. He was not the dog we went to see, though, so we went through the obligatory trial walk with Pepper, a dog who was beautiful but obviously so very wrong for us. "What about that one?" I asked. Martha explained that his name was Lucky and that he was a Very Good Dog. We walked toward him but were unnerved when he started to growl at us. Martha explained that it was his way of calling us over, that it was anything but an aggressive growl. More like the canine equivalent of a purr. So we approached him again. His stub of a tail was wagging. He lowered his head down but toward us, inching forward and gazing still right at our faces. The best way I can explain it is that he was an extremely focused dog, and the object of his focus was the exhilarating moment when human hands reached out and scratched his ears and rump. That dog darn near melted in our hands, only it wasn't the hyperactive, jumping-off-the-walls meltdown you so often see in shelter dogs. It was as though he had the presence of mind to concentrate on the joy instead of get lost in it. He rolled over onto his back like butter sliding across a hot skillet. And then he rolled again, into his other favorite position: the 60-pound lean, in which his whole body was just this lump of calm happiness pressed against your leg.

Yesterday we met a dog like this. Her name was Abby, and she was a melter. She pulled that same butter routine. She's the only other dog we've encountered with that docile, affectionate charm. So many of the dogs we've seen are barkers and jumpers. So many have an aversion to eye contact, either out of fear or disinterest.

But we didn't adopt Abby, even though we are relatively sure that this is the right time for us to have a pooch again. Abby was perfect in every way save for one: she is clearly a pit bull. Her behavior is textbook for a very well socialized, submissive, non-aggressive pit. As was Deacon's. When we brought him home, we had no idea so many people would see pit in him. To be honest, I never really did. But when I read a description of a well-socialized, submissive, non-aggressive pit, it was like I was reading a description of our dog. That's the only reason I ever believed he had some pit genes.

It is so sad to think that we probably wouldn't have adopted Deacon if we'd realized he was probably a pit mix. And I can't help but think that the "us" that exist in a parallel universe ten or twelve years in the future, the "us" that brought that sweet dog home with us today, would be royally infuriated with the "us" that left her in the cage at the adoption event.

We did the responsible thing, I suppose. We chose not to take the risk, however small (and the likelihood of a pit bull attacking is actually quite small). But that dog had a little bit of Deacon in her - a little bit of butter - and if it was a little bit of pit that made them so, then I can't help it: I'll love well-socialized, submissive, non-aggressive pit bulls till the day I die.

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