Simon, without a step, could spring level with my chest. In the field he ran after a ball with joyous concentration. Giving that up, he rumbled back to me looking like the Brit tanks at Cambrai, a low-to-the-ground, rough-clambering, muddy beastie. When I swiveled to greet him, he fell into my lap, his big head opening into the ingenuous Pit smile, that free, guileless grin.
Cashmere was probably a bait dog, her face pin-pointed by white scars, but she seemed unaffected by the devils she must have encountered. She held nothing against the volunteers. Her affectionate nature suggested a faith that the next person and the next would always be kind and stroke the soft skin under her jaw and welcome her with tender sounds.
Dogs are expressive by nature; over millennia they have grown so near that a mutual pact to look into each other’s eyes has evolved. Spend enough time with dogs and those eyes reveal depths of individuality and character — liveliness and intelligence, wariness and the most profound sadness, yearning and impatience, patience and soul, fear and a wild playfulness, desperation, watchfulness, the purest happiness. Pits often seem among the most open and vulnerable, and maybe the ones who look first to our faces for the clues they search there to please us.
Over the last thirty years, their numbers have increased dramatically. They have been overbred and harnessed to the most grotesque purposes — to destroy other dogs for money and to feed a malignant sense of power. They have been implicated in attacks that have killed human beings, and they also die by the hundreds, maybe by the thousands, every day* in shelters in every state. They are the canine Rorschach test — look at the Pit face and see the animal who shares a couch with one’s children and whose affection is limitless. Look at the Pit face and see an animal to be feared, a breed that cannot be trusted. An unsupervised Pit killed a friend’s dog, and once on a narrow path, a big blue male, intact, muscled chest outthrust, came within inches of doing great harm to my Borders, his owner sliding along behind him and screeching Stop! Stop! to no more effect than if he were trying to command a locomotive.
But at Lamancha, two big boys and a girl, Big Red, Gator, and Amber rush to greet each volunteer, heads up, eager, anticipation of affection in their approach. Inside the runs, the latest Pits wait for adoption, individuals all, secure at last from harm: Renee, Stella, Rocky, Chase and Copper, Ginger Snap, Ashley, Shelby, Marissa and Molly and Zelee, found next to a dumpster in Coatesville and coming back from starvation. All require training and patience, but none have shown any aggression toward people in spite of their histories of abandonment, neglect and abuse. Here they receive the slow conditioning of a resurrecting love from dozens and dozens of volunteers. That remedy more than any other seems the key to their restoration. In the best documented case of this nature forty seven of the fifty one fighting Pits rescued from Michael Vick’s farm were successfully rehabilitated.
We domesticated dogs. In a scientific sense, we invented them. They should never be ‘just dogs’, another commodity, another product of the marketplace. We owe them our attention and truth be told, a measure of reverence. Is there another species who have given us such loyalty?
Rocky and Shelby
When she hears my voice at the door, Pauly pounds down the stairs, hits the hall floor, sees me and makes for me, wobbling now in the straightaway, machine-gunning her tail, and slams into my outstretched hands, so happy that if she could speak, she would shout Hooray! For three years my tutoring visits have begun with an ungainly charge from this girl, a brindle Pit, a rescue, a strong, squat creature, this homely beauty. Our weekly meeting is a minor rapture, a thoughtless, compressed, clumsy dance and tumble, and in those moments nothing else in the wide world matters except the touches we exchange, the huddle we become together, the wiry, tussling love that fills us both and makes us better.