Cashmere weighs about 30 compact pounds, and until released from restraint into the fenced pasture at the Refuge, she had been shut down, a wired torpedoed muscle, a girl who ignored the person who held the end of her leash; she only wanted to move forward, head as rigid as a carving, an image of aloof, determined energy.
Pits seem especially sensitive dogs, more prone to a kind of kennel psychosis than most other breeds. The dogs at the Refuge are walked twice a day, every day; there is not enough volunteer manpower to do more, but Pits have so much energy shuddering just under the skin that unless they receive extra attention, extra thoughtful nurturing and a time to run, they can go sour, become depressed and detached and sometimes sullen. Their energy has to be burned off, and then, almost always, they become suggestible. They learn quickly.
I have seen that, paradoxically, most dogs can be approached and gentled if the person setting out to work with them respects them as creatures that can think; they are not automatons. At the same time however, dogs are hardwired to respond to us by close to 30,000 years of genetic manipulation. They know that we provide food, and they know how to read our bodies, faces and tones of voice. One seeks a point of balance between the two traits.
Every Pit I have worked with over these twenty months, dozens and dozens, I have liked, and some I have cherished because when they do receive more time and affection, they flourish, they open up like a smile, and when that happens, when their bodies register the change, then they become silly and affectionate – the unthreatening comedians of the dog world.
Cashmere runs the circuit of the enclosure; she stops to look at the horses and emus, all her weight thrust forward into her chest muscles and front. She does not bark, ever. She__LOOKS__. Her intensity ripples like a discernible wave through the air. I give her time, 10 minutes or so to explore. Then I whistle once. She glances at me and continues, 100 feet distant, still circling. Sitting in the center of the pasture, I scoot around and turn with her. Two more minutes. A second, longer whistle and a bark. She stops and stares at me and begins a looping circle closer, around, closer, slipping peeks at me from the corner of her eye. Closer. Now I stand up and walk away from her and make low chittering, gabby nonsense sounds. She follows. I use her name — “oh you sweet Cashmere, sweet Cashhhhhhhhmere.” I throw the Frisbee I have kept hidden.
She shoots after it. When she picks it up, she does that most wonderful trick – the Pit leap. In one joyful running burst she holds the Frisbee above her head and lifts her front left leg off the ground, and thus off kilter she waves the Frisbee above her, shakes it from side to side and continues her low glide over the grass – all of this happening in one continuous goofy flow. She reminds me of a lost movie image of a little French girl skipping with her parasol held tilting above her head. I throw the second Frisbee I had hidden. She drops the first and goes for the second. Cue her same performance. Having retrieved the first, I sail it at a right angle to her – drop run snatch shake dance prance repeat. Again and again and again. Now I take the Frisbee from her with a command of “Mine!” and “Thank you,” and she gives it up and happily waits. Later, when we walk back to the kennels, she has visibly relaxed. She answers my affection with nuzzles and a delighted turning into my hand wherever I place it on her ingot of a body
I do not know her back story. She has had puppies but brought none with her. Her ears are cropped close for fighting, but she displays no hint of aggression. Her eyes get me. They always do. In any dog I like, the eyes are the first catalyst of my response. Look at hers. In their presence now I have been trained to see her and touch her as I would any friend.