“They found her wandering around the piles of rubble,” Husband said. “Check this out.”
He clicked through a series of images.
“What kind is that?” I said, squinting at the computer screen.
“A pit bull.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Don’t they rip people’s throats out?”
“Do you want to just go and see her? We won’t tell the girls why we’re there.”
Our miniature dachshund Dexter had passed away almost six months earlier, and the girls still had their weepy moments. Husband thought a quick trip to Wisconsin could fix it.
Next door to our Wisconsin friends, Trixie and Todd, lived Mitsy, a woman who rescued dogs from all over the country. She’d make arrangements for their transport to her, and once in her care, she’d cover all their veterinary expenses and find them good homes. The puppy we were about to see at Mitsy’s house was a north Minneapolis tornado survivor. The dog’s savior—a tenderhearted man—had found her nosing around the rubble a week after the disaster and scooped her up. She piddled on him repeatedly as he drove her to Mitsy’s house.
We arrived at Trixie and Todd’s and entered the gate to their back yard. Their Great Dane, Sarge, played with the ratty-looking, wiggly thing we had come to see. Their son called her Blondie. The girls ran off to play with Mitsy’s French bulldog puppy. Mitsy hovered near the fence to answer our questions.
“How old is she?” I said.
“Maybe four or five months.”
Bald patches dotted the puppy’s skinny body. We watched as she flipped onto her back. Sarge nudged her belly with his nose, and then she rolled onto her feet with lightning speed and transformed into a blonde bullet that ripped through the yard.
“She has mites, but I’ve given her meds for that,” Mitsy said.
“Will her fur grow back?”
The girls giggled, delighted by the antics of the French bulldog puppy. After some minutes, I looked at Husband. Should we? I mouthed. He shrugged and mouthed back, It’s up to you.
“What do you think of her?” I said, turning to the girls.
They looked up from their play.
“Her?” They pointed to the bulldog.
“No, this one,” I said, indicating Blondie.
“She’s all right.”
“Should we take her home?”
“Are you serious?” Ricka said, her eyes wide in excitement.
The girls abandoned the bulldog to play with Blondie.
Blondie came home with us that day. In the car, she was placid, snuggling next to the girls. We lured her into the house with treats. We sized her up, trying to find a more suitable name. We settled on Lala, after Husband’s plucky great-aunt who had passed away at almost 102.
Lala was timid for three days, and then her docile nature faded away and what surfaced was pure puppy. She nibbled on us with razor-sharp teeth and shot through the living room, sliding the area rug around and banging into the furniture. She had energy to burn, but refused to go for walks outside. No amount of cajoling would move her. We decided she must have remembered the neighborhood and the tornado, and fear planted her furry haunches to the pavement.
I read about pit bulls online and learned some interesting things about “America’s Nanny Dog”—the most beloved breed during the first half of the twentieth century. And I read about the heroic Sergeant Stubby and about Petey from “The Little Rascals.” The pit bull’s reputation had changed since then, with the help of the media, and the public craved sensationalism. I was disheartened by some horrible news articles that scrolled by on the computer screen. With more research, though, I learned that as with people, it came down to how the animals were raised and treated. I decided my dog was simply the currently hated dog and the negative public sentiment would eventually pass, just as it had for the Doberman, the German Shepherd, and the Rottweiler.
I told people about our acquisition of Lala. They were happy for us. Until I mentioned her breed. If they didn’t visibly recoil, they disapproved with their silence and frowns. I had formed my own opinions about pit bulls—not based on anything concrete—before I had one too. But now I faced our reality: we owned the country’s currently despised dog. Knowing what we were up against with the general public, we wanted Lala to be an ambassador for the breed.
We signed Lala up for a dog training boot camp later in 2011, and there we met Mimi, a dog trainer sent straight to us from heaven. She owned a Malinois and a rescued pit bull too, so she understood. She laughed easily and assured us Lala was neither dog-aggressive nor human-aggressive—just an obnoxious puppy who needed an outlet for her puppyish excesses. Mimi introduced us to The Chuck-It, a long, plastic-handled miracle designed to throw tennis balls the length of a football field with little effort. Her trick was to wear out Lala before training her.
“You wouldn’t expect a hyperactive little boy to sit down to quietly read, would you?” she said. “You have to let him play on the playground first. Same here. A tired dog is a good dog.”
Lala was eager to watch us and learn. Mimi taught her to obey commands and to run on a treadmill. And Mimi became more than our trainer; I soon counted her as a friend.
One day when I picked up Lala from her boot camp classes, Mimi pointed out another dog in training.
“That’s Monkey. One of Michael Vick’s dogs. He was rescued and lives with a family now.”
I couldn’t swallow the stories that followed about Monkey’s nightmare life before he was saved. The evil in the world made me queasy. I tried to shake off what Mimi had told me and instead reminded myself I had just seen a canine celebrity—a survivor.
Because of Mimi, Lala learned to walk on a leash. Celebrating her new skill, we’d often circle the parkway and venture around a little pond the girls named Lala Lake. But once, passing by a shop on the main street near us, a man saw Lala and me coming and flattened himself against a building as we passed by. Terror etched his face. Another time, a man edged away from us as we walked by on the parkway.
“Is that your guard dog?” he called out.
For a moment, I thought about telling the truth. But instead I just smiled and kept walking.
I pondered life with Lala. What I told people about her didn’t matter; they would believe what they wanted to. Ruling a whole breed as bad for the misdeeds of some was like judging an entire race for the sins of a few. But I smiled at what it was really like living with a pampered dog who wagged her tail in her sleep, was afraid of bugs, and licked our bare feet whenever she got the chance.
Our dog’s future was bright. As bright as the sunshine that one day in the summer of 2011 when she would meet a new canine friend out for a walk in the neighborhood. And all because of Lala, I’d find a new human friend at the end of that leash, and my future would be brighter too.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date/
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.