Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I've always had a dog as an adult. Many of those years were shared with Lacey, my Shepherd-Chow mix who passed away in 2007. I spent many of those years walking with her, and a lot of that walking was done in here in Trenton. Safety wasn't as much of an issue as companionship, but I always felt safe with her, even though she was kind of on the small side for her mix, weighing in at about 35 pounds. We didn't walk much in her last years: she was too tired.

Steve showed up in 2008, after I vowed to never get another dog. He was everything I wasn't looking for in a dog: small and yappy, primarily. But dogs are amazing creatures, and despite my vow, despite my disdain for his variety, he wormed his way into my heart. He's got a great personality, and is full of energy, and our house and yard are just large enough that he gets plenty of exercise defending the perimeter. But I miss walking. Now that Matthew is older, it's easier to do. But I'm reluctant. It's because of the pit bulls.

I've learned it's easy enough to fall in love with an individual dog who doesn't fit into my short list of preferred varieties, but I've never had a relationship with a pit bull; they don't appeal to me, but I'm not a hater. I've just seen too many idiots around my neighborhood with unleashed pit bulls, and they're usually not sterilized, too. It's a mentality I don't understand. I recently had one of those, "fuck it, it's MY neighborhood, too" moments, and I took both Steve and Matthew out, without any problems. But the next day, I heard some noises in my shrubs. I looked out and saw a teenager who lives down the street and an unleashed pit bull; he was encouraging her to root through my gardens, in search of cats.


I have an unfortunate tendency toward apathy when it comes to many issues — not all, just some — but the pit bull-in-the-hedges issue is not one of them. I was upstairs with Matthew at the time, and I could see the kid and the pit from the window; I ran down the stairs, flew out of the door, and walked over to him, so he knew he was the reason I was outside. I didn't want him to think I was standing on my stoop for a breath of fresh air. My heart was pounding, and I hadn't expected to be there at that moment, but I managed a simple, "Hi. What's going on?"

His dog was clawing at my gate. "I'm teaching her to kill cats."

I tried not to look shocked. I realized an old white lady from the suburbs has a different life view than the black city kid with his pants belted below the curve of his ass cheeks, with a loose pit bull clawing at my gate. Not everyone likes cats, and that's okay. Right now, I hate them, too, especially my cat, Platooski. But it is illegal to kill them for sport; I'm not sure my young neighbor was aware of this, or even cared enough about the law. And I was pretty sure that was a conversation I didn't need to have with him.

"These are my cats," I lied. Or half lied. Or, maybe it's not a lie at all. I don't know anymore. They're strays and ferals who hang out around my house because I am stupid enough to feed them, and occasionally catch them and get them sterilized.

The dog trampled a clump of lilies I recently transplanted from my mother's garden, and I shot the kid a look, and I'm glad I didn't have to say anything about that. He grabbed the dog's collar and made her stay on the sidewalk.

"Oh. I didn't know they your cats. Most dogs WILL chase cats," he told me.

"Not all of them," I started; I was about to say something pompous about proper training, so it's just as well he cut me off.

"Not yours, I guess, because you have a little chihuahua," he assumed.

I decided it wasn't worth correcting him: Steve is a terrier mix, and he spends his entire life chasing cats; it never grows old for him. He's also strong enough to hurt them, but because he's received just enough training, he's smart enough to know that if he pushes his luck, he's going to have to answer to me. So, he only goes so far.

"I do have a little dog," I said. "And a little boy. I don't want them to get hurt. I don't want my son to watch a pit bull kill one of his kitties, you know?"

"Yes ma'am," the kid said.

"Your dog is very pretty. She has nice eyes," I said, trying to keep the boy from feeling vindictive.

"Thank you. I'm not training her to fight. I don't fight her. I'm just teaching her to go after cats."

His voice trailed off, and I'm hoping that was some kind of realization on his part that perhaps teaching his dog to kill cats might create very big problems down the line.

But, I don't know if he had that epiphany or not. I said, "I just want to feel safe in my yard. I don't want your dog killing any cats near here."

He nodded his head, and took his dog home.

But, the next day, he was riding around on a bike, with his dog, unleashed, alongside him, taking detours through plenty of private property along the way.


The weather isn't too bad today. It's hot and humid, but it's going to be way worse tomorrow. Matty has become a bit of a couch potato — a wild, jumping, thrashing couch potato. I bring him into the yard, and let him romp in the pool; I show him ant hills and beetles and kittens and all sorts of things boys should like, and he does indeed love those things, but he always wants to go "ee-side" after a short spell. I encourage him to play with his cars and trains downstairs; and I try to read to him. But he always heads back upstairs to the TV. I feel terrible about this, because it's supposed to wreck his little brain and such, but screaming in the pool, throwing cars and trains (he's got a good arm, too!), and tearing at books isn't terribly healthy either.

I kind of feel like we're in a rut. So, today, I decided we would walk up to the playground in Villa Park, and I wanted to take Steve, but the kid with the loose pit bull was too fresh in my mind. I read that inspirational story about the Bordentown woman who saved her dog from a pit bull attack a couple of weeks ago, and I thought maybe I could defend Steve against a pit bull*, too. But I know that it is just way too risky with a 22-month-old kid in tow, too.

Steve cried as I closed the door behind us. I heard him howling as we walked down the street. I told myself that I was doing reconnaissance to see if I saw any loose dogs at this time of the day, and if not, maybe I'd bring Steve with us the next time we walk around. I felt optimistic all the way to the park (though there were some shady looking people milling about, and evidence that someone may have spent last night on one of the park benches). The only dog I noticed was watching us from a second story window, and he was very well-behaved: he just watched us, and didn't bark.

But after Matty was done running around, and we were about a block from home, we encountered an incredibly large male pit bull, loose, with his owner many paces behind him. Maybe the dog is super well-behaved, but maybe he was only well-behaved because I didn't have Steve with me. It is not like me to be so fatalistic, to feel that a dog attack is imminent, but sheesh, why do people have to walk their dogs without a leash? Why?


* I mention pit bulls in my dog attack scenario, even though it could be any sort of dog. When Lacey was young, there was a Husky mix who lived across Division Street from me; that dog was able to push the door open, and she attacked Lacey on several occasions. In the owner's defense, he happened to be right near the door on those instances, and was able to grab his dog before things got too hairy. Once she was grabbed by a large German Shepherd, and another time, a Rottweiler. Both of those attacks happened in the suburbs. But pit bulls are just so prevalent here to the point I almost never see any other breed of dog, certainly not leashless.


Captain Har said...


Several years ago the Trenton police had to shoot a female pit bull two doors down from me. The pit bull attacked a schnauzer being walked on a leash by an elderly women from around the corner. Although the pit bull was behind a fence, it wasn't very secure. We all tried to get the pit bull to release it's vicious grip on the poor defenseless schnauzer to no avail. One man hit it with a metal garbage can, nothing will stop this breed when they go into to the attack mode. The police tried pepper spray , and that had no affect what so ever. The poor gray schnauzer was now almost solid red with his own blood. The police had no other alternative but to grab their shotgun and end this nightmare on Hobart Ave. Of course this was a front page story on our local rag the Trentonian the next day.

Anonymous said...

It's awful and shameful that people do not understand animals and even more so when they do not understand their own pets. Pit bulls are really a good breed, but you have to know their temperment and work with and around it--understand the dog and the breed. Our neighbor 2 doors down has 2 wonderful pits. They are loving and friendly; lap dogs really (seriously, Copper has crawled on my lap and practically purred like a kitten!). It truly is a shame what rotten people have done to these dogs.

And as a side note, terriers are one of the more aggressive breeds. They were bred specifically to kill rodents, etc. and can be more problematic than larger breeds. (Steve, though, is a good boy with people who treat him with respect!). Oh, and I once watched a cocker spaniel flip out (after a friendly pat and with no warning) and almost rip the lip off a close friend-and people tend to think they're great family dogs.

I'll stick to my cats...ms. clean

Chrissy Ott said...

I wrote a long reply about how happily stubborn Steve is, since he's part terrier, and then it occurred to me that pit bulls are also part of the terrier realm. That's probably why they are so effective at killing smaller animals, especially if not trained properly.

I agree, though, about the unpredictable nature of all sorts of animals. Platooski, our cat, has swatted Glen, and his sister, Brenda, in the face, without any warning. But dogs, in particular, can be more dangerous because they'll stick around to fight. I know of a dachshund who bit a girl's face because she got too close; and there was a kid down the street from my parents who had hideous facial scars from a black lab. All animals are individuals and may have good or bad dispositions, which can be enhanced/exacerbated by the owner.

Captain Har: We watched some dummies from animal control try to round up a loose Rottweiler a few years ago, with pepper spray. It was a pretty bad scene, because the dog was just lumbering around, not doing anything (though, it could have), and wasn't aggressive with the guys from animal control. It got really pissed off after getting maced, which made it much harder to capture him. So, it seems to me that sprays are a bad idea for dogs, regardless of circumstances.