***Article Update*** September 27, 2016: Montreal’s city council passed this deeply flawed piece of legislation by a 37-23 vote. The law will go into effect in October 2016.
In my dreams, I am a guest on The Ellen Show and sitting across from Michael Vick. I stride right up that brute of a man and kick him in the balls, and then bust out every single fact I know about pit bulls. I say all the right things and I demolish him. I make him admit that he is a horrible human being for forcing dogs to fight, for drowning and electrocuting and beating them to death, for profiting off of their suffering. My words are so right and so powerful that he looks into the camera and apologizes to every single dog he’s abused, those rehabilitated by incredible organizations like Best Friends, and those who tragically died in the Bad Newz Kennels and dog fighting ring on his property.
And then I kick him in the balls one more time, because I can, before Ellen announces that the NFL will no longer let him play, and the audience cheers.
You see, I can’t handle the anger I feel when cruelty is inflicted on pit bulls, so I have to leave this world for a while. I have to enter the realm of imagination, where I win debates. Where I make animal abusers cry. Where I have the power and control those dogs do not.
The truth is, of course, that I’m quite powerless. And insecure. And SCARED. I don’t know how to explain to others that when innocent animals suffer and die, a part of me feels like I’m going to die. And I don’t trust myself to get into an argument about pit bulls without choking on my tears—so I stay on the sidelines. I share on social media the wise words of experts and seasoned writers, Arin Greenwood, in particular, and I keep doing what I know how to do best: sitting in kennels with shelter dogs, trying to make them feel seen and loved.
But when I found out about Montreal’s pit bull ban, which makes it illegal for residents to adopt or buy a pit bull, a kind of knowing rose up in me. I knew that I could not just tweet and post about this senseless legislation, stay on the sidelines, and dream up solutions involving Ellen in my head.
Instead, I needed to share with you why pit bulls mean so much to me, and how it is very unlikely that I would be here today, writing this, without them.
When I was twenty-four and suffering from bulimia and depression, I began having suicidal thoughts. I lived not far from a place called Sunset Cliffs, where several people had fallen to their death. I thought about jumping off those cliffs. I thought about ingesting a bottle of pills. I thought about ending it all—the secret late night binges, the lies, the fingers down my raw throat. I had been bulimic for eight years, and despite therapy and rehab and hospitalization, I was still sick as ever.
I was tired. Tired of myself. Tired of therapy. Tired of all my broken promises. Tired of food. Tired of the world and its politics and suffering and advertising and commotion and confusion. I was tired of waking up in the morning with a clogged toilet and vomit on my breath and burger wrappers in my bed.
But the one thing that I was not tired of, and the one reason I kept getting out of bed, was because of the pit bulls at my local shelter.
I worked as a Marketing Coordinator, and at the San Diego Humane Society (SDHS). As soon as I began working there, I found myself profoundly drawn to these big, bulky, boxy-headed dogs, despite having grown up in a small town in Connecticut with a Bichon Frise. I knew nothing about pit bulls when I started working at SDHS, except for a few scary stories I heard on the news.
But very quickly, I fell in love. I discovered how sensitive and affectionate and goofy and resilient pit bulls were. They often wanted nothing more than to cuddle like a lapdog, as if they had no concept of their size. They tried so hard to fit their big bodies into my crossed or outstretched legs. When I talked to them, they tilted their wrinkly heads and perked their ears up like they were listening.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed, which was almost all of the time, I held on to their bulky bodies like an anchor. I experienced a love that came unexpectedly, a love that bathed me in slobber and acceptance, a love that was rarely celebrated and often misunderstood. The pit bulls weren’t stingy or picky about their cuddle time. They never said, You get ten minutes of my affection and then I’m done loving you, because I’ve got other more important things to do. They never said, I can’t sit in your lap because of what you did last night, or an hour ago.
What they said was: Is there any possible way I can move this body of mine closer to you, to sniff your cheek, to know your scent, to see your eyes?
I remember a white, pit bull named Angel. She had a wrinkly snow-powder face, with a touch of pink around the eyes and nose. Angel came to the shelter after being hit by a car, and now one front leg was slightly shorter than the other. When she walked, she had an adorable strut, an irresistible wiggle, and a butt so big and noticeable I nicknamed her Kim K.
I visited her one morning when I felt too depressed to be around people. I opened the door to Angel’s kennel and got onto my knees, and she came barreling into me, her whole backside wagging along with her tail. I wrapped my arms around her. I felt the strength of her seventy-pound body. I smelled the stench of her Milk-Bone breath. I looked into her bright amber eyes and said, “How’s my sweet girl?”
I leaned back against the wall and Angel climbed into my lap (only the front half of her body fit). She rolled over, belly to the ceiling, and gazed up at me. She stretched her paws in the air as if to expand her stomach so that there was more of it for me to pet. When I petted her near her hind legs, she kicked them around like she was ticklish. When I stroked her behind the crease of her soft, white ears, she leaned into my hand.
At one point, I sneezed, probably due to dog hair up my nose, and Angel lifted her head from my lap to look up at me. How wide open and glistening her eyes were, how free and alive! There was no past or future, no stories of shame inside them.
So many stories lived behind my eyes. I carried the people I hurt, the lies I told, my sick relationship with food, wherever I went. My mind was rarely grounded in the moment. My past was heavy and constant; my thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone.
But when I was with pit bulls like Angel, I didn’t have to hide anything. Sometimes the weight inside me fell away and I was lifted. I wasn’t bulimic or unlovable or fat or suicidal. I was a part of life again. A participant, not an outsider struggling, and failing, to get in. And here was the strong, sturdy presence of another—the breath moving in and out of Angel’s chest, the beating of her heart, the force of life moving through her and through me.
Angel reminded me that I was still loved and connected to this world, that I was needed and had talents to offer. And that kind of a reminder kept me from stepping off the cliff. She, and many other pit bulls, pulled me back into life during a time when my sick mind kept telling me to give it away.
Pit bulls like Angel convinced me that I could go on for another day. I didn’t need to figure out the answers or solve my unhappiness. I just needed to continue on. For one more day. Again and again.
The grossly misguided legislation in Montreal to euthanize all pit bull type dogs is not only tragic for the dogs themselves, but also a tragedy for people like me who love them and who have become better, more resilient and compassionate human beings because of them.
There are children in Montreal who need a sleeping buddy and a best friend to greet them at the door when they get home from school. There are people suffering from mental disorders, or grief, or a life crisis, who could use a pit bull to help them get through. There are people of all backgrounds drawn to the resilient nature of pit bulls, who will never be able to adopt one. And tragically, there are thousands of innocent pit bulls in Montreal shelters who are going to die, despite how much they have to teach us humans about love and forgiveness.
My heart goes out to all the victims of Montreal’s pit bull ban—to the dogs and to those of us who know the true value of pit bulls. I’m still hopeful we will be able to come together and stop this cruelty from happening. We know this decision was made out of fear, and that Breed Specific Legislation has been proven ineffective and costly countless times. We know far too many animals have suffered at the hands of human ignorance.
Maybe if we all shout out about the love our pit bulls have given us, if we share our deepest truths about how rescue dogs have rescued us, if we adopt some of the resilience that pit bulls have portrayed over the past few decades, maybe we can save them. And maybe by saving them, we can save ourselves, too.
To help the victims of the Montreal Pit Bull Ban: Go Here.