My first experience with owning a shelter dog came in 1998, when we adopted Oscar. Oscar was eight months old and had little training but he learned quickly and, although he had his puppy ways, we really had no serious problems with him. You might say Oscar spoiled me or, at the very least, convinced me that shelter dogs were pretty near perfect. Of course, now I know that we got very lucky with Oscar and that some shelter dogs do come with unresolved issues.
I adopted Mickey solely from a picture I fell in love with on Facebook. There was little information in his shelter notes. All I knew was that he was tense and frightened in the shelter. I thought he may have simply been confused or that perhaps he could sense he was in a kill shelter and faced an uncertain future, or no future at all. I believed that he would be fine once he came home. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Now, three years later, he has made tremendous progress. He wags his tail, loves car rides and visiting friends and has become a world-class beggar when food is in sight. He plays outside, rolls around in the grass, knows quite a few tricks and gives kisses with the best of them. But, he is not quite the positive pit bull role model I still hope he will be one day. He continues to be fearful of anyone or anything unfamiliar, and is at times reactive.
To those he knows he is the most loyal and sweetest dog one could ask for. He is especially gentle around my elderly mother who has trouble walking. When she is up, Mickey will not go near her. Without being told, he finds a spot out of the way and sits patiently until she is settled. When she is sitting up eating a meal, he lays quietly by her feet as if guarding her.
We lovingly call him a “muscle-head” because doesn’t always think before he acts. So, my job has been, not only to teach him to trust but also to put him in a position to succeed. This often means being proactive on walks, taking him to the side and making him wait when people or dogs pass us on the street. Sometimes his behavior is flawless and sometimes he is set off for seemingly no reason. Only Mickey knows why this is – I have no idea.
Incredibly, this time he did not react. When she was almost next to us and I saw he was calm, she reached down to pet him and he profusely licked her hand. For many dogs this would be typical, but for Mickey this was a tremendous breakthrough!
I invited the neighbor in to visit. She stayed a few minutes and as she was leaving asked what kind of dog Mickey is. When I said “pit bull” her facial expression changed from a smile to one of disbelief. I asked if she was now afraid of him and she replied, “oh no, he is a sweetheart.” I went on to tell her Mickey’s story and she was very appreciative and supportive. She, like so many, had heard only the negative stories. Now she was meeting a live pit bull for probably the first time and clearly it was not what she expected.
No, Mickey is not perfect but neither is any of us, and, in his own, imperfect way, he definitely changed one person’s perceptions about pit bulls. I hope there will be many more to come. Good boy Mickey, you did it!!