Jan 18, 2011

A Handful

I wrote before about volunteering at the local animal shelter.  I'm glad to report I graduated to dog walking and now spend 2-4 hours per week walking a few of the many homeless dogs the shelter takes in every day.  I really enjoy it.  I get some exercise and feel like I'm doing something worthwhile in the meantime.  The big payoff though is getting the chance to meet and play with new dogs every week.  Most of them are not there long enough to get too attached to them.  That's a good thing.  It means they found new homes.  But there are a few dogs that seem to have a hard time finding new homes.  There are even a few that have been there since I started  back in October.  Usually these long-timers are either senior dogs or, more often, they're pit bulls.

I like to think I have a natural ability to discipline and train dogs.  It really is just a matter of letting them know who's boss with gentle firmness.  I'm mystified by the cases I see on the Dog Whisperer.   The way some people let their dogs push them around.  I'm not afraid of handling the big dogs at the shelter.  I find that most of them can sense a dog person when they meet one and I'm definitely a dog person.   The pits though are a little intimidating. 

I've never really spent much time with pit bulls until now.  I'd heard both sides of the controversy over this breed.  The side that says they get a bad rap and that they are no more vicious than any other breed.   The other side insisting that these dogs are inherently dangerous.  I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, as it so often does.    

If you've walked these dogs you know how powerful they are.  Pure muscle with a little bit of stubbornness and determination thrown in.  If you've seen them play you know how they love to play tug of war with you.  It's then that the thought runs through your mind how you would be at this dog's mercy if he really wanted that tug toy.  Rationally I know that's true of other breeds too but I've never seen one shake a toy the way the pits do.  It's a little like they're practicing the death grip.

To make matters worse these breeds are often most attractive to people who really shouldn't be owning dogs.  They don't know how to train them, care for them or discipline them properly.  They want pits because they're tough and aggressive.  They think somehow this makes them tough by virtue of ownership.  Once these dogs become too much to handle they end up in shelters.  Along with all the puppies born along the way because so many of them aren't fixed.  

Early on I started walking a dog named Bluto.  He's a white pit bull with a big brown spot over his face.  The first time I walked Bluto he had gotten into the bad habit of jumping on you to demand a treat. I tried to handle this the way I do with my dogs, firmly say no and turn my back to him.  He ended up jumping up and biting my arm, drawing blood.  It wasn't serious but it surprised me and made me a little scared.  

I read the notes the other walkers had written on him.  "Bluto jumps up a lot but settles right down once you tell him to sit and give him a treat." No wonder, the dog had been trained to treat us walkers like treat vending machines.  The shelter dog trainer worked with him using a squirt bottle and he no longer jumps up on people.  He is a real sweetheart and will snuggle up to you and give you kisses when you stop at the bench on the walking trail.  But I can't ever forget how he bit me.  It's good that the shelter works so hard to match dogs to the proper environment.  He's a powerful, strong willed dog and needs an owner with some experience.

The only down side to my volunteer experience continues to be some of my fellow volunteers.  Some are introverts, like me, just there to walk the dogs.  Many of them though have something to prove about either their knowledge of dogs or how dedicated they are to the shelter.  They show it by commenting as you pass by with every dog you walk.  "Oh, Sheba, she sure does love to fetch balls."  "That Whiskers sure was a handful yesterday."  They drive me nuts.  I'm there because I like dogs, and truth be told, more than a lot of the people I know.   So, I smile and move on.  I just keep coming back for the dogs.


  1. I always liked you, now I like you even more! thanks so much for doing this! Before you know it, you'll be volunteering for a rescue org! Proud of you!
    It's also nice to see your post.

  2. You are doing a very nice, worthwhile thing. That dog does look adorable, but he would intimidate me quickly. Please keep helping the animals and just ignore the snooty people.

  3. Pat - Gee thanks, I like you too. Don't know why but ideas for posts seem to be few and far between these days.

    Mom - I do my best at ignoring them. Who knows maybe my quietness annoys them.

  4. sounds wonderful - something about how a doggie looks at you - would really have loved a kelpie after ours died two years back but ended up with two cats and they don't like walkies

  5. Christine, this is so very nice of you!! :) I'm sure those dogs LOVE you, too. :)

    I'm not a big fan of pit bulls, and I kind-of think that all of them should be spayed/neutered so that the breed could be fazed out...but for now, the ones that are alive do need to be matched to the right home, as you said. That's very important.

  6. I had to come back to tell you this...
    Yesterday my wife transported a 4 month old pit from the animal shelter to a vet and then to a foster home. She brought him over to our house for an hour or so. He was a cutie. I've known a lot of pit bulls and every one of them was a great family dog. With pits, it's usually about the owner and not the dog...

  7. MC - I like cats too. They're a different creature altogether though aren't they? Aloof, self sufficient and not interested in pleasing.... sort of an anti-dog.

    MHP - Hopefully the breed will lose popularity so they can go back to being normal dogs again. Did you know that George Washington's dog was a pit bull?

    Pat - They are beautiful animals and some of them are so sweet. I think getting one from a puppy would be as safe as any other dog but with the shelter dogs you never really know what they've been exposed to.