June 30, 2013

Maine Observer: Bundle of brindle belies myths about pit bulls

A homeowner's experience with an unexpected canine visitor shows how warm and lovable the breed actually is.

By Fred Cheney

I looked up late one afternoon, and out in my yard were two unfamiliar dogs.

This is not disconcerting when you live in the country. People abandon stray dogs and cats along rural roads too often.

Other times, a pet has just become a resident, wandered off and gotten genuinely lost.

This was the case with Duncan, a hulking German shepherd, just acquired by a neighbor I hadn't visited with in too long. It was good to catch up with John thanks to Duncan.

One day it was a horse who succumbed to my bucket full of apples. The 911 operator called the owner, and she arrived before the apples ran out.

Another time, it was a brace of Newfoundlands. I thought they were bears when I first sighted them in my orchard. Four hundred pounds of goofy, lost within 300 yards of home. They were a laugh a minute. The owner showed up with a tiny Subaru. One last good laugh.

But this pair had a distinctive look. They loped along gracefully, shoulder to shoulder, actually leaning into one another. They circled my apple trees like rodeo horses rounding barrels. A proud black Lab wearing a curious lime green bandana, and a large, muscular pit bull.

I went out on my steps and hollered, "Hey, you dogs. Come to me." A robust bundle of brindle immediately came over. I never saw the Lab again.

He was as friendly and warm as friendly and warm. We jostled on the stairs, and I checked his collar. From that I got his address, and his name -- Louie. I found a rope and made a makeshift leash.

All this took about the same amount of time and difficulty as the telling. We took a little walk around the grounds while my wife drove down to the owners. Louie was fine with the leash and enjoyed sniffing all the new "stuff." I found myself growing closer and closer to my new houseguest. It was impossible to not like this dog.

The owner arrived and told me that he'd gotten Louie a half-hour before he was scheduled to be put down at a shelter.

The brindle dogs, pit bulls, get a bad, bad rap. Sometimes, it's irrational fear. Sometimes, it's ignorant humor: What has four legs and an arm? -- a happy pit bull. This is the canine equivalent of a Rastus and Mandy joke, and just as offensive. Every nine seconds of every day, a dog is put down, and they are disproportionally pit bulls. The loss is twofold.

This dog came to an alien place and wholeheartedly trusted me. We spent that half-hour the way many lifelong friends spend their first half-hour together.

Helen Keller had a pit bull that was devoted to her, a devotion she returned. She couldn't see or hear; the dog couldn't talk. What did the two of them use to establish that bond? Pretty self-evident, isn't it?

Two last notes. The Lab made it home on his own. My cat did not appreciate the new smell on my clothes.

Fred Cheney is a resident of Bowdoinham.

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