by Lesley Scott
Pit Bulls are not at all what people think they are. Read this and find out.
|My Friend Patches
Pit Bulls don’t deserve the bad rap for being vicious and dangerous. I handled maybe one hundred pits and only two gave me trouble. When any dog is bad, it can really be BAD! I’ve treated a few survivors of dog fights and they all licked my face, tail wagging, seeming to thank me for some tenderness. It is the cruelty of the owners' that led dogs to behave contrary to their nature.
On my first day on Animal Control duty for the City of North Charleston started as a clean sheet of paper and it filled up easily. I patrolled the city, driving around, being seen by the public when Gwen, my dispatcher, called, “Headquarters to K-9.” I answered and she relayed the complaint.
“There’s a stray pit bull wandering on North Rhett Circle, trying to fight other dogs.” My imagination ran wild. It could be anything from a neighborhood dispute, when feuding neighbors complain about each other (which is common) or a vicious and nasty dog I would have to subdue. That is one part of the thrill of the job --- full of surprises.
I reached the street address and told Gwen, “10-6,” or on the scene. So far, the streets of the high end subdivision seemed empty. I didn’t hear any barking dogs or people running up to me for help. I decided I’d call Gwen and tell her I was through or “10-8,” when I heard the sound of dog tags jingling. In my awkward position, I couldn’t see what was behind me at the time. I didn't consider this incident to be dangerous. The large dog would have already grabbed me if he wanted to scrap.
So I turned around and met an incredibly lovely black and white spotted pit bull dog, wagging his tail and licking his pink nose with his equally pink tongue. After the initial greeting of petting and hugging, I read his name and address on his leather collar and he had just come up to me from sitting on his front porch. Legally, I had no probable cause to take the dog while he is in his yard. But in some cases I make exceptions.
No one answered the door, but this sweet, openly loving pup did not deserve to ride in the dog cage, full of nasty smells and stuff stuck in the corners. Worse, I couldn’t take him to the pound. He would not only be exposed to a number of fatal diseases, but pits were often put in a cage full of male dogs and goaded them to fight. I would take him to his home after my shift and have a talk with his owners. I could tell from Patches’ personality and his name that he was loved and a happy pooch.
It is not that I don’t take dogs to the disease pit they call the Pound, I don’t always have a choice. Being called the "Dog Catcher" bothered me. I considered myself to be a professional, working for the public solving animal and people problems. Jeezze, I’m not stupid enough to try to catch a dog on the run. He has more legs and more speed. Most of my pick ups were already in custody, someone giving up a pet ( I always tried to find pets homes), picking up sick dogs and cats and mainly talking to the people I would happen to meet. If I saw a dog that didn’t belong in a certain neighborhood, I would pick him up and try to find out where he or she belonged.
I opened the passenger door and he gave me a pleading look, like, “Can I ride in the car?” I patted the seat and in he leapt with agile grace. He gave me a pleased look, a lick on my face, and we started our day together. Patches sat straight and looked protective. I guess it was good idea to have him because North Charleston’s nickname is “Scum City.” It has a high rate of murder, rape and robbery, even in the daytime. I still refused to carry a gun. A potential criminal would think more than twice before bothering Patches and me.
When five o’clock in the afternoon ended my job on duty, I began to feel somewhat tired from lifting heavy dogs, unloading them at the pound, and using a choke stick from time to time. After checking out with Gwen with a happy, “K-9 to Headquarters, I am now 10-42,” off duty.
When Patches and I reached his home, the owners, a young couple with twin toddlers, were searching and calling for their lost pup. The woman was near tears, and her tall husband was shouting out, “Patches! Here, boy!” I was pleased that I would make their day.
After reunions, more crying and laughing, Patches was pleased to be home to stay, or I hoped. I talked to the owners and they said that when they both were at work, it seemed normal to put Patches out into the nice chain link fence back yard. I explained that the neighbors told me he ran loose a lot and they needed to check and maybe redesign their backyard and leave out plenty of his toys. He was apparently bored and lonely, but the neighbors were afraid of him or what he could do to their own dogs. Pit bulls are considered to be mean in that fancy neighborhood.
I had to smile when they both belted out a loud laugh, “Patches is well mannered, helps baby sit and lets the boys do whatever they want. I’ve seen them up in his face, pull his ears, and even ride him. He loves everyone, and only wants to play and be sociable,” said the young man.
“I agree. But in the meantime I may end up taking him to the pound, and promise you, it will be bad news for him as well as you,” I told him. I stopped for a minute, an idea forming. Of course! “Hey, why don’t you let Patches ride with me as my partner? He’ll be happy, doing a job, like all dogs want to do, and keeping me safe and company.”
They brought out Patches’ Baby Book and showed pictures of him tottering around, just like the twins. There he was with his favorite toy, which it still is his favorite. He even had a certificate awarded to him for completing the puppy obedience class. I only hope my supervisor, Captain Stutts, would understand because he was an avid dog lover. However, he knew what I was up to, but never mentioned it to me.
A few days later, Patches' dad asked me if I wanted to take Patches home and keep him for my own. I jumped at the chance to live with this special dog. I couldn't wait to get him home to meet the rest of my dog pack and other critters. I felt like I had just won a prize. His owners thought he would get more exercise on my farm. It was a difficult decison for them.
Patches initially became interested in my milk goats. That bothered me since they were registered French Alpines and I made money selling the kids I didn't keep. He also wanted to chase the cats and chickens. Patches, being smart and eager to please would soon learn to live with his new family.
Within a week, Patches shared my bed and walked at my side everywhere I went. He ignored the other animals, for the most part, but did play with my Springer Spaniel, Daisy. Patches loved everybody and everything. He kept me feeling safe.
On a routine, loose dog GOA (gone on arrival), call, Patches sat regally in the front seat, sometimes looking my way. He could sense when the call was a friendly one or a potential risk for my safety. So occasionally he stood right next to my left foot in a ready stance, watching. When I walked his gait matched mine and he always stayed right next to my left foot. He never took his round amber eyes off of my face. He was reading my expressions like a deaf dog I had once would do. I've always felt that animals can read our minds. They can see us on a cellular level.
This partnership worked well for me, but not for dear Patches’ owners. The children cried and wanted to know where he was and the parents were depressed, and almost in tears. I had to give them back their dog. “Okay, I am sure this will work,” I told them, “Patches has to be a house dog from now on. I know he’s housebroken and he even slept with me. He is a wonderful pet.”
“How do we do it?” asked Patches’ dad.
“It might be easy for y’all. Let him outside to go potty, bring him inside, play with him a bit let him go potty outside again before everyone leaves and trust him not to tear up your house when you are at work,” I said with a wink, “ He was an excellent guest and never made a mess or got in the garbage.”
The couple decided to try my suggestion. For weeks, I drove past their home, but they were at work. I didn’t see Patches in the backyard, either. I hadn’t had a single complaint since we started our relationship. Did they give him away? Did my suggestion work?
One warm spring afternoon, after going “10-42,” I jumped into my old blue Ford Galaxy and drove to Patches’ house. I caught them at a good time, too. The family playing fetch and wrestling in the soft grass in the lovely backyard full of assorted loud colored flowers made me smile. He must be doing well, the flowerbeds were untouched. I wish I could say that about mine.
The young couple came running over, big smiles splashed across their faces. “I was hoping you’d come by,” said Patches’ mom. She gave me a big hug and her husband followed. I felt happy for them because they made it work so they could keep their dog and not cause a neighborhood ruckus. I gave them a big squeeze, myself, and my eyes watered. I would never be a "dogcatcher." I loved my job too much and savored the rewarding moments like knowing Patches and his wonderful family.