Friday, March 28, 2008

A dog named Worf

I've been talking alot about pitbulls this week for various reasons. Whenever that happens I find myself thinking of Worf, a pit that stole my heart. This is his story as I remember it. Reader alert, not all stories have a happy ending.

He was a beautiful red pitbull that needed a home. I don't remember all the details, like how he came to be at our shelter, just that he was there and had been for a long time, waiting. This was about 9 years ago and I had started working at the shelter part time. Back then I didn't know as much about dog behavior, just what I had picked up from my years of owning akitas.
I had been warned about going into his kennel because he liked to grab arms and sleeves in his mouth and pull you around. No one knew how to get him to stop, but they recognised he wasn't trying to hurt anyone. "Wear a coat" was the advice I was given. The first time I entered the kennel to take him out into the play yard he grabbed me and started tugging. I admit it scared me, more than a little. "Holy crap, a pitbull is yanking me around!" He was very strong.
After I realized he was just playing and got him out where he needed to be, I noticed just how beautiful he was. He was a deep red color with a large blocky head. His eyes were a light brown and matched his coat almost to closely. He wasn't small, probably about 70lbs of solid muscle. He moved like electricity through water, fast, fluid and intense.
I knew we had to find a way to stop his inappropriate play. A rough playing pitbull was just to intimidating for people to consider adopting, and it was getting hard on the staffs wardrobe. We came up with the idea of taking toys into his kennel to stick in his mouth to redirect him. It worked like a charm. He stopped looking for arms and sleeves and started playing with balls and tug toys.
I remember him as a quiet dog, rarely barking in his kennel. Ignoring other dogs as they passed by on their way outside. He had been there for a long time, more than a year when I began there. There was little interest in him, or interest by people that were turned away for being inappropriate matches. It was a different time then. In our defense, we didn't know what we know now.
I began my training apprenticeship and took him with me to some of the group classes I was required to attend. He did fabulous. He learned quickly and was very attentive. I worked him wearing just a regular slip collar. He ignored all the other dogs in the class and I believe won over some of the other owners in the class to the breed. I was well on my way to falling in love with him. We was sweet and loved attention from anyone. He was what we called a "people slut" whos tail never stopped wagging.
I don't remember if he was allowed to play with other dogs in the play yard. We didn't use play groups or pairs back then like they do there today. I do remember an incident where the shelter manager (at the time) had one of her dogs get loose, a doberman, and charged Worf when I had him out for a walk. Worf just stopped and waited for the dog to get to him, they sniffed noses and the dobie walked off. I remember being grateful there hadn't been a fight. I also remember being proud of Worf for it. "Good boy!"
Adopting him myself just wasn't an option. I had cats at home, and a male akita at the time that was not tolerant of other male dogs. Worf's brief known past had him labeled as a cat killer. The situation wasn't a good match for all involved.
One day a woman came and took him home. She lived alone in the woods and had been looking for a companion. Joy!!! Progress reports were good. Then I came in one day and he had been returned. "What happened?" I asked. This is the story I got back:
One day the woman got an oil delivery and Worf ran out to say hello to the oil man. (He was allowed to run off leash in the yard because he didn't run off.) Happy wags, tail in gear, man pats dog, all is good. "What a great dog, he's beautiful." he says. "Thanks" says the woman "He's my new dog from the shelter." "What kind of dog is he?" asks the oil man. "They said he was a pitbull" replies the woman. "Oh I would never own a pitbull" says the man and pulls away from the dog.
The woman was sad about how others would perceive her dog as being a "bad breed" and decided she didn't want to live with that, so she brought him back. Not because of his behavior, but because of how he looked to others. I felt ill.
Worf doesn't seem to mind being back at first but then begins changing. He begins barking at the other dogs. He seems more fustrated in his kennel. He hurts a dog in the kennel next to him, badly. Meetings are held. What are we going to do with this dog?
I called a pitbull rescue. "If he has killed a cat and hurt another dog we can't take him either. The liability for us as a group is to great. There are to many pits without issues filling our rescue group already. We have no space. I am sorry."
The decision is made. Worf will be euthanised. We have no choices. I have no choices. I can't bring myself to take him to the vet. Someone else does. He is gone. No more playing ball in the yard, no more rubbing his soft ear leather between my fingers, no more smelling his big goofy head as I kiss it. He is gone. My heart, my heart. I loved him. I just couldn't save him.
I keep his photo on my wall because though he was never adopted, he is claimed. I claim him and will look for him at the bridge one day. He is mine. It is also a reminder. A reminder that ignorance kills. What we didn't know as a shelter, as a student trainer, as ignorant of so many things, killed this beautiful boy. I will not let it happen again. I cannot. The price on my heart is to high.
What could we have done different? Now I have some answers. Now we have some answers. Environmental enrichment, foster homes, health testing, diet changes, medication options, knowing more about breed traits, not being so judgemental of potential adopters. What we did not know then will not kill another dog now. This is why education is so important. For all the Worf's out there. There are many, and to many are dying because of ignorance and fear. We cannot forget the lessons we learned. We cannot forget what he taught us with his death.

So now he stands upon my wall, along with my others who have passed before us, a happy slice of time forever frozen and kept. His tail still wagging. He will be forever in my heart, I have promised him. He is mine and he was a pitbull.


Richard Laplante said...

That is one damn sad story but very touching. We have rotties and have prospective owners fill in puppy applications before we consider selling them one of our dogs, but that is not 100% fool proove either.

Hannah said...

I have tears in my eyes, Marie. You wrote your tribute to Worf very well. He must have really touched your life. What a special boy.

Amie said...

Worf will be looking for you at the bridge, too!

I have been so incredibly blessed with Oscar - my ignorance about breed specific issues when he first arrived could have been deadly. I devoted myself to learning about him, and the more I learned, the more I realized how LUCKY I'd been early on - he isn't dog aggressive, he isn't small animal aggressive. Those are completely manageable things, if you're prepared for them. But I wasn't.

Nor was I prepared for the rolled eyes, the steps backwards, the "why would you own a dog like that?" comments.

Look at him. Extremely devoted to me above all else. A people slut. Non-stop wagging tail and energy and enthusiasm. TOTAL class clown and the fastest learner in obedience classes. Would chew off his own arm rather than hurt me. Would defend me with his life. Clever and funny and charming.

How will I ever own another breed after this one?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I have been an American Pit Bull owner for the last 15.5 years. I have owned 3 in that time. I once had a Red rednose such as Worf. I now that dog's half sister, Dilly.

One thing for everyone to keep in mind about the American Pit Bull Terrier is that there are FEW that are breeding for proper temperament. So, like EVERY breed, this breed is suffering mentally and physically.

Rescues and Shelters have to be very selective in the choices they make for homing this breed. We will do the breed image NO FAVORS by placing them into a home that fails. Even this owner that got Worf and had him loose to see the Oil man was wrong! She had no idea how he would act to this man, having owned him for such a short time. If Worf had barked and jumped on him this could have been a front page news story. Something, again, this breed cannot handle.

I love this breed. I would always have a well bred, well socialized American Pit Bull Terrier in my home. But I would never allow her the chance to possibly make a mistaken name for herself.

There is no simple answer to the Pit Bull saga. It is so very complex. :-(

Rest in Peace Worf.

Pauley, the Mr. or the Mrs. said...

I should have taken your disclaimer to heart. Worf sounds like he was a wonderful boy & I am sorry that he was not able to be saved.