Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Pit Bull Problem

We adopted a new dog yesterday. The rescue group listed him as a hound mix, which he might be, but once you meet him in person it is clear that he is a pit bull mix. Rebel, our new dog, has the sweetest disposition. He is good with our other dog, he is good with our cat, he is also apparently good with rabbits and birds. He is a love bug and I can't imagine anyone not adopting him after meeting him. I can't for the life of me figure out how this dog had been without a home for so long.

But with every non-dog person that I tell about our new dog, I get the awkward silence when I mention that he is a pit bull mix. The comments are usually prefaced by "I know not all pit bulls are violent and mean but...". Well if you know that then what is the but for? Do they really think that I would go out and adopt a dog that would endanger my life and the life of my pets? Or that a rescue group would even put a dog like that up for adoption? There are shelters that put down all pit bulls when they are rescued because they are worried that someone will turn them into a fighting dog. Innocent dogs all over the country are killed everyday because people can't be trusted.

I have friends with pit bulls and I've never had a problem with any of them. I have had problems with rottweilers, dobermans and chows in the past. They have bitten me, my dog or someone I knew. I'm sure that poor dog ownership had a lot to do with these incidents but it has still formed a bias in me. When I was looking for a new dog, I skipped over all dogs that had any of these three breeds in them. I do cross the street when the chow walks by because the hair on my dog's back goes up the moment she is within eyesight. It might be a coincidence (there are other dogs that she doesn't like for no apparent reason as well) but my dog's discomfort also justifies my bias.

But most people who have a bias against pit bulls have never even met one. They see these horrible videos on the news of teenage boys who trained their pit bull to kill the neighbors cat or who turned on people and they immediately blame the breed. These people seem to have convinced themselves that pit bulls are mean naturally; that they come out of the womb as blood thirsty killers. When the reality is that pit bulls are incredibly smart, loyal and hearty which, unfortunately, makes them the a great dog for these awful people.

Rebel has learned to sit, lay down, touch objects and walk through an agility tunnel in the 24 hours that we have had him. He follows me around the house and comes to check on me if he hasn't seen me for a couple minutes. When our German shepherd gets up to bark at something, he is immediately by her side ready to defend the house against whatever imaginary predators she has created. Rebel likes to sleep on the back of the couch. He fell off last night and hit the wood floor. He got up immediately and shook it off and didn't seem at all phased by it.

No take these same traits and think if I would have asked Rebel to attack another animal. If I praised him and gave him treats for doing something completely against his nature. His number one priority is to please me. I am his pack leader, the provider of his food and shelter. I am the person he doesn't want to disappoint. If he got hurt doing something I asked him to do, he wouldn't blame me; that's not how dogs work. He would shake off the pain because I would praise him for doing so. I would use his high pain tolerance and sturdy body to turn him into a fighter. He would learn very quickly what things made me happy and do those things whenever I asked. He would try so hard to please me that these actions would become second nature to him.

Unfortunately, that is why a lot of groups euthanize dogs that have been rescued from a fighting background. There are a lot of groups who focus on the rehabilitation of these dogs but the time and expense involved is a lot more than you can ask the average county SPCA that is already strapped for funding. Often these dogs can never be rehabilitated but there are hundreds of success stories. I have read several happy endings about the Michael Vick dogs. Yes, some of the dogs will have to live the rest of their days in sanctuary but the majority of them are normal family pets, living in homes with other animals and kids.

I hope that other people read these articles too and changed their thinking about pit bulls. I hope that the good that comes out of Vick's horrible crimes is that a lot of people have been educated about what great dogs pit bulls are and what great efforts people are making to rehabilitate fighting dogs. I know that some people will never change their minds. For example, my mother saw a pit bull on the cover of a magazine last month and immediately said "I don't like them, people shouldn't be allowed to own them". I must have given her a dirty look because before I could say anything she said "I know its the owner's but...".

As far as I know, she has only met one pit bull. It is owned by someone in her neighborhood that doesn't leash the dog so he runs free. He likes to run up to my mom and her small dogs to say hello when they are out walking. He doesn't show any aggression but he is very excited to say hi and much larger than her dogs. There haven't been any incidents where this dog has attacked my mom's dogs or any other dogs in the neighborhood. I would categorize his behavior as consistent with a dog who hadn't received any discipline or training but his breed has nothing to do with this behavior.

Year's ago, Chale was attacked by a yellow lab mix. I knew the dog was going to attack based on his body language. I didn't think to myself "Oh he's a lab, I'm sure he's a sweetheart". I observed the dog and made a decision 100% based on his behavior. Chale only suffered one minor bite on his rear end. If I would have been more lax about it and not been prepared for the attack, it could have been much worse.

When I walk dog the street with my German shepherd and my pit bull, I know some people will cross the street to get away from us. But I also know that some people will want to pet them and ask questions about them. During this time I will let them see what great temperaments they both have and tell them they are both rescue dogs and absolutely amazing. I don't blame the rescue group for not mentioning that Rebel was part pit bull on Petfinder.com (I told my mom he was a hound mix too); I just wish they didn't have to do it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where is that Wagon?

So in the past month, I've put down my dog, lost my grandmother and lost another acquaintance to suicide. Before this happened, I had already fallen off the health and fitness wagon when I was a bridesmaid in yet another wedding. But throughout all of this tragedy, I have really let myself go.

I am torn between being one of those crazy chicks that works out all the time and can eat whatever she wants (I used to be her) and making serious changes to my diet so that moderate exercise will be enough to keep me at a healthy weight (did that with nutrisystem for a couple months). Yet another death by diabetes in my family reminded me that while I'm relatively healthy now, I'm obese and at risk for getting really sick if I don't stop this before I get completely out of control.

I would like to find a happy balance between psycho workout chick and rabbit food but I'm not sure if it exists to me. I've always been an all or nothing girl and pushed myself to unbelievable limits when I was feeling healthy or wallowed in self pity for weeks when I wasn't. When I have sought out professional help in the past, I have faced horrible doctors who made me feel even worse about myself.

Of course I know there are great doctors out there and that I could have found another specialist who might have helped me. But in true me fashion I wrote off getting any professional help because of how crappy the help was when I tried in the past.

My husband is very supportive of me and wants me to get fit. He also has a family history of diabetes and admits that he could probably stand to lose a few pounds as well. But he is 6'4" tall and is in pretty good shape. 30 extra pounds on him doesn't really show that much. On me, it's my size 16 pants which were too tight for me this morning but fit great last year.

I have been lucky that I have maintained a lot of my muscle tone because of how much I worked out in the past. I don't even want to think about how fat I would be if this were not the case.

I think I'm at the point where I need to give myself an ultimatum: get your shit together by this date and if you don't see a change, you need help. I've told this to my husband and he agrees. So now I'm just trying to figure out exactly what my plan is so I can pull it all together. I need something of a regimented schedule but not too strict. I need a reward system in place but it has to be for little accomplishments and not just the big ones. I think I'm just going to have to try to figure this out as I go along.

I don't want to put something on paper without really thinking about what I want to achieve in the end. Another post is coming once I figure all this out...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Other Shoe

Years ago, I heard someone say that deaths always happen in threes. Over the years this has proven to be true more times than not. Three weeks ago, I found out someone I used to know committed suicide. Once week later I had to put down my dog. This week, my grandmother passed away. I sincerely hope this is the end of the tragedy for a while.

I seem to get inspired to take control of my life every time I lose someone important to me. Or, at the minimum, I am inspired to start a new chapter or move in a different direction. Death is not something to be celebrated but it usually marks the end of one chapter (illness, pain, suffering) and the beginning of another.

My father died 12 years ago. He had been suffering for several years. While his death was difficult for my family, it marked then end of a very rough period in our lives. One week later we adopted a 3 year old dog from the ASPCA. My family hadn't had a dog since I was a kid. Whenever my brother and I asked, my mom would always say no. I imagine the burden of being a caregiver for your spouse on top of having 2 kids and a dog would have been too much for her. But she supported the decision to get a dog and seemed as excited about it as we were.
Focusing all of our attention on the new dog didn't take away the pain of losing my father but it kept us from wallowing in it. We had this little life that depended on us and that life helped us move forward with all of our lives.

On the day we put Ezra down I found out that 2 people that I care about are expecting new babies later this year. While his death didn't directly spark life, it was nice to associate that day with something other than sorrow. It was a little reminder that life will go on without him. No matter how much a part of our lives he was.

I lived with my grandmother when I was a kid. Both of my parents were still in school when I was born. My grandmother helped raise me so they could get their degrees. She had this great German Shepherd named Rex. He had floppy ears, which just added to his cuteness. He was a great dog and the reason that I have gravitated towards German Shepherds my whole life. So when our local rescue group contacted me to ask if I was interested in a young German Shepherd that they just rescued whose name was Rex and who had floppy ears I couldn't help but think that fate was at play again. I told them that I needed a couple more weeks and that if he was still there at that time we would love to meet him and see if he works for our family.

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a new dog, whether it ends up being Rex or not, will mark a new chapter in our lives. After the loss of Ezra and my grandmother, a new dog to be a companion to our other German Shepherd will definitely be a happy event. Maybe this summer can be remembered for the 2 dogs we rescued (one in May and a new dog likely at the end of this month) and all the adventures that we will have with them rather than all the loss that we experienced.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Because the Deaf Kid Might Be a Jerk

My husband and I are currently watching season 14 of the Amazing Race (casttv.com and youtube are great if you missed prior seasons of some of your favorite shows). One of the featured teams is a deaf kid and his mom. Initially we were rooting hard for this team but we aren't liking them so much any more.

The mother totally smothers the kid (who's like 20 by the way) and refuses to accept that he might not be perfect. The kid is completely whiny and totally gossips on other teams. Well in the last episode (8 or 9 I think) the deaf kid pushed a female member of another team twice to try to get the clue before her. It was very clear the deaf kid started it and was being physical when it wasn't necessary. So of course when he is confronted him and his mom pull the deaf card.

All of the sudden they're bitching about how he's had to struggle his whole life with people making assumptions about him because he's deaf and they should be ashamed of themselves, etc. Last I checked, being deaf doesn't turn you into a saint. If this kid weren't deaf all the other teams would be calling him out for being physical when he didn't have to. But sadly I think its going to go the other way and the deaf kid will prevail.

My father was physically handicapped for my entire life. He was paralyzed, had slurred speech and was blind. There was nothing mentally wrong with him; he was one of the smartest people that I ever met. But my dad had a temper. His father was physically and emotionally abusive and a total drunk. Like a good Catholic, my dad never talked about this so he had a lot of pent up anger. My dad was an asshole sometimes. There is no doubt about it. And if he was acting like an asshole I hope someone told him that he was. I know my mom did. She wasn't disrespecting his disability. She was pointing out that he was being a jerk and rightly so.

It pisses me off that every time there is a "special" person I'm not supposed to expect anything from them. Isn't that worse? Aren't I supposed to treat them equally? So deaf people, blind people, people with kids, old people, people in wheelchairs, morbidly obese people and anyone else who thinks you get a free pass in life because it hasn't been all roses and sunshine in your life: watch out. I'm all about equal rights and if your an asshole I'm going to treat you like every other asshole out there.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Dream

The combination of losing my dog and starting "Eat, Pray, Love" in the same week has made me want to get my sh*t together and stop procrastinating so much. So I tried to sit down and figure out what I really want from life. If I could build my dream life, what would it look like? Here goes:

Career- I'm actually okay career wise. I'd like to move into a position with more authority and less interaction with lawyers, property owners and state regulators but I like the basics of my current job. I make a good salary and have great benefits so I'm not really focused on money. I'd like to maintain the same flex time schedule that allows me to work from home and/or go to the office at my discretion and has most of my co-workers located in different cities from the one I live in. I never want to go back to the big office type of job where you don't get any work done because people are always in your business.

Fitness and Wellness- I will become an aerobics instructor so that I'm not so tempted to skip my gym workouts. I used to thrive when I taught karate and I feel like there isn't anything that can replace that feeling except for teaching. I have registered for a class that takes place next month and should be able to start teaching classes in October.

I give a lot of free advice to people (even though I don't necessarily follow my own). I think being a life coach and/or personal trainer would allow me to help more people get their lives together. This is probably a few years down the road, once I get myself together.

Neither of these jobs would provide me with the cash flow to be a full time job but I think it would provide me with a sense of purpose in life and interaction with people that is missing from my "real job".

I will get back into good running shape so that I don't injure myself every time I run a big race. If I could get back down to 10 minute mile pace, that would be great (I'm probably 12:30 right now) but I'm more focused on not feeling so crappy after I run.

Social Life- I will keep being active in my meetup groups because they do provide a great opportunity to socialize with people even if I don't develop any big friendships outside of the meetups.

I will find a way to speak Spanish on a regular basis. I have studied Spanish since I was three and studied abroad in college. I was almost fluent at one point but can barely communicate now because I haven't had to speak it in years. Maybe I will find a conversational Spanish group or join a Salsa group.

I will join a local orchestra. I started playing the flute in 6th grade and was a very accomplished flautist at one point. I know I'm not good enough to be in a symphony orchestra or anything but there are several community bands and orchestras that I have seen advertised that are open to new members. Music has always been a big part of my life and I'd love to get back into that.

A group of people that I can go out dancing with. I love to dance but that's definitely something that I can't do alone. Birthday parties, superbowl parties, going out to bars, dinner at each other's houses, and all the great stuff that comes with having a core group of friends.

I will challenge myself (and my husband) to try things that are out of our comfort zone. While I love our weekly dates to the movies, I think we might be in a little rut too. Plus, excitement in our social life could lead to a little more excitement in the bedroom and who doesn't want that?

We will buy an RV once we get rid of our credit card debt. I never completely relax on vacation because I miss my pets and my routine. I love the idea of an RV because I'm traveling but I still have many of the comforts of home. We rarely travel for more than 4-5 days at a time because I don't feel comfortable leaving the pets for that long and get frustrated with the hotel/friend that we are staying with. An RV would allow us to take longer vacations because we could take the pets with us but we wouldn't have to worry about staying in hotels or with relatives. We could really enjoy our RV life once we retire but I think we would really enjoy it now too.

Dream House- A ranch house with large rooms and lots of windows. Brick or stone construction. A very green house with recycled rain water, solar panels, etc. At least 2 acres of land. No cookie-cutter subdivisions with neighbors in your backyard. An old barn where we could have an arts and crafts studio and an indoor pool (really, this is important because it gets cold in Syracuse). A garden where I could grow herbs and vegetables to cook with. Not too far away from parks and lakes or a city. Lots of opportunities for hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities close to home but less than an hour drive if we want to go to a concert or play. A wrap around porch with a big swing and a wood rocking chair. A gazebo in the backyard where I could read and write in peace.

Retirement- I'd love to own a bed and breakfast that caters to travelers with dogs. Over the years I have frequented these places and they have made my travel much easier but there are not enough of them around. I would become certified in canine massage so that I could provide a service to the doggie guests as part of their package. This would be a relatively small, intimate place that catered to only a few guests at a time.

So that's it.