We were on a pack walk one day - a pack walk meaning me, Josh, and Remix - when we came upon a group of our neighbors shooting the breeze in the street. Our neighborhood is very low-traffic, being thirty or so houses and no outlet, so using the street for a chat or a game of roller hockey is not uncommon. One neighbor we knew. He introduced us to his son and another neighbor, Carl. We've lived there for more than three years, and have done a miserable job of getting to know everyone. But something about the number of trees in the neighborhood suggest that maybe we're surrounded by other introverts.
Remix is hit and miss with strangers. She has growled at them, which was thoroughly embarrassing (she growls while backing away, so it's not an aggressive growl, but still). Even when she just wants to go give them a slobbery kiss, she looks like a big and scary dog. I keep treats in a little bag attached to the leash, so I can make her sit. She has gotten much better about not straining the leash to go personally meet everyone we pass, but sometimes, for whatever Remix reason, she wants to go make a friend. If she really likes them, she'll jump on them. Lots of dogs do this, but not all of them are sixty pound pitbulls.
Part of owning a pitbull is noticing all the things that other dogs do, regular dog things, that my dog could never ever get away with.
But when we met this little group of neighborly neighbors, she was great. She sniffed each new friend, but Carl took a step back, clearly not wanting to interact with her at all. I shortened the leash to remove him from her circle of influence. Carl said he didn't do big dogs. I've seen his wife walking their dog before. It's a chihuahua. When it sees Remix, it starts barking and pulling at the leash. Heart of a lion, that one. Of course, all that riles up Remix, who starts pulling at the leash to go meet this noisy little rat. Then the owner of the chihuahua simply picks it up, while I'm wrapping the leash around my wrist over and over, my feet planted as I engage in a mighty struggle an animal that may be stronger than I am, but who doesn't push it.
Remix was getting a little jumpy with her new best friends, so I got out a treat and held it in a loose fist at my side. She sat very nicely and kept her attention on me, occasionally sniffing or nosing at my hand to see if she could unlodge the delicious corn-based bone-shaped processed treat. I wondered if Carl thought I was nuts, putting my own hand in between a pitbull and what it wants.
He told a story about his cousin, who had a pitbull, a nice family dog that one day attacked their toddler. The little girl has had nearly 20 operations to repair the damage wrought by sharp teeth and strong muscles. During the attack, the mother only got the dog to stop by shooting it. And then animal rights people came and protested at her house.
It was uncomfortable hearing this story, about a terrible terrible thing that happened to a family, while my own pet monster sunned herself on the warm pavement. There was nothing to say, except to commiserate with how awful it must have been. I have lots of things I can say when people talk about pitbull attacks (statistics, differences in the level of media attention give to attacks by other breeds, the difficulty many people have in identifying an actual pitbull), but I did not try and defend pitbulls in general or my dog specifically. He had given his statement on the matter, and my statement rolled over in case anyone wanted to rub her tummy.
I trust Remix. Her favorite games are the kind she can play with her teeth, and in the course of a few games of tug, my hand has gotten in the way. Whenever that happens, she immediately corrects her grip. Remix knows that play is play, and no one will play with you if you bite them. I've sat and held tempting sticks in front of me. She stalks, then runs and pounces, but again she knows how to control herself so that only gets the stick. If she has something that I actually want (rather than something that I pretend to want for the sake of the game), I can get her to let go of it by putting my finger into her mouth.
But awful things happen. All kinds of dogs attack, family dogs, even chihuahuas. Pitbulls are capable of tremendous damage. My dog could kill someone. If I were being attacked, having such a powerhouse in my pack would be great. But can a dog always tell when that level of force is needed?
As we continued on our pack walk, Josh asked if I thought we should get rid of Remix when we have children. I shrugged. Wait and see.