Posted: October 7, 2011 in Pit Bulls

I share space with a pit bull. I never say “I own a pit bull”, because pit bulls are never “owned”. They love you with their whole hearts and give you every ounce of their loyalty, but they also demand you respect them in return – they’re too smart to settle for anything less – and frankly I wouldn’t want it any other way.

If you are not living under a rock on a planet far, far away then you know that the breed gets a bad rap. The media loves to spin crap stories about pitties – how they are vicious, human-eating machines. My parents have 9 pits and a yorkie at their house out in the country and the only dog on the property who would ever think of biting a human is the yorkie. In fact, the yorkie (who’s smaller than most of the barn cats) actually bit my pit, Doris-Elizabeth right in the face. Dori responded by running for her life and cowering under my legs. My mean, vicious, aggressive, child-eating, killer-dog — tuned up by a yorkie.

Doris-Elizabeth, Dori for short, was named after my two grandmothers – the two craziest, feistiest, most wonderful women I’ve ever known. And like the women of her namesake, Dori is a fighter. Not in the sense you might think –basically she’s been fighting for her life since she was born.

Dori has a severe heart murmur – pulmonic stenosis with pulmonary valve dysplasia. That’s fancy doctor-speak for “the valve that pumps blood out of her heart is twisted” – it was formed that way from birth. So her heart has to work extra hard to get the blood out of her heart and into the rest of her body. The most common outcomes for dogs with this condition are sudden loss of consciousness, congestive heart failure and sadly, sudden death. Dogs with pulmonary stenosis are not expected to live past the age of two. But Dori’s a pit. So the other thing she got at birth, was gameness. Gameness, simply defined, is a willigness to see a job through to its end, regardless of what the job might be, regardless of the conditions. Gameness is what DEFINES the pit bull breed. Because of this trait, Pits were chosen as canine soldiers to serve in both the Civil War and WWI. “Jack”, a brown & white pittie of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry, was so valuable in the field that when he was captured by the south, the North agreed to trade him for a Confederate soldier. To date, Jack is the only dog to ever be traded as a prisoner of war. “Stubby”, an American Pit Bull Terrier and WWI Veteran could not only seek out wounded soldiers, but he also learned how to detect and warn troops of incoming artillery shells and poison gas attacks. During his Military career, Stubby aided in the capture of a German spy, was severely injured by shrapnel, sent to the Red Cross hospital for surgery, awarded the Purple Heart and sent back to his regimen. In his lifetime Stubby was invited to the White house by three Presidents, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge.  Stubby had serious game. Whats up now Lassie. Jack and Stubby are just two of Dori’s ancestors – the list goes ON. “Stenosis” or not, Dori’s heart is still the heart of a canine gladiator.

My brother brought Dori home from New York. He showed up with three dogs – Sugar, Miss T., and the “puppy who was so sick she probably wouldn’t last the car ride back to Massachusetts”. Dori came to us when she was seven weeks old and weighed seven pounds. Her litter mates had kept her from the food – gobbling it all up for themselves and leaving her to starve. They didn’t mean to. Because of her compromised health condition, Dori just didn’t have the strength to push her way through. She looked like a malnourished dish-rag with the face of the cutest old lady you’ve ever seen. I fell in love with her on the spot. She had the saddest expression. It broke my heart. Of course, you’d never know that now – these days she tears around town greeting everyone she meets be it human, canine, or otherwise with a big goofy grin. I like to call her the Mayor of Charlestown. Oh and if you line her up next to her sisters, guess who’s the biggest dog now? Dori is no longer the runt of the litter. Once in a while she still puts on that sad old lady face – usually when she really wants a bite of my sandwich. Works every time.

Vets who examined her as a pup would tell me to limit her physical exercise – “Don’t let her run around too much”. “Don’t let her get too excited”. Yeah right. Have YOU ever tried to keep a pit from running? Pit Bulls are the professional athletes of the canine race. Keeping one from running is like keeping Bobby Orr from scoring points in the 1970-71 season. Good luck. As if I could stop Dori, from being Dori. As if I would want to. She doesn’t know she has a heart murmur. She loves to run and dance and chase after her cat, Cosmo. I promised her that I would NEVER keep her from being exactly what she was born to be — the strongest, fastest, most agile, most intelligent, most obedient dog on the face of the earth. I knew what I was taking on when I brought Dori home – she’s at risk of sudden death all the time. She could be running one moment and gone the next. There’s nothing either of us can do about that. But what we can do is laugh and jump and run every moment we got. We can enjoy each other right now. Dori wakes up game to do that, everyday. So we’re “seeing  it through” all the time, me and dori. We take care of each other. It’s a great partnership. She’s a living, breathing, snoring reminder of how amazing and precious every moment is. I’m so lucky to have her. Of course it doesn’t mean that I don’t ever think about the “reality” of it all. Sometimes I get lost in it  – How will it happen? When will it happen? What will I do? Will I be prepared? Will I get her help fast enough? Will I be able to save her? Sometimes I look at her and burst into tears. She just looks at me with that goofy grin and licks my face. And I hear her saying to me: WHY THE SAD OLD LADY FACE? STOP BLUBBERING AND LET’S GO CHASE THE CAT!

Dori just turned six on July 26th (we share the same birthday:) Vets now look at her with complete and utter amazement and tell me how she is a “special-case”, something they have never encountered before, a complete anomaly, a miracle. And I love to look at them, smile and say “Yeah, I know.”

Dori’s got game.

Then, just in case I forgot for a second, they like to remind me: “You really should be careful of how much walking or running she does. You might consider putting her on special medication to slow her heart. Her condition is very stable, but just because she’s made it this far, doesn’t mean she’s out of the woods. She could just drop dead, suddenly, at anytime”.

Couldn’t we all.

Dori is a master teacher of mine. She has taught me love and respect, loyalty and forgiveness. Forgiveness of others, forgiveness of myself. She has taught me not to eat so fast because you might throw up, all over the couch. She has taught me to listen. (When she says she has to go, she means it.) She has taught me that the cat really DOES have a personality – you just gotta bring it out in him! She has taught me presence – the importance of living right this very second. By simply being a dog she is teaching me how to be more fully human. By being a PIT she is teaching me about willingness to survive, screw that! – THRIVE, whatever the conditions — not because at the end of it you get a medal and a parade – just because that’s what you do here, with the time you’re given. 

I’m a slow learner sometimes, but that’s the other important thing Dori’s teaching me…

I’m learning everyday.

OCTOBER 22ND IS NATIONAL PIT BULL AWARENESS DAY!!! So in the spirit of truth and in honor of amazing, beautiful, brilliant pitties everywhere (especially my beloved Dori) I’d like to share a few fun facts. Shout the word! Squash the rumors! Spread the pittie magic!

And on October 22nd find your neighborhood pit and give ’em a big hug.

1. The term “Pit Bulls” (or “bully breeds”) refers to three separate breeds (that are closely related): 1. American Pit Bull Terrier 2. American Staffordshire Terrier and 3. Staffordshire Bull Terrier. (*Dori is a registered American Pit Bull Terrier)

2. The History of the American Pit Bulldog, a breed of several specific breeds including the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier corresponds directly with the history of the United States as a nation. The original settlers of this country made their own specific breed by crossing mastiffs, English bulldogs and hunting dogs (spaniels or retrievers) – making “BULLDOGS” the first (and only) true American breed.

3. PURE BRED American Pit Bull Terriers do not get to be bigger than 60 pounds (and that’s a HUGE male) – females range between 30-45 lbs; males between 40 – 55 lbs. Staffies and Am-staff’s can get a bit bigger.

4. American Pit Bull Terriers are the only breed of dog that was BRED specifically to be non-aggressive toward humans. Because they were originally bred as fighting dogs, they had to be able to be handled and controlled. If a dog ever attacked or showed aggression toward a human, it was killed.

5. Any breed of dog can be a fighting dog – Akitas and Sharpeis were both originally bred to fight.

6. Theodore Roosevelt kept two pitties in the White House as family pets.
Helen Keller traveled with a pit.

7. Pound for pound, Pit Bulls are the strongest, fastest, most agile, most intelligent, most obedient dogs on the face of the earth. They are also devoted friends, loyal companions, courageous defenders, and intelligent, courteous, even-tempered pets.

*OK the first part of Fact #7 might be more opinion than fact, but it’s one every pitbull’s human-companion shares.
The second part, FACT.

Reference: “American Pitbull” – Marc Joseph

National Pit Bull Awareness Day:

Pit Bull Awareness month at MSPCA:

See “Beyond the Myth” – a new documentary film about pit bulls:

Read about more heroic pitbulls! CLICK HERE:

Adopt your own “Doris-Finkasourus-Dog”! Angell MSPCA has plenty-o-pitties that need lovins’.

Wanna see more Dori photos? CLICK HERE:

Need more dori?! who doesnt. CLICK HERE:

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