I was asked recently if people shy away from my dog, Martha, because she is, mostly, a pit bull.
My answer was no, because Martha looks like a black Lab with long legs. People frequently wonder if she is an Italian greyhound or a whippet, though she bears little resemblance to those breeds. Only astute dog lovers “see the pit” in her face when they get near her.
It’s no secret that pit bulls have a bad reputation. They are the targets of breed specific legislation in 17 communities in 11 states, plus two counties in two other states.
That’s a shame, because pits are lovable dogs. I’m told they are also obedient, but Martha is far less compliant than her housemate, Aquinnah (aka Quinn), a chocolate Lab. As I place his food bowl on the floor, he sits, without being told. Martha twirls in the air with excitement.
Quinn has a good sense of time, and is up and ready to go outside before my husband, Paul, has picked up his leash. Paul has to call Martha several times, even though she goes out after Quinn, and so has had plenty of warning.
If he sticks his head into the living room to check on her whereabouts, he sees Martha lying on the couch, looking at him. Paul has wondered more than once whether she is hard of hearing, but she certainly has no trouble discerning the sound, from several rooms away, of cat kibble sliding into a ceramic dish.
Martha is pugnacious, but not because she’s a pit bull. She is the younger dog, the smaller dog, the female dog. Aquinnah has only one bad habit. He’s a barker, and he becomes especially infuriated with mail carriers. I’m sure it has been difficult for Martha to grow up with such perfection. She almost has to play the wise-guy role.
Martha was part of a large litter brought to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society in 2009. She was an endearing eight-pounder with a white patch in the shape of a fat stick figure on her chest. When we took her to the pet store to buy her supplies, we put her in a carriage and she fell through the opening in the back of the seat. Hmm. Maybe that’s why she’s such a brat. Brain damage.
From the start, she draped herself over Quinn. We have many adorable photos of that little ball of black fur lying on his sleek brown back. Now that she weighs 35 pounds, I worry she’s going to cut off his circulation or something. But she still looks cute, and he doesn’t seem to mind.
Quinn knows he’s the alpha dog, and so does Martha. She doesn’t always like it, though. Sometimes she’ll let out a high-pitched squeal of frustration when he takes the best place on the couch, then heads off, petulantly, to the dog bed.
Martha has some characteristics common to pit bulls. She likes to sleep at the bottom of our bed, under the covers. Sometimes she overheats and emerges, panting, on the surface.
Martha likes to lie with her back legs splayed, in what is known as the “froggy position.” She likes to look at her owners out of the corners of her eyes. When Martha stands firmly on four widespread paws and stares, she looks every inch the pit bull — one who wants a biscuit, that is.
She’s affectionate and loves to kiss people, although I sometimes wonder if she’s searching our faces for random bits of food.
Martha also enjoys lying on my legs, when they are propped on an ottoman. She puts her head on my feet, and we are a perfect fit.
Every evening, I hold a training session for the dogs. We practice sitting, staying, and not touching a proffered treat. The last task is specifically aimed at Quinn, who, like most Labs, is a “Hoover.” He keeps his nose to the ground on walks. That’s where he finds random bits of food.
These sessions are Martha’s turn to shine. She can jump and twirl, sit up on her rear end and stand up on her hind legs. Soon we’ll be ready to join the circus.
Once, I was walking Martha down a street in our neighborhood. A truck pulled into a driveway. A man got out, and was quickly followed by one of those large, big-headed pit bulls and a Pomeranian. Both dogs sped across the street. The pit bull chased Martha around me until the leash wrapped my legs.
Pit bull supporter though I am, I was concerned that two pits face to face could spell trouble. I believe I screamed a few times. But no fight broke out.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably a few seconds, the owner grabbed the pit bull. It was then I noticed that Martha was nose to nose with the Pomeranian, making friends.
Yes, she’s a big bad pit bull all right. If you see her coming down the street, you’d better run. She might just love you to death.
Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.