Shelter 16 – Vitoria, Spain.
The shelter is home to around 90 large dogs and almost 50% are Pit Bulls. More Pit Bulls than all the shelters I’ve visited combined. Why? Because it’s a ‘No Kill’ State. Due to their size, reputation and my limited experience, I admit, I was nervous. Built like Olympic athletes, they are fast, agile and generally up for a rumble.
Like a tough American prison, energies run high, with boisterous inmates letting off steam. But the playful atmosphere can turn in an instant. Weakness is targeted, as I witnessed peering over the yard wall one day. A volunteer tried to ‘manage’ dogs jumping up – with his knee. Bad move. Like a red rag to a bull. I wondered what would happen if they ever viewed me as a target???
Generally though they are friendly, happy, welcoming dogs who enjoy human company. And considering their size, energy and capability, it’s impressive to see so many boys together getting on just fine. Some kennels had six or seven, which is more than I’d seen in other shelters. That’s a mark of the Pit Bull’s character – fun time clowns, just looking for a tussle and a laugh.
The more time I spent with them, the more I began to admire these impressive Gladiators! Yes, you have to watch your energy and be quietly confident in their presence, but shouldn’t we be doing that in life anyway?
So, on my last day, when no other volunteers booked in, I went alone. How hard could it be?
Because the kennels have plastic frosted covers, you don’t know who is on the other side, so it’s a bit of a lottery. I opened a door and stood back.
Out flew six huge dogs! Three Pit Bulls, one enormous Shepherd, and two non-descript dogs. They coursed round the yard biting and challenging each other. I remained bolt upright to appear confident. ?
Within minutes the Pit Bulls and Shepherd broke off into hardcore play fighting. Then they began launching against one of the kennel doors.
Ooops! The previous day I’d seen this and used a plastic dog bed as a shield to move them away. Yesterday that strategy worked. Today I was alone. Today they diverted their focus again – to me!
It would be a mild understatement to say I was s**t scared! This obvious weakness made me a potential target. The positioning of the yard and kennels meant no ability to call for assistance. The only way would be to try and manoeuvre to the gate on the other side. I wasn’t sure how feasible that was?
Then I remembered how much I love dogs – ALL dogs! I made a decision – to try and work with them.
‘Ok, let’s go!’ I said in my best Barbara Woodhouse voice. I put my dog bed shield down, marched to the treat cupboard and grabbed a handful.
‘This way!’. They followed, still hyped up to the max.
I about turned. ‘Sienta!’ (‘Sit’ in Spanish). Holy Schmoly, they only went and sat?!!! Three big Pit Bulls and a massive Shepherd – 100% focused on me! ?
And so began an incredible 15 minutes of walking to heel, about turns, sits, play time, recalls and waits. My prison yard hooligans transformed to picture perfect Service Dogs! ?
For the rest of the day I worked all the dogs coming out in the lottery of opening doors. Whatever flew out, however hyped and loutish, we worked together and I can say, hand on heart, every Pit Bull gave the very best of themselves. To see these wonderful dogs working AND having fun was an indescribable delight. ?
We give Pit Bulls a bad name. We created them and now in many instances we want to destroy them. It’s not their fault.
I learnt valuable lessons about my own confidence and energy from these guys. You can’t fool them and this I like very much.
So to Pit Bulls all over the world – I salute you and will always be grateful for your lessons. ???
And HUGE thanks to the guys from this shelter! (sorry about the Barbara Woodhouse voice, but it was all I could muster in the moment. Fortunately no-one else heard, so maybe we can keep it our little secret?!) ? Much love. xxx