It was Wyatt's polka-dot ears that caught my eye, while his sad story of abuse touched my heart.
As with many contemporary love stories, our relationship began on social media. Scrolling through Facebook one snowy day, I came upon a photo of a dog with a winsome face and limpid brown eyes. And those ears. I swiped right to read his bio.
Wyatt was just 2 or 3 months old and living in West Philly when his deranged owner beat him so viciously that she broke his ribs and a leg. If not for a good Samaritan who came to the rescue, Wyatt would have soon been dead.
The rescuer rushed the puppy to Penn Veterinary Hospital, where he was treated for his injuries, and then took him home to foster him back to health. With another dog in the house, though, Wyatt couldn't stay.
We had recently adopted Max, a husky-collie mix, and were not looking for another dog. And even if we had, a pit bull was never an option. Snarling, snapping, lunging fighter dogs were not welcome in our home.
But something drew me to that face, that story, that puppy look, beseeching someone to love him. I nudged my husband. "What do you think?" I asked. "Can we? Should we?"
Three years later, I can say that it was one of the best decisions we've ever made.
Wyatt bounded into our house the first time, jumped into my lap, and licked my face. With a soft sigh, he settled in, and that was that.
Clearly, I had been wrong about pit bulls.
Wyatt's favorite activities are cuddling, touching noses with other dogs, and sitting in our backyard and gazing upward, intently studying the trees. He is as serene as a practicing yogi, even when Max sits on his head or playfully attacks him from behind. Wyatt has never growled, let alone attacked anyone, except with kisses.
I had never envisioned myself a pit bull evangelist. But now I have a different perspective.
Wyatt is the only pit bull in our neighborhood. When we go for walks, I am prickly from the suspicious looks we get. People who know him accept him, but strangers don't want to give him a chance. Despite my called-out assurances that he's friendly, many we encounter shrink back and pull their dogs and children close.
"What is he?" an unsmiling couple asked from the other side of the street. "A pit bull mix," I replied. They turned and scurried away.
He is unaware of the disdain, of course, but as his dog mom, I feel the sting of being misjudged. It hurts when people make assumptions without looking beneath the surface.
It has been a lesson in becoming woke.
This breed gets a bad rap. The National Veterinary Medical Association says that "in controlled studies [this breed] has not been identified as disproportionately dangerous." According to the ASPCA website, a "well-socialized and well-trained pit bull is one of the most delightful, intelligent, and gentle dogs imaginable."An article in the Atlantic asserts that "pit bulls are chiller than chihuahuas."
It is hard to predict a dog's propensity for aggressive behavior based solely on its breed. Variables pertaining to the individual dog — sex, neutering status, socialization, and training method — are a more reliable indicator of its temperament. The ASPCA maintains that "while a dog's genetics may predispose it to perform certain behaviors, tremendous behavioral variation exists among individuals of the same breed or breed type."
In other words, we shouldn't judge a dog by its bark.
Since October is National Pit Bull Awareness Month, I hope we can try to debunk some of the misconceptions about the breed. Pit bulls are the least likely to be adopted. Each year in our country, 1.2 million dogs are euthanized, with 40 percent of them being pit bulls.
Not every dog — pit bull or another breed — will fit into your family constellation. But don't rule out a pit bull. You just might find your new best friend.