From my earliest memory, dogs have always been a part of me. When I was born, we had a Beagle named Buffy. I was very young when she was alive, but I imagine I had a fondness for her, since I tried to name one of my stuffed animals after her… – but all that could come out was “Puffy.” We then acquired a white Toy Poodle, Penny, who previously lived with my grandparents. It was because of her that I realized dogs would always be in my life. When she became ill, my family and I were devastated, and after she passed, we buried her in our backyard. I can recall sitting on the hallowed ground near her homemade grave site often as a youngster, grieving over the loss of her. But like all scars, they heal on the outside, but not on the inside. More dogs have since followed. Our next Toy Poodle, Jamie, had the worst skin odor on planet Earth, but still, we were inseparable. Molly, our Black Lab-mix, died prematurely of congestive heart failure at the young age of seven. Rusty, a classic Heinz 57, lived to nearly twelve years of age, but only due to a total change in diet, that paved the way for home cooked meals to all our current and future four-legged best friends.
Today, I share my home with two dogs, Preston and Era. Both came to me at different times in my life; both with different pasts and reasons for ending up at a shelter or kennel. Yet, both were deemed “Pit Bulls.” And, both were going to be killed due to a silly little law called breed specific legislation. Since I live in Ohio, my dogs were considered vicious with the first breath they took. Everything changed with the passage of Ohio House Bill 14 on February 21, 2012, and subsequently were cleansed of the automatic label. But, because of 25 years of enforcement and media coverage, this law told the public we are not safe with them, that we should fear them, treat them differently and beware of them. It still has a lasting effect on the public’s perception, and the dogs still pay the ultimate price. For the longest time, I was probably like many of you. I teetered with Pit Bulls, and whether or not they were indeed different. I went from one extreme to another, before finding that middle ground, and realizing how much they were like any of the previous dogs of my past.
I first brought Preston home on October 4, 2008. About six months prior, I was living in Lakewood, Ohio when city council proposed and eventually passed a ban of “Pit Bull” type dogs. This occurred only after I first met Preston and declared my intentions to adopt him. Preston was saved from a drug bust, where they used him for fighting purposes. He was sent to a shelter, and held as evidence, but later released and transferred to rescue on the last day before he was scheduled to be killed. He spent two years at the rescue, before I visited them while doing research for my soon-to-be-released documentary, “Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent.” The film examines Ohio’s breed specific law, and the effect it has on its local communities. In a matter of minutes, I quickly fell in love with this little black dog, whose personality was contagious and gleamed with a lust for life.
Around that time, my life was going through some changes as well. I turned 30 years old, was single, and began staying home more often. My mother wasn’t happy about this decision to adopt Preston, and made it very well-known, even expressing the day she came over to meet him, she was afraid. Her initial reason for her fear was because he was black, which I quickly shot down because our beloved and now departed, Molly, was black. Even though there is some truth to the “black dog syndrome,” it became apparent her reason was due to the type of dog he was, and the perceived challenges from his past. This made me realize even people who love dogs, don’t necessarily mean they love “Pit Bulls” too. It was my first dose of reality, and made me aware that “Pit Bull” ownership is not for everybody. Not because of the dog, but because of the constant stereotypes and misconceptions that exist about the people who share their homes with them, even among other dog lovers. It is often presented in the news that “Pit Bull” type dogs attract a less than desirable owner. By merely having a “Pit Bull,” it appears to give you a one way ticket that lumps you in the same category as drug dealers, gangsters, dog fighters, or any other seedy culture that participates in a criminal element. Due to the sensationalized reporting, and the perpetuating myths by breed hate groups and otherwise well-intentioned dog advocates alike, there still remains this visible gap between dogs referred to as “Pit Bulls,” and other dogs.
There is a belief in the Pit Bull community that once you meet one, you will understand. It didn’t take long for my mother’s perception to change, the same woman who once feared for her safety and wouldn’t stand closer than ten feet from Preston. Her father, my grandfather, was slowly dying of congestive heart failure. Instead of sending him off to hospice, we each took turns staying overnight at his house to fulfill his wish to die in his home. It made me very uncomfortable, and I hoped it wouldn’t happen on my watch, but he was my family and sometime we have to do things we don’t want to do. During these overnight visits, I would bring Preston to comfort me, to be my rock in my difficult time of need. One night, my mom was still over while grandpa was resting in his bed. You could sense Preston knew he was ill, and in a lot of pain. We watched Preston as he would peek his head around the corner of the bedroom doorway with a concerned look on his face watching over my grandfather. It was then that I saw my mother’s perception start to change about him. He was no longer a “Pit Bull,” he was just a dog.
With the exception of work and daily walks, the first three years of having Preston I rarely left my house, which meant my social life, and definitely my intimate life, were nonexistent. I have always been the type of guy to not waste my time on a woman if I didn’t feel an attraction on a deeper level, and I never lowered my standards on the type of girl I would give my heart to. I was prepared to go through life without experiencing some of the things that are considered normal. And as the saying goes, when you least expect it, it will happen. I found myself head over heels in love with this girl who lived clear across the country. Like any new relationship, we couldn’t disagree on anything, and declared each other to be soul mates, which is all we needed for our long distance relationship to survive.Those variables proved to be too much, and like all great things, there comes a day where they too will end. It was my dogs who knew how to comfort a broken heart like only a dog can. They were there when I needed something, anything, to help me get through another day of heartache in this game we call life.
In my life, I’ve felt alive. I’ve experienced happiness. I’ve felt hurt and defeat. I’ve been angry. I’ve been lost, confused and felt empty inside. I’ve experienced love and have been fortunate to be loved. And I’ve done it with “Pit Bulls” by my side. Classifications and stereotypes can be dangerous. They prejudge ones character, and promote hate. Hate breeds violence, and there is no room in this world for such negativity.
I am human, these are my dogs,…And I am just like you.