Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
I Had to Kill My Best Friend
The pit bull I rescued two years ago had changed. She was no longer the sweet, puppy-like dog I'd brought home from the animal shelter. For weeks, her eyes flickered with darkness, and I was afraid to even push her over when she lay in the middle of the bed. One night I got up, and when I came back, her head was on my pillow. She was sending me a message, "I can't take what's yours if I want to."
Nancy was a shy animal when I brought her home from the San Diego County Department of Animal Services in Carlsbad. Back then, she was so timid, she wouldn't even look at me. After taking her out of the kennel, she curled her body into a letter "c." And when I shouted or raised my hand, she squeezed her eyes shut and hit the ground, expecting to be slapped.
She had two scars on her forehead, was coated in dirt and grime, and at the ripe old age of two, had already given birth to puppies. Her pendulous nipples nearly hung to the ground. Her ribs were showing and her skin was hanging. When an animal control officer had called her former owner to say she had been found running loose in his neighborhood, he refused to pick her up, and said he "didn't want her." He was probably afraid he'd be arrested because of her poor condition.
Nancy and I bonded when I gave her a bath in the big steel tub in the grooming room. She wasn't afraid of water; in fact, she seemed to thrive on the attention I was giving her. For more than an hour, I walked her around outside so that her coat would dry and soon she was lying at my feet. By the end of the afternoon, she was gazing at me adoringly. My heart was melting and I had that warm, sappy feeling I get when I'm about to adopt yet another dog as a result of my volunteer work.
The kennel attendant cringed when I told her the news. She'd seen too many fights in the back rooms to encourage bringing a pit bull home to another dog. I repected what she was saying. Pit bulls are sometimes aggressive toward other dogs and are famous for their fighting capabilities. But I had twelve years of experience with the bully breeds to my credit and had great faith in Nancy. I temperament tested her extensively before making the final decision and she passed with flying colors. When another dog approached her, she'd either shy away or roll over onto her back.
For the first six months, I never left her alone with my other dogs. I was either with them or they were in their kennels respectively even when I took a shower. If a tidbit of something tasty hit the floor, I'd hear a little growling and I'd supect the scars on Nancy's face were due to the fact that she'd had to compete for food in her former home. At first, she scrunched her nose whenever food was around the pack. But in time she learned that if one treat was stolen from her, plenty more were coming. And we always fed the dogs in their own kennels. Eventually, Nancy had no problem with sharing.
Some of my happiest memories occurred at the Mayflower dog park. Doug and I loved to watch Nancy grin as she galloped across the run. She'd lift her chin and I would shout, "Run like the wind!" She ran with total abandon and frolicked happily with the other dogs. It was a joy to see a dog that had once been so damage, have a little fun.
One day, Nancy was romping with another dog when the owner suddenly threw water on her. Nancy just shook it off but I didn't take the discourtesy quite so well.
"Why did you do that?" I asked.
"I know what her kind does to other dogs," she said. "And I don't need the vet bills."
How dare she? Nancy hadn't done a thing to deserve it. "You do that again," I told the bitch (and I don't mean the dog) "and you won't live long enough to see another vet bill."
I then filled an empty Coke bottle with water. If the lady assaulted Nancy again, I'd whack her in the head with it.
Later that day, I was livid when I told my mom what happened.
"Was the trouble worth it for a dog?" she asked.
I almost fell off my chair. "Are you kidding? Who else but a dog IS worth it? I would never risk getting my ass kicked for one of my ungrateful, blood-sucking kids."
Although I was certain that Nancy had never been inside a house before, she was easy to housetrain thanks to the other dogs. She'd follow them when they went outside and copied their behavior. I can only remember one accident ever happening. I woke up one morning to find that my new sweater had fallen off the hanger. It was soaking on the floor of my closet. I was perplexed until I saw that my designer purse was full of pee. I turned to look at Nancy, sitting in the middle of the bed with a malicious expression on her face. Not only did she not care if I knew what she had done, she was downright proud of it.
I felt a small twinge of sympathy for her former owner. If she had ever done anything that evil to him I could see why he'd beaten the crap out of her. I could hardly keep from doing it myself. I stormed out of the room, telling myself that in a few years, I wouldn't even remember the sweater and purse and that material things didn't matter. Saving a life was what counted.
Nancy was the easiest dog to care for out of the four. Give her "three hots and a cot" and she was good. She may not have been the most affectionate dog we'd ever owned, but she didn't chew up our shoes or steal our pizza either. She was a regular part of the family. Bliss was eleven and Red and Nancy were two. And then I was at the shelter when that warm, sappy feeling came over me again. This time, Gus, a two-year-old, blue-nose pit bull came to live with us. He had been dumped in a campground in Pauma Valley along with two other dogs.
Nancy and Gus were not like brother and sister; they more like lovers. They lay in each other's arms in the backyard and slept side by side on the bed at night. We couldn't take just one of them for a walk, we'd have to take both or we'd hear the screeching clear down the block.
Doug was taking a trash bag out of the box when Nancy latched onto Bliss' throat and wouldn't let go. When she finally did let go, she wouldn't stop coming after her. The growling was fierce and I blocked Nancy with a chair while Doug got the old dog in the bedroom.
The next day, I kept both dogs out of the kitchen where the smell of food was probably driving them into a fatal frenzy. The same thing happened anyway, but this time Nancy latched onto Bliss' ear and wouldn't let go. Bliss fought her with all of the strength she had. In the fight, a table got knocked over and the ceramic dish my grown daughter made in grade school shattered on the floor. For weeks, Nancy had been given Bliss the evil eye. I'd tried to ignore it but I couldn't anymore.
I slept fitfully that night and even left a message for the shelter's behaviorist at two o'clock in the morning. But by the time the sun came up, I knew what I had to do. I'd had other female dogs fight in the house before, but not with such fervor or intensity. I was an alpha female too. What if Nancy went for my throat next and I couldn't get her off of me; or, she got loose and preyed upon someone in the neighborhood? I'd have a heart attack. I had to face the fact that in gaining confidence, her true personality had come out and she was now a danger to society.
Usually, Doug is a big softie when it comes to animals, but he was in full agreement that we had to take Nancy to get euthanized. It was the only way to ensure everybody else's safety. When we headed outside, Nancy knew something was up. She looked shocked and resisted getting into the car.
"She knows she's in trouble," Doug said.
"Shut up, Doug." I already felt sick enough without hearing his thoughts.
As we drove down Grand Avenue, Nancy whimpered and tried digging her way out of the back seat. I nearly panicked when the woman behind the counter acted as if she may not intake her. My voice rose a couple of octaves in panic. I wasn't going to leave her alongside the road and I didn't want to take her back home. I was full of dread. The woman finally tried taking Nancy to the back. Nancy fought her with all of the muscle she had. After hearing my story, the staffer was reluctant to try to force her to go, so Doug held the leash while I coaxed Nancy right into the euthanasia room. She followed willingly because she trusted me.
After I pushed her through the door, Doug and I shed tears in the hallway. The woman then poked her head out and asked if I wanted Nancy's collar. I shook my head and then went on crying.
"What's wrong with Gus?" I shouted later.
"He's looking for Nancy."
That poor dog looked for her for two nights. He only found solace when he buried his face in Nancy's pink blanket. First he'd been abandoned and then he'd lost his girlfriend. And to think the bastard who had damaged Nancy in the first place had gotten off without a care. We paid a high price for cleaning up his mess.
I am filled with rage and fury.