Thursday, July 2, 2009


The first time I laid eyes on Nick, my first reaction was something akin to, "American Staffordshire, huh? Yeaaaaah... We'll see about that." My skepticism was understandable - we see a lot of variations on many of the "Bull & Terrier" breeds - American Staffordshire, American Pit Bull Terrier, 'American Bully', Bull Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier. All of them are at their best a carefully standardized mutt (every domestic dog is), and at their worst a hodgepodge of unpredictable backyard-bred variables. I didn't have to wonder where on that spectrum Nick fell for long, though.

He's about as close to the "all-American dog" from the 1900's through the 1940's as I've seen a dog come - pretty much a banner carrier for all the good traits the American Staffordshire was bred for. He's by no means a small dog, and built to last. His brindle-and-white coat is quite dapper, he's got a smile to brighten the cloudiest day, and a cool disposition that holds up even under the Texas summer sun. In fact, he made such a good first impression, we've been using him as our resident "therapy dog for dogs" over the past week.

Nick hasn't been the biggest fan of games, preferring instead to walk around with us, or simply hang out in the lobby and meet people and other dogs as they come in. In fact, he seemed exemplary around children - putting up with a pair of extremely loud and rowdy boys running to and fro, and letting a flock of young girls pet, pat and glomp on him. All the while, he endeavored to be a rock of calm in a sea of chaos, and a good role-model for his less-than-bold sidekick at the time, Wendy.

In fact, Nick just seems to be a dog who wants the world to work as it should. I've seen him stand nonchalantly as a smaller dog menaced him, tell a bigger dog to back down and mind his manners, and handle frightened dogs with suprising gentleness and empathy. He even helped me usher one dog back into his kennel by gently nudging him along a few inches at a time. Not too shabby for a dog that's a bit intimidated and out of his element himself.

I wish there was a way I could take all of the frightened dogs and give them a shot of courage. In a perfect world, it would be instantaneous, painless, and infallable. In our world, though, I'm glad I at least have dogs like Nick, Engel, Remo and a genteel old spaniel named Clifford to lend a paw when others are in need. They're part of a special breed of dog - one that isn't measured by bloodlines or show-standard measurements and markings. And they're the ones that will always stay with us, in our hearts and fond memories.

Thank you all, guys. You'll never realize how awesome you really are.

UPDATE (7/8): Well, Nick is still at the shelter. And he's getting less shy, but more depressed each day. He was sneezing earlier, so I had to make a note for the vet to check for URI - better known as "kennel cough," a respiratory infection much like a cold, but for dogs. That makes him possibly ill, less outgoing, and a long-timer; quite a few strikes against him. Oh, and the proverbial "black spot" - he's a "Pit Bull" breed, so even if someone wants him, they might not be able to adopt him.

And I thought I had it bad getting up at 5am to go to work some days.

I sat with Nick for a few minutes today, and he curled up in my lap, his muzzle tucked under my elbow. Halfway joking, I rested my head and arm up on his sinewy shoulders to remind him that he might be sitting on me, but I'm still the boss. He looked at me inscrutably, then nudged my other arm underneath him so that I was hugging him (note: dogs really don't like being hugged, by the way). It was just about all I could do to keep from crying.

UPDATE (7/9): Today, a young couple came in looking for "a laid back pit bull." Tim introduced them to both Nick and another dog that fits that description, Baxter. They took both dogs out to the play yard and the pits had a lot of fun playing together and showing off for the humans present. It was a tough decision, but in the end Nick won them over. (His symptoms were simply a case of the sniffles.) He's going to be fine and we are so happy for him and his new "mom and dad." Congratulations, Nick!

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