Licked to Death by a Pit Bull
When I told friends what I learned, they hemmed and hawed as though I were considering the acquisition of a Bengal tiger. One politely told me that she “assumed certain things about people who owned pit bulls.” My mother, well versed in the child-mauling- locking-jaw spiel, claimed I had a death wish. But the scales had fallen from my eyes. If a pit bull had been good enough for Helen Keller, then—what the hell?—I figured one was damn well good enough for us. So we decided to take our chances with the most notorious dog breed in America. And we had no trouble at all finding one, because all our shelters in North Carolina seemed to be overflowing with them.
“Pits have a hard time here,” one of the shelter volunteers told us, “because people are so scared of them. They’re surrendered all the time in the worst possible shape—sick, starved, beaten, tortured, you name it. And we have to put a lot of them down, which is such a shame, because they make excellent family dogs.”
We selected a young tan-and-white female with a red nose and honey-colored eyes who bounded over to us like a gazelle the first time we met her. Sean and I had recently returned from New Orleans and the Saints had just won the Super Bowl; our new addition, an underdog if there ever was one, looked elegant yet tough, refined yet scrappy. What could we do but name her Nola?
In the first few months after bringing Nola home, she consistently surprised us in every way. Our “junkyard dog,” she of dubious lineage and dangerous reputation, was more elaborate with her affection than any canine either of us had ever owned—more than all those retrievers, spaniels, hounds, terriers, and shepherds put together. If we were in any danger at all, it was the danger of having our faces licked off, the danger of drowning in slobber.
Wherever one of us went, Nola trundled alongside, and wherever we reclined together, Nola wedged between us like a balloon at a seventh-grade dance, curling into a bizarre contortion that we now call the “pit ball.” She dutifully checked the perimeter of whatever room we happened to be in. She groomed us and nuzzled us and rolled onto her side to spoon when we watched movies. Since we could never seem to peel her off of us, I joked that we might as well put a bonnet on her and start pushing her around in a stroller. (When I was at home alone at night, however, I didn’t exactly mind having a pit bull at my side. Potential intruders didn’t need to know that she was a love sponge.)