I got the call from Martin. He was at Toronto Animal Control and he had found a dog. She was good with cats and kids, bad with female dogs. He sent me a photo and she did not look very good. She was harnessed in black and looked like the poster dog for a banned breed. She was a pit bull.
She was five years old and it was 2006. The Province of Ontario had outlawed pit bulls born after 2005 because the idiots who ran the province then (and still do) believe that you can legislate dog bites away by banning one breed.
I was hesitant. Not because we had just lost our dog Brigid to a short illness, but because having a pit bull might prove to be problematic. She would not be allowed to walk without a muzzle. She would never be allowed off-leash. She would be ostracized, blamed, feared and rejected. I said yes. Her name was Mia.
And she was lovely. Tan coloured with soulful eyes that I grew to adore. She was introduced to our 4 year old son and our two cats and was gentle and respectful. Then we took her for a walk.
‘Bad with female dogs’ my ass. She hated all dogs. Hated. All. Dogs. I mean with a passion, with a vengeance reserved for only those whose loved ones have been murdered where they sought retribution with only death and painful destruction on their minds. Our sweet and gentle soul turned into some scary shit. You know anti-pit-bull propaganda pictures? The ones where their lovely, giant smiling mouths turn into maws of menace, teeth bared, growling, body lunging with the low-centre-of gravity force that threatens to tear your arm out of its socket while trying to hold them back? Yeah, that was her. We considered ourselves seasoned dog owners, but we were not prepared for this.
Her behavior had nothing to do with her breed, but rather it was the result of her well-meaning but misguided first owner. We knew that Mia had been a companion to a young man for her first few years. He trained her – she’d follow all the typical commands – but he thought he was doing the world a favour by keeping her from other dogs because she was a pit bull. Not a good idea. It was evident that Mia had not been socialized, and that was unfortunate. For the 11 years that she lived with us, we always wondered what kind of dog she would have been had we adopted her as a puppy. She would have run free at dog parks and ravines, the wind blowing in her face.
While we never put a muzzle on her, which we were required to do by law, walking her was always a challenge. We learned to cross the street when other dogs came our way, two hands on leash. We scanned the street ahead of us for other dogs. We avoided walking past dog parks. We encouraged her to ignore other dogs, which was the best we could hope for, sitting her down, facing away from the other dog as it passed, telling her what a good girl she was as she emitted a low and threatening growl. Small dogs seemed to piss her off more than large ones, because they were barkier and often challenged her. She was once attacked by two little dogs, off-leash, that came running at her from the park. I yelled at their owners to come and collect their dogs, but they took their time. I raged: My dog is going to kill your dogs! And she would have killed them. And if she did, that the other dogs were off-leash on the road would have made no difference; Mia would have been euthanized because she was a pit bull and I didn’t have her muzzled.
That was the other Mia. The one we loved and cherished was a gentle soul who wanted nothing more than to hang out with her family on her big poofy bed. She lived with our two cats in peace. Stella would gurgle and rub her head against Mia’s snout and she would let her, eyes bemused. She loved, loved children, and doled out random kisses to kids in strollers if they let her. She loved the cottage, the only place we ever allowed her off-leash. She would roll in the grass by the river, feeling the sunshine on her belly, at peace with the world. Sometimes she waded into the river but never went in far enough that she needed to swim (we weren’t even sure if she could). She was content to just walk into the reeds, or watch the bullfrogs beside the dock. She also loved to eat and we indulged her with people food, especially if we had pizza. Mia loved pizza, but would eat almost anything we gave her, except spinach.
She also loved Christmas. As soon as that tree went up she would look for her gift. We always filled her stocking with new stuffies and she knew which one was hers. We would buy the toys that were labeled “For Large Dogs” and watch with glee as she ripped off their heads and extracted the little squeaky noise-makers, chew them into a pulp and spit them out. I think her personal best time was about 3 minutes.
For the last couple of years she was on pain and anti-inflammatory medications for bone spurs and arthritis. She couldn’t get up the stairs anymore so she no longer slept in our bed. She had been healthy her whole life but now had to be carried through the kitchen because she was afraid to lose her footing on the slippery floor. She needed help negotiating the three steps into our back yard. Her walks shortened to the point where the block was too far for her to go; the limping started as soon as we got up the street. She spent most of her day on the couch or her bed, but we watched with delight when she would unexpectedly jump up, grab a toy, shake it and chew on it, because it meant that for her, life was still worthwhile. Those moments kept buying her time, but eventually they drifted away like her health and robust youth and when the bad days outweighed the good, we knew that we had to let her go. She was sixteen and we had her for eleven years.
Rest in peace, dear Mia. We miss you.