What’s the Big Rush?

January 3, 2012  

Although they promised no pit bulls, they adopted one in the nick of time

By Susan Tyler-McPhee

“Honey, hurry! It’s a two-hour drive and they close at noon for a couple of hours, so we need to get going.” Those were my words the morning we drove to Merced to look for a new dog. My husband, Hugh, responded, “What’s the big rush?”

Our old dog, Brownie, had passed on and I wanted to find a companion for our Kelpie, Lola. I read online that there were more 100 dogs at the Merced shelter, so we decided to take a drive and hopefully adopt one. It couldn’t be just any dog. We have cats, chickens and horses, so the dog could not have a strong predator drive. We live in the mountains, and a dog that is inclined to roam would not work out. Our dog Lola can be dog aggressive, so we couldn’t have a dog that was dominant or aggressive.

The drive was indeed long, so I asked my husband if we could stop to get sodas, but he insisted that we needed to keep going. “What’s the big rush?” I thought wryly.

No Pit Bulls

When we arrived at the shelter, my husband turned to me and said three words, “No pit bulls.” I nodded. I didn’t want a pit bull, either. Too many issues, I thought.

I had a list of dogs I had seen online, and we went in different directions to look. I walked down the length of the first building and stopped in front of the pen that housed a white dog with black spots and the most endearing eyes ever. “Hey there, fella, who are you?” I asked, as I glanced down at the numbers on the list I was holding. This dog was on my list. I petted his head for a moment then sighed and whispered to him, “You look too much like a pit bull. Hugh will never go for that.”

None of the other dogs really stood out, so I looked for an attendant to help me with my list. I noticed a girl and decided to ask her for help. She was talking with two other attendants. I walked over to them and suddenly felt the tension as they continued to stare at each other. Finally, the first girl turned her attention to me, so I asked if she could help me with my list. She nodded, glanced at my list and said to her associate, “One of these is in this stack.” She grabbed a handful of papers from the other girl, removed one page and walked off with me. She explained that the dog she was going to show me was about to be euthanized, and she was trying to talk them out of it. “He’s a really good dog,” she offered.

We walked right up to the white dog with the black spots. He looked happy to see me again, wagging his tail to show me. Frantically, I thought about the dog. It wasn’t that he might be euthanized. I knew that all these dogs would be euthanized if they weren’t chosen soon. It was something else, but we had agreed no pit bulls. The attendant asked if I’d like to take him out to the visitation area. I meant to say “No,” but I instead I simply said, “Sure.” As the three of us walked out, my husband looked at me quizzically. I knew what he was thinking.

On the way over to the visitation area, I asked the attendant if she knew how the spotted dog was with cats. She took him over to the resident cat and he sniffed quickly and then turned away looking for something fun to do. She told me he didn’t have a prey drive but was curious. He had passed the first test. The visitation area was a large fenced in, grassy lot with a bench. She slipped the leash off the spotted dog and he made a loop around the yard. I sat down on the bench and he jumped on the bench and covered my face in wet, sloppy kisses, which was to be the first time of many.

My husband joined us and we petted the dog, watched him run around and laughed when he would jump back on the bench for a hug and a kiss. The attendant had a plan. She took my husband with her as she retrieved each dog on my list while leaving me with the spotted dog. The spotted dog would greet each new dog as they entered the play area. If the new dog was friendly, they would play. If the dog was scared, he would gently prod the other dog into play. If the dog was aggressive, he would sit back and just watch.

Falling in Love

I knew I was falling in love with this spotted dog and warned my husband. “If you are dead set against this dog, you better say so now.” My husband just stared at me. The attendant brought three more dogs in, one at a time, but we were already sold on the spotted one. Even though he was listed as a pit mix, he had passed every test for temperament with the other dogs. We decided to go for the third and final test. How would he get along with our “spaztastic” dog, Lola. We brought her into the play yard, and he seemed to know instinctively that she needed her space. We played fetch with her while he sat in the shade and watched. On the ride home, we named him Satchmo, after the late, great trumpet player, Louis Armstrong.

The next few days weren’t easy. Satchmo was not leash trained, his curiosity for cats seemed much more extreme at home, and he was not housebroken. We watched continuous episodes of “The Dog Whisperer,” while I read books and magazines about pit bulls. I researched websites like BADRAP and tried to grasp what we had gotten ourselves into by adopting a pit bull. I was intimidated by what I read. I was also inspired by the stories of the heroism and strength. I thought, “If these dogs were once America’s sweethearts, it must be for good reason.” We went to the dog park two or three times a week, and I corrected him anytime he showed dominance, such as standing over another dog or humping. When he turned 2, we stopped going to the dog parks and started hiking with a pit bull meet up group, now known as Stubby Dog Trekkers.

Perfect Timing

It’s more than three years later now, and Satchmo is turning 4. He has shown no sign of dog aggression and is as big a lover now as he was when he was an 8-month-old puppy. He still watches “The Dog Whisperer,” and we laugh when he cocks his head and watches the dogs on the show. He plays tug-of-war with Lola, wrestles with Tyrone (our little terrier), snuggles with the cats, and even helps coax a chicken or two back into the coop. He is the dominant dog, but he dominates with a big smile and all 90 pounds of body mass. Lola is still a “spazz,” but she truly loves Satchmo.

We often think back to the day we adopted Satchmo and realize now what the “big rush” was about. If we had stopped for sodas, Satchmo would have lost his chance for adoption. He was minutes away from being euthanized, labeled “less adoptable” simply because he looked too much like a “pit bull.”

Ironically, we just received his Wisdom DNA results, and he is 25 percent Staffordshire, 25 percent German Shepherd and 50 percent Mastiff mix, most probably mixed with American Bulldog and Dogue du Bordeaux. For us, though, his comic antics, unstoppable devotion and incredible intelligence make him 100 percent awesome and the best dog we’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing our lives with.

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9 Responses to “What’s the Big Rush?”
  1. Happy New Year and thank you for sharing your loving story. WOW 8 months old and on death row…so so sad. Enjoy your time with Satchmo

  2. BrodyMan says:

    We have a Boxer/Pitt mix. He is the SWEETEST boy EVER!! His name is Brody, he gets along GREAT with my Shar Pei, Yorkie, and Schanuzer. We got him from a Kill Shelter and he was about 6 months old, we think he had been hit by a car, had mange and needed FOOD, BAD!! We have had him a year and a half now and he is AWESOME!! So glad you guys drove and found a GREAT Companion!!

  3. tinkertoy62 says:

    SO MANY THANKS to you, Susan- for taking the CHANCE with Satchmo! There is so much bad press it is not unusual to have a reluctance to invest in a stray dog w “bad news” attached to his breed…I am so happy Satchmo won you all over w his personality and so GRATEFUL to this organization- Stubby Dog, and others-who SEND OUT these great stories to help change that “bad press”! HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and Satchmo and all those pitties out there that still need someone to take that chance and save them from the shelter!

  4. hurpdegurp says:

    “We went to the dog park two or three times a week, and I corrected him anytime he showed dominance, such as standing over another dog or humping.

    This is disturbing, extremely outdated, andI wish StubbyDog had just edited it out altogether for the sake of other dog owners who may not know better than to take it as “advice.”

    I am so glad that they have adopted a dog which they love very much and are happy with him. I am also terribly saddened that blatant misinformation is still being disseminated at the misfortune of many, many dogs. Like I said, I’m glad that his issues have worked themselves out, but I guarantee you it is in spite of the malarkey they saw on television, not because of it. I sincerely hope that no reader mistakes this as anything regarding fact, and I hope that in the future they will contact a legitimate behaviorist or trainer for Satchmo.

    • Gabby says:

      @hurpdegurp Why is it wrong to “correct” him when showing any signs of dominance? Should she have allowed him to dominate over other dogs at the dog park therefor allowing other dog owners to panic while thinking their dog is about to be attacked by a pitt?, Furthering the “bad” wrap of pitts? When a dog is standing over another that is on its back in the submissive pose, thats being dominate. She doesnt say how she corrects him, so shes not giving any advice.

      I find it sad that instead of praising her right in the beginning for taking a chance and adopting a dog on death row, you attack her for one comment about correcting her dog. I have worked at a vets office for over 7 years. I can’t tell you how many ignorant dog owners I see in our office, who allow their pets to misbehave with no thought to correcting them. I praise her for taking responsibility for her pet and encouraging him to be the best dog that he most obviously has become. Shame on you for not doing it first!

      • StubbyDog says:

        @Gabby@hurpdegurp The true focus of this story should and always will be a couple that took a chance on a pit bull and never looked back.

    • pitbullsrock says:

      As an adopter of a male pit-pointer mix (with 1 female pit-lab and 3 indoor kitties), I think this story was well told. Our boy also ignored the cats at the shelter, but once we got him home our cats were fair game in his mind. Through lots of hard work, he is now very good with the cats (sleeping on the bed, eating together, etc.).

      As far as corrections at the dog park, we had to do the same thing and correct some of his exuberant behaviors like nipping necks and humping. I think it’s important for people to realize that although pit bulls or any dog for that matter is wonderful to “rescue,” you need to be aware that it’s not always as easy as raising a dog from a pup and there may be issues. Saying otherwise is doing a disservice to a potential adopter. Susan and her husband responsibly sought out other avenues of exercise and bonding with other dogs and their owners, thereby avoiding the potential for misunderstandings by other dog park owners against pit bulls. During the work week, our dogs now go out with a licensed trail hiking service with up to 10 other large dogs who know each other.

  5. pitbullsrock says:

    And to Satchmo, you are a lucky, lucky boy. Thank you Susan for your wonderful story and taking the time to not only learn about pit bulls and the hype, but to share your experience. Each of these Stubby Dog stories is a boon to the breed. BTW, my female is a Delta Society therapy dog and my male is close to being evaluated for therapy dog work (he’s about 2 1/2 and LOVES everyone!). He’s very calm as long as he runs about 5 miles a day.