Nina and Thurber

May 10, 2011  

All types of people from all walks of life love pit bulls

Name: Nina Bargiel
Occupation: Television writer

I hadn’t owned a dog since I was 8 years old. Can you really own a dog when you’re a child? The answer to that is no. Carl the dog quickly went to live with my grandparents, and at 10 years old, my mother decided we were cat people.

When I moved to California in 1994 I was 21. I had $300 in my pocket, a shiny new VW Jetta, and a bedroom at my uncle’s house in Santa Barbara. I was going to do something – anything – in Hollywood. And Santa Barbara was as close as I could get without paying rent.

I saw the dog running down the busy street and thought that it wasn’t good. I opened the door and he jumped in, and we sat there, looking at each other.

“What now, dummy?” he seemed to be asking me.

I went to a pay phone and called 411 (it was 1994!) and got directions to the animal shelter.

When I brought the dog in, I started to panic. I saved this dog. I couldn’t give him over to certain death. As my lip started to tremble a shelter volunteer came and took my hand.

“It’s OK,” she told me.

They processed the dog and she invited me to look around. I did. There were dogs off all shapes and sizes, but there was a big black dog with a white chest and a block head that looked at me sadly. He was the only one who didn’t get up and wag his tail.

“He could use some love,” the volunteer told me. “Maybe you’d like to come back and help us out?” I nodded. (Later she told me “I had you pegged the second you walked in!”)

As I left, with promises to return the next day, I noticed the dog I had brought in being reunited with his family. He didn’t even acknowledge the fact that I had given him a ride, the jerk. (But his family did!)

I returned the next day and was assigned a green vest and given a brief safety demonstration. Then I was on my own. I filled my pockets with treats and went into the cage with the big black dog with the blocky head.

His name was Thurber, and he was a “pit bull mix.” I was a little nervous because I was pretty sure that I had read somewhere that pit bulls were dangerous dogs.

But looking in his kennel, he didn’t seem scary at all. The staff thought he was between 7 – 10 years old, but it was hard to tell. He was skin and bone, with a partially caved-in head with huge patches of missing hair, and teeth so worn down that his tongue would peek between them when he closed his mouth.

I opened the kennel door and slid inside. He sat in the corner, eyeing me warily. I crouched down and held out a treat. He sniffed it but ignored it, choosing to curl up in my lap instead.

For three months I returned to the shelter every day to walk Thurber. I left for Los Angeles because I had landed my first Hollywood job.

Thurber came with me.

The joke was that Thurber was Lassie, the pit bull mix. He was good with dogs and cats and toddlers and old people and only growled once when I was about to get mugged for cutting down a dark alleyway. (Not my smartest move.) People who hated dogs loved Thurber, and people who were frightened of pit bulls were always shocked after petting and playing with him that “he was one of those dogs.”

Thurber was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 1999 and had a leg amputated. I worked at home during his final months, so I could be with him every second of the day. He was more than a dog; he was my companion.

In 2000, I got my first television writing job. I left for work my first day, worried about my dog who I knew didn’t have much time. I was terrified that he’d die at home alone. I knew that he deserved more.

I returned home that afternoon, and he died in my arms hours later. Even at the end, Thurber took care of me.

And that’s how I became a pit bull person.

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