It All Started With a Puppy …

October 12, 2011  

The story of how one pit bull motivated his mom to co-found a rescue, become a certified trainer and start a pit bull hiking group

By Tracey Cutler

It was time for another gathering of “The Birthday Girls” – the name I had affectionately given to a group of friends that assembles for birthdays and other life celebrations throughout the year. Over countless delicious meals over the years, we have forged a strong bond of friendship, built on genuine respect, admiration and adoration. We gather each time with excitement, looking forward to three or four hours of chatter, laughter and warm exchanges.

That particular afternoon, sitting comfortably around the large, white linen-covered table, we began the traditional exchange of stories with our usual exuberance, jumping from one subject to another. Little did everyone know that I would be the one to make the most jaw-dropping announcement of the day.

First, the “backstory”: Most of “the girls” were initially brought together through our participation in a charity league that helps to find a cure for cancer. Many of us have since moved on to other causes, and certainly life has taken all of us down new roads, keeping us perpetually busy with a frenzy of family obligations, business deadlines and social calendars that could make one’s head spin. Yet, despite our hectic and ever-changing lives, we have maintained a strong connection, and these get-togethers are a constant in our lives.

I had forgotten about my own initial fears, which had consumed me as I wrestled with the decision to “call a pit bull mine.”

After years of celebrations, we are now in our late 40s and 50s, and all of us are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful and desirable areas in the country. My community, a 40-minute drive from San Francisco, nestled ever so charmingly against the Santa Cruz Mountains, is called the “village” by some of the locals. The homes are big; the schools are exceptional; and the people are smart (really smart, says moi!). Computer technology – and all that goes along with it – is, of course, always top-of-mind here. My husband and I are in the restaurant business and not inclined to mess around with computer parts, however; we just play around with food, enlisting our vibrant personalities (well, I do – not so sure about the husband!) to keep our guests happily returning to one of Silicon Valley’s favorite dining spots.

Over the years, I have become known in the group as “Tracey, our unique friend.” Owning that unique title has always been OK by me: In good and bad, I accept whatever that concept implies (although I sometimes wonder what it really means!). One way or another, my friends seem to think that I am “just a little different” from the norm – a tad “out there” perhaps – and known for being quite willing to take a risk. (If they really knew what lay beneath this carefree exterior – and some do – they would see a woman who can, at times, over-analyze a situation; is too concerned about what others think; suffers from the random panic attack and some minor OCD traits; and, on occasion – OK, many occasions – may worry excessively!)

I am also renowned for a long litany of absurd stories and a series of impulsive decisions, some of which I have admittedly regretted “big-time.” (And to my closest friends, I would like to say: I expect a round of applause for giving you such a generous supply of entertainment throughout the years!)

How to Plunge a Room Into Silence …

On this particular meeting of The Birthday Girls, after the ritual round of kisses and hugs, we settled into our seats at a local country club, a favorite spot for such occasions. As the waiters hovered around us, filling our water glasses, we began to update each other on the goings-on in our lives since the last get-together. When it was my turn, I gave a brief synopsis of my latest travels, shared some information about the kids, and then excitedly announced the new puppy that I had decided to make mine. Said puppy had been with us for more than a month by that time. I described this puppy (still hadn’t decided on a name at that point) as the most darling, lovable, mellow puppy that I had ever been around … and then announced (with some hesitation) that he happened to be a pit bull.

I continued to gush on about my puppy, words of unabashed adoration just tumbling out: “I am in LOVE; I cannot wait for you guys to meet him! You will fall in love too, especially with his feet: They are big and floppy, and oh so soft! And the cutest thing is the way his forehead squishes up all crinkly-like as he tilts his head to one side, ears perked up in flying-nun fashion, with these big, beautiful, expressive eyes that try to make sense of what I am saying, as I ramble on, speaking gibberish to him. He is just so darned cute that I want to take a huge bite out of his darling little rump, and just eat him up like a big fat piece of juicy chicken (or tofu)! …” (photo, right, by Bark Photography)

A few minutes into this exuberant recitation, I suddenly realized that 16 or so eyeballs were glued, and I do mean glued, to me. I stopped talking, probably looking slightly perplexed, and abruptly realized the full gravity of my own situation. Geez Louise, I had just told my friends that I had become the guardian of a pit bull, a cute little thing now, but a little thing that would soon grow up to be a “big thang.” Argh!

There was an uncomfortable silence around the table … several minutes, it seemed, of uncomfortable silence. And yet, just moments before, I had been beaming from ear to ear, as if I were announcing the birth of my first child. I had been so carried away by images of my darling boy that I had simply forgotten why I had experienced that slight hesitation prior to announcing that my pup was a pit bull. I had forgotten about my own initial fears, which had consumed me as I wrestled with the decision to “call a pit bull mine.” I had indeed worried about the probable response that such an announcement would induce in the hearts and minds of my friends, and the public in general.

As I looked around the table, feeling the dread in the air, one friend finally broke the silence: “Well, you know, Tracey, I am sure he is a cute little puppy now; they all are adorable when they are young, but puppies do grow up. And I am not sure if you know this, but Renfrew (her Golden Retriever) was attacked at a dog park by a pit bull!” My heart immediately sank. I responded with a somewhat defeated and apologetic, “No, I didn’t know that had happened to Renfrew, and I am sorry to hear that such an incident took place, but are you sure it was a pit bull? I have been reading a lot lately about pit bulls and have come across material indicating that many people improperly identify dogs in general – and, in particular, many dogs are labeled as pit bulls when, in fact, they are not.”

Looking at the face of my sweet little pup, I asked myself: What have I done, what have I gotten myself into, and why in the world did I ever think this was a good idea – bringing a pit bull into my home?

My friend assured me that she was correct in her assessment, although I wondered. Others mentioned news stories they had seen or heard of horrid attacks (both on people and animals) that had been deemed the responsibility of pit bulls. Someone even brought up the story of Diane Whipple – the San Francisco woman who was attacked and killed by two dogs after returning home from a jog. People debated whether or not the two dogs were pit bulls; no one could quite remember, but my friends seemed to think they were. (As it turned out, they were wrong, and it was two Presa Canarios that had been the culprits.)

Another friend, who happened to be an equestrienne, then spoke up: “Tracey, I am sure you have a lovely puppy, who will grow up to be a lovely dog, and that you will do all that is necessary to train your dog and will raise him in a responsible manner. You are our unique friend, and that is what we like about you, always doing something out of the norm and keeping things interesting!” Whewwee, I thought, finally a bit of a reprieve. I felt utterly grateful for this friend’s response; she always has a way of stating things in the most endearing way, and I dearly needed a dose of positivity at that moment. I said, “Yes, you are right, Debbie; I intend on doing what is necessary, on a day-to-day basis, as I learn more about my puppy and pit bulls in general. If the media’s representation, and the perceptions of the general public of the pit bull ‘being a monster, vicious and full of rage,’ prove to be true … I will then be the first one to acknowledge this fact and admit my mistake.”

As I made this pronouncement, I looked at each of my friends around the table, and they nodded their heads in agreement. It was then and there that I knew I had my work cut out for me; I began to realize the full implications of my decision.

Back home later that day, I sat in glum silence, thinking about this conversation. Instead of the usual pleasant afterglow from a meeting of The Birthday Girls, I had been thrown into a whirlwind of doubt and confusion.

Looking at the face of my sweet little pup, I asked myself: What have I done, what have I gotten myself into, and why in the world did I ever think this was a good idea – bringing a pit bull into my home? Didn’t I have better things to do? And with all of those smart people sitting around me earlier, why hadn’t I been smart enough to have thought it through a little more carefully before opening my heart and my door to this sweet little guy (who would soon be known as Shmooly).

Next: Pit Bull Redemption

« « Calling all Super Hero Stubbies! | Yet Another Pit Bull Breaks Stereotypes » »


22 Responses to “It All Started With a Puppy …”
  1. Your story is a sad one for many reasons however, your friends are who they are and you are who you are. You mention several times in your letter that you’re the “unique” one and there’s nothing wrong with that. Someone has to be a leader and go down the path less followed. You are the difference maker in your circle as I’m sure many of us are especially when we chose our forever family member. Speaking with my mom yesterday, I thanked her for supporting me in my endeavor of being an advocate for pit bulls. My mom and family members felt the same way your friends do about pit bulls until they met Sasha for the first time. My mom and sister thanked for opening their eyes to this WONDERFUL, caring, loving and always giving kisses breed. Like you I’m the “unique” one among family and friends and I love that I am a trailblazer! We all want expectance however, expectance should not make you feel guilty about a decision you made especially a decision that makes you happy and brings joy not only to your life but in the life of Shmooly. Take this time to educate your friends; allow them to interact with Shmooly and they too will know the joy he brings into your life. Let me be the first to welcome you to the wonderful, adventerous and loving world of PIT BULL world!

    • TraceyTateCutler says:

      @theprettychic Thank you. Yes, things have changed since first adopting Shmooly over five years ago and many of my friends & family members have supported me in my efforts of promoting Pit Bull awareness. And I am thankful to each & everyone of these people in my life.

    • TraceyTateCutler says:

      @theprettychic Thank you. Things have changed since first adopting Shmooly over five years ago and many of my friends & family members have supported me in my efforts of promoting Pit Bull awareness. I am thankful to each & everyone of these people in my life.

  2. SteveFarnham says:

    It sounds like your friends have a lot to learn from their “unique” friend. Don’t ever forget that the world is a better place for having people like you in it.

    • TraceyTateCutler says:

      @SteveFarnham Thank you, I will continue to be “unique” ~ there is just no way of getting around it, I am afraid 🙂

  3. ShawnLowe says:

    Responsible pit bull lovers like us are the only hope these dogs have of redemption. A thought has been running through my head a lot about how their demise, abuse, neglect, torture, etc. has mirrored the fall of our society. It is particularly sad for the dogs because they are simple victims to all the crimes humans commit against them, but are somehow held responsible as if they pre-meditate their own abuse. Thank you for sharing your story. I rescued a pit bull puppy over three years ago now, she was kicked out of a car in front of some friends. We have a fabulous time together and we hike a lot. Our area has 1.3 million acres of BLM land in our county. She spends time off leash because she has been well socialized and understands obedience. A good ambassadog can change many perceptions. Although where I live, there is not the “Oh, my! Is that a Pit Bull?” factor. It is more a “Oh, a Pit Bull! They are so cute!” factor. It helps.

  4. doofrun says:

    Flying nun ears! I call them that too!

  5. gbcubed says:

    Being the unique one in a particular group of mine, I LOVE this story!If I may be so bold, anytime a dog is attacked I always wonder where both owners were. Renfrew was attacked because of the irresponsible OWNER of a dog who happened to be a pit. The Presa Canarios acted as they did because of the irresponsible OWNER of the dogs. Both of these owners found their dogs behavior to be perfectly acceptable in spite of stark reality of there situation. I stopped going to dog parks a long time ago. Because my dog was a pit bull, whenever a scuffle happened my dog was blamed even if he were the one bleeding. And I call them scuffles since I was always within a few feet of my dog, watching and supervising the play.

    To me, a dog park is the canine version of a Gymboree; a place where parents congregate to catch up with each other, not necessarily to interact with their children but to keep “an eye” out. Like a dog park, there is a false sense of security because the area is contained and safe. Many, MANY times, children were hurt because a parent wasn’t watching their child who it was not always clear which child was acting as a bully yet mine was always the suspect because they happened to be bigger, or a boy or the older one, yet this was assumed. Where exactly was Renfrew’s mom when this happened and what was she doing? Is she sure that Renfrew was not the aggressor in this particular situation? I find it hard to believe that out of the blue, without any provocation, that Renfrew was attacked. If she had been on top of it, maybe it would have never happened.

    The stereo type of the pit bull lives as strongly as it does because of the response of the group to your announcement and that is a shame. Not that statistics will change the minds of the ladies of the birthday group, but I do know a little one on one time with a pit may melt a few of those hearts!

    • TraceyTateCutler says:

      @gbcubed Yes, I agree with you that dog parks are pretty much how you describe them, it is for those reasons alone that I am not a dog-park advocate. Luckily, I found out early on that putting my dogs into these type of situations would not benefit me or my dogs… It was always with a slight amount of trepidation that I would bring my own dogs into such a setting, in particular my PB’s because there was a definite sense of fear & anger that seemed to permeate the air as we walked in through the gate. I stopped bringing my dogs when they were approximately 12-15 mos., of age.

    • TraceyTateCutler says:

      @gbcubed In defense of my friend with the Golden Retreiver, I must say that her fears were legitimate to her, particularily at the time ~ I too had experienced fear such as hers before I had ultimately put my faith in my own decision of adopting a Pit Bull, and then learned otherwise through experience & education that my fears had been blown out of proportion. The fears that I had prior to adopting my PB, were like that of my friend & like that of so many people around me. These fears were largely based on the stories that one had read or heard about through the media. The two events, her dog being attacked & my decision to adopt a PB, happened over five & seven years ago ~ it was at this time that the media was ripe with horror stories of PB attacks and the like. (And maybe they still are). But, in time and with positive outlets for expression (such as StubbyDog), I do believe there is hope in educating the public about the “real Pit Bull”. My dear friend is just one example of the fear that had been pervasive amongst many people that I knew (including myself) ~ Today, she is an avid supporter of both me & my dog.

  6. gbcubed says:

    BTW, Shmooly is one handsome boy!

  7. LoriAugustusNoll says:

    My first Blue Pit Bull, Isabella, came into my life in February 2010. She will be two next month. My husband is a veterinarian and I work with him at his practice and we do have many clients with Pit Bulls. I fell in love with each and every one that came in, and eventually talked my husband into getting one to join our family. I found Isabella and can’t imagine my life without her. I have to admit that I did buy her. I wanted to know about the parents of my first Pit Bull. But, in saying that, I honestly think she was meant to be with me. You see, at 8 months of age we diagnosed her with Grade III Hip Dysplasia and more than 25 inhalant and food allergies. I hate to think of what shape she would be in, if I hadn’t found her. Fortunately, we are able to give her the health care she needs. Exactly one year after finding Izzy, I was approached about taking another Blue Pit Bull puppy. He was 12 weeks old and only 8 pounds. I agreed to take him and had full intentions of fostering him and finding him a forever home. We already had 7 dogs. I didn’t name him. One month later, my daughter and I decided we couldn’t give him up. So, she and I decided to name this sweet baby boy, Bronson Blue. We will celebrate his first birthday next month. Most of my family and friends have welcomed Isabella and Bronson into our family. We have been at our local Pet Smart and people do walk away when finding out what breed they are. I do not hide their breed. I am proud to have them in our family. They are sweet, loving dogs. Both Izzy and Bronson spent every workday with me at our veterinary hospital. They greeted clients and patients and are doing their part to spread positive words about their breed. My husband has even been labeled “the vet who raises Pit Bulls”!

  8. effcla says:

    My husband and I adopted our pitbull exactly a year ago from animal control (they estimated her age to be between 6 and 9 months). As soon as I saw her, I just knew she was going to be our dog. I have to admit that, like the author of this story, I sometimes wondered what I got myself into adopting a pittie. I’m lucky however, in that my family accepted her without a thought as to her breed as did all my friends but one. And she even loves her and plays with her without any fear when she comes to visit but is always warning me about the dangers of pitties and how they can turn in an instant, and their strength, etc. I researched pitts for a while before adopting Scarlett (named by animal control as she has lots of scars from what they assume was her being a bait dog) and from the day she came home, we make sure to exercise her enough to keep her terrier traits at bay. I agree with gbcubed in that dog parks are off our list of where to take Scarlett in that she was ALWAYS blamed if something went wrong just because of her breed. But she is such a happy dog and I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

  9. loralothringer says:

    Another great story from Stubbydog!!! Please, Please, Please, keep em coming! I read everyone with enthusiam. It’s one of the few places I can hear positive pibble stories. I have two pibbles and they also have changed the minds of friends and relatives alike who thought differently of them.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @loralothringer So glad you like our stories. We have every intention of keeping positive pit bull stories coming … and there are no shortage of stories!

  10. Jessica Rose says:

    I can’t wait to read the next part of the story!! I dream about starting my own rescue, I love stories that verify it’s not as crazy as I think it sounds 🙂

  11. NicholeRyanStaib says:

    welcome to the pittie family!! not only is your baby beautiful, but you are amazing!!! if i had the means, i couldn’t run a rescue. i’d be too busy bringing them all home!! i’ve only had , and both of them will always be forever in my heart. …and don’t forget, you’ve got a new nanny!!

  12. cobblejoy says:

    I need to hear these “happy” stories. Getting my 6 month old Pittie rescue pup on Friday. Can’t wait. Our beloved pittie cross Gretchen died early in the spring and grief has been my companion all summer.

    • gbcubed says:

      @cobblejoy SO EXCITED FOR YOU! Gretchen will be pleased to see you happy again, I am sure. Nothing will fill the hole in our hearts, but a new puppy is a good way to soften the pain.

  13. LauraCornerDavis says:


  14. macleod_73 says:

    …”the people are smart (really smart, says moi!)”….they might be smart, but it sounds like your friends are really ignorant (says moi), though I’d be willing to bet they regard themselves as being as open minded as humanly possible. That said, I’m glad you were able to give a pit bull a good home, and hopefully you’ll change some minds in the process.