Goodbye to Barky, Who Perhaps Never Knew She Was a Pit Bull

May 22, 2012  

By Arin Greenwood, Associate editor, HuffPost DC on May 7, 2012

I did not know that Barky was a pit bull when I got her, in the fall of 1998, as I was going — ignorantly, in so many ways, as it turned out — into my second year of law school.

The people who’d found Barky in New York’s Riverside Park told me she was a Staffordshire terrier. I’d grown up with golden retrievers in the Rhode Island suburbs; I did not have the Internet in my apartment. I brought home the wiggly 10-month-old orange dog with the huge ears.

The guys who kept up the all-night underground pharmaceutical market on my corner whistled when they saw Barky. “Nice pit bull,” I kept hearing.

I’d correct them. “She’s a Staffordshire terrier.”

Finally, I went to the library and looked at dog books. Staffordshire terriers, I learned, are a type of pit bull. Pit bulls, the plodding 1998 Internet told me, when I finally got to it, were likely one day to snap and bite me on the jugular.

But it was too late; I loved Barky already. Over the next years, she went on long walks around New York with me. She was a regular at the law school (my mother later said Barky was Columbia Law School’s first pit bull graduate). When my ill-advised boyfriend and I broke up, in the middle of winter, then over and over again during various other seasons over the course of several years, Barky took to sleeping under the covers, with her head on the pillow. I’d never known a dog with funnier ears. My life had problems, to be sure — I loathed being a lawyer; I was irresistible to terrible men — but my jugular was fine.

In early 2002, with itchy feet and a deep fear of a terrorist attack on the subway, I took a one-year legal job on a small tropical island near Guam. The island had a four-month quarantine. My parents agreed to take care of Barky while I was away. One year turned into two. Barky’s head got used to my parents’ pillows; her tummy got used to my parents’ home cooked meals. Then she came down with a blood disease the vet said would kill her within months. We were devastated. Barky lived. She was then diagnosed with cancer and was given another death sentence, that she again defied.

“She loves eating chicken too much to die,” my mother told me on the phone.

By the time I came home from the island, five and a half years after I’d left New York, I was through being a lawyer and my parents were too attached to the now somewhat grey, still wiggly dog they’d nursed back to life, twice, to give her up. Barky had officially become the sweet, spoiled and beloved family dog, which she has continued to be for going on 98 dog years now — which might be shocking to the judges of Maryland’s Court of Appeals.

This court issued an unprecedented ruling in late April, finding that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, and people who own them are strictly liable for any damage they cause. Owning a pit bull at all, the court ruled, is itself negligent.

This is different from how most dogs are treated under the law. Owners are usually given what’s called a “one free bite” — meaning, that they essentially get a pass the first time their dog hurts someone. (The second time, they’re liable, since by then they know their dogs’ dangerous propensities.) Maryland’s pit bull owners are now supposed to presume their dogs’ dangerousness.

Pit bull advocates make a number of arguments for why the Maryland court’s ruling makes no sense. They say there is, actually, no such thing as a pit bull; even if there were, pit bulls are in fact no more dangerous than any other breed. (Some advocates like to say that statistically speaking, golden retrievers are more dangerous than pits.)

As both a (former) lawyer and a person who has spent many nights sharing a pillow with a pit bull, I’m inclined to think the advocates are right. For one, even if there is such a thing as a pit bull, and even if they do bite more often than golden retrievers, they still don’t bite often. The most alarmist, anti-pit bull statistics show that fewer than 30 people in the United States are killed every year by dogs (and no one is even suggesting that pit bulls are responsible for all of those 30 deaths, even). There are, meanwhile, almost 80 million dogs living in U.S. households.

This doesn’t sound like inherent dangerousness to me. Then there’s Barky, who hates cats and who has always barked like crazy when other dogs seem to be having too good a time (my dad calls her the police of the dog park). But no one seems to have told her she was supposed to have spent her life being actually dangerous; after a youth of walks, chasing squirrels, law school and barking at neighbors who talk too loudly, she’s spent her dotage sitting in my mom’s garden, eyeing squirrels, eating chicken and barking at the neighbors.

Barky’s even used her legal education, going with my father to his law office, where she begs treats from clients.

That undramatic, chicken-filled life is almost over now, for real this time. On today, my first wedding anniversary to a wonderful man, I am on my way to Rhode Island, so that I can be with Barky as she leaves us, on Tuesday. After surviving blood disease and cancer, Barky is now having heart failure; my parents, my brother and I think it’s kinder to ease her out of life with a shot from the vet than subject her to the heart attack or stroke that is otherwise inevitable. We’ve been very lucky to have all these years with the now almost completely white pit bull whose big ears now look cauliflowered like a professional boxer’s — 14 human years, half of which have felt like borrowed time.

It’s hard to look back over these years and think that keeping Barky as our treasured pet would seem like negligent behavior. It’s seemed like a gift.

Of course it’s possible Barky simply never realized what she was. Maybe she just spent all these years thinking she was a Staffordshire terrier.

Attribution: © 2012 The Huffington Post, a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL Inc. Used with permission.

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18 Responses to “Goodbye to Barky, Who Perhaps Never Knew She Was a Pit Bull”
  1. dragondix2 says:

    My condolence for your loss. I know how hard this choice is. I recently made the same choice for my apbt Herman. I hope you find some solace in the knowledge that you’re doing right by Barky.

  2. With tears in my eyes please accept our condolences to you and your family.  Barky defied the odds because of the love you and your parents gave her.  She may visit you in your dreams letting you know she’s fine and no longer being the police at the rainbow park 🙂 Tell her to say to our beloved Akita, Max! My mom misses him greatly

    • StubbyDog says:

       @theprettychic So lovely Kelli, I’m sure Arin will be comforted by your words. Thank you.

  3. KymOpekaBartel says:

    My heart breaks for all of you.  I have  a two year old pit, Taz,  that looks very much like your Barky.  He too has no idea he is supposed to be dangerous and has brought so much joy to my life.  You have made a loving decision for your precious friend.  Reach for your memories when the loss seems overwhelming.  They will comfort you. 

  4. TeriMcCann says:

    As I read this I am looking at my 10 year old girl that also has no idea she is supposed to be dangerous. As I share my covers with her every night I only worry about losing my blankets and fighting a bed hog, not an inherently dangerous dog. As Barky crosses the Rainbow Bridge today she will meet all the dogs that were taken from this earth because they were the Pit Bull breed and they will run through the meadows chasing squirrels and birds and just enjoy being a dog! I am so sorry for your loss and my prayers are with you.

  5. AprilWolstencroft says:

    My tears fall from my eyes, as I understand your pain.  When the day comes for us to let go of the selfish attachment we hold on our sweet angels when we know there is nothing more we can do to keep them in our arms, is the hardest day to go through. I still remember the day I had to let go of my furbaby, but my heart still feels her paw prints and my soul still feels her forever licks! Your life is better because you shared your heart with a pit bull; a breed truly misunderstood. The only thing they are guilty of, is stealing our hearts and loving us unconditionaly! My heart will forever beat pit bull! My heart breaks for you, but Barky will be waiting for you at Rainbow Bridge, so through this painful loss just remember one day you will see her wiggle butt again!

    • dragondix2 says:

       @AprilWolstencroft I feel the same way. Herman’s waiting for me right now in heaven. I’m so looking forward to getting pit bull kisses from him! Until then, I’ll be working to promote the breed that he represented so well. Run free, beloved one’s. We’ll meet again.

  6. ShawnLowe says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, and feel your pain.  I do believe it is kinder to let them go rather than watch them suffer.  And I also love the perspective she brought you that you so eloquently shared with the rest of us.  It would be fabulous if politicians could think so rationally.

    • dragondix2 says:

      @ShawnLowe. Well said. Barky may not have known she was a pit bull, but you made sure she knew she was loved. I hope one day all pit bulls will know that.

  7. PaigeManessHuddleston says:

    You were given that precious baby for a reason. That precious baby also survived for a reason. Maybe it was to teach you and your family how great that breed truly is. Who knows? I have owned many different breeds in my 41 years. The Bully breed has stolen much from me……..mostly my heart! Along with a few socks and many paper towels. Take what your heart holds deep inside about this breed and educate others. To educate others would be an awesome legacy to honor Barky………………….R.I.P. Heaven is getting another four leg angel…………

  8. Luttau says:

    Im so sorry for your loss and i know how hard it is to make that decision (just said bye to our loved Mr Wiz) but you know in your heart when time is right for them to go. I really love it that you take your time and are flying home to be there for the last moment. We found a great vet who came home to us and made the experience a Beutiful good bye, also for our kids who are young. She will have a fantastic time at Rainbow Bridge 🙂

  9. KimSnaithMcDonell says:

    I am so terribly sorry for your loss!!  I rescue & foster pitbulls & own 2 of my own.  They are a wonderful breed who want nothing more then love & affection.  You were truly blessed to have Barky & she was truly blessed to have you.  I have shared your wonderful story with my friends & hope that it may change just 1 persons mind about pitbulls.  May Barky run forever free!!  God bless you all!!! 

  10. What a beautiful story — thank you for sharing the story of your life with Barky. I’m so sorry for your loss, but this blog post shows that Barky’s life was long, well-lived, and full of love!

  11. MagnoliaJones says:

    Barky’s life is so beautiful. Your words brought me to tears. I have a female pit named Chunk, though she is most likely a Staffordshire Terrier.  She is still young, but I know someday in the future I will face the same day with my sweet girl. Thank you for loving Barky and allowing her to love you. Most of all, thank you for being with her in her final moments, knowing just how much you meant to each other.

    • dragondix2 says:

       @MagnoliaJones  Agree completely. Being there for Barkys final moments was one last gift to her. Run free lil’ one.

  12. avegas72 says:

    I do love those funny ears. What a lovely story.

  13. dragondix2 says:

    The top picture is one of the best “action shots ” I’ve ever seen! Looking at her running to you brings tears to my eyes. Barky clearly loved you.