The Sunday before she died was a beautiful and rare sunny early spring day in Portland. We spent the morning in the garden doing the first yard work of the year. Betty, our 10-year-old Pit Bull mix lay in the sun on the porch, soaking up the warmth. For a few days, she hadn’t been eating. But that had happened before. She would become sort of disenchanted with her food for a chunk of time, eating only once every few days. And then, after a week, she would be back to normal. So we didn’t worry too much. She didn’t really seem like herself that afternoon as we walked to the community garden, but my concern dissipated as soon as we got to the garden—Betty’s usual behaviors started back up: barking at people arriving (because of her breed, the mom arriving with her kids made them stay away from her, even though all she wanted was to say hello and lick their hands) and whining when I walked too far away from her. Betty’s whining was sort of a “bane of our existence” kind of thing for most of her 9 years with us. It was, as usual, high-pitched and pathetic, but when she was really anxious (which was often) it would take on a grating, desperate, growling sound. Betty was a worrier and a whiner, but all out of love. She was desperate, always, to be with her people.
She came to us in 2004, a year after my husband and I had married. I was a first year teacher, he was in his second year of law school. Both of us had grown up in families in which we weren’t allowed to have dogs: mine because of allergies and his because of the theory that city dogs didn’t have the best lives. We had both always yearned for a dog and we were finally able to get one. We knew we wanted to adopt a shelter dog and we were drawn to Pits because of their history of being misunderstood, abused, and put down. Betty arrived at our house one sunny Seattle afternoon in the trunk of the car belonging to a man who had been fostering her. She had been rescued from a shelter in Oregon days before she was to be put down and then fostered in Seattle with various families. She was a bundle of nerves and energy—she never held still, not for a moment, and she was absolutely desperate to be loved. We took her for a walk with the foster owner and despite the fact that she pulled us around the block, despite the fact that she whined out of excitement and anxiety the whole time, we decided to keep her overnight to see how we got along. Continue reading