A couple of years ago, my family and I were discussing options for our upcoming vacation, as I was flipping through our latest issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, there happened to be a blurb about different kinds of vacations you can take with your family. It mentioned Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, where it said you could take a tour, volunteer hands on with the animals and even have doggie sleepovers.
I thought, you know, instead of doing the typical vacation, we’re going to this animal sanctuary in southern Utah for spring break. We’re going to try something different.
So, we had a great time and rented a house in southern Utah near the sanctuary. We volunteered in Dogtown, we toured the sanctuary, which is amazing and beautiful, we walked dogs, swept a little and gave a couple of dogs a break from the shelter with sleepovers. We have since been to the sanctuary five times to volunteer. If you adore and appreciate animals, it really is that much fun.
I have to admit I knew all Pit Bulls, or the term I actually prefer--American Staffordshire Terriers, shouldn’t be judged as most of society always has, but there was always that little part of me that was a bit unsure and afraid of them. All you have to do is listen to the news and the media’s perpetual portrayal of this breed as being...well...not good.
Then we met Chief...
We volunteered in an area called “Old Friends” - a place in the shelter were older dogs lived in Dogtown. We walked Chief and another dog named Magnolia. Magnolia was a mutt that loved her walks, a senior girl that was resistant to go back into her run. Chief was much more mellow. Charming though she was, Magnolia was a bit of a puller. My husband and I found ourselves arguing over who got to walk the more laid back Chief.
We decided to take him on a sleepover for a night that turned into two...which turned into three. It’s not hard to fall in love with a dog over a few hours, parting with him after a getting to know him after a few days was torture. If it weren’t for owning an already dog-reactive retriever, we most certainly would have brought him home permanently.
For our sleepover(s), we were set-up with a bag of food, treats (in an adorable little baggie decorated by schoolchildren as part of a school project, no less), a blanket, his favorite tire rope toy, a leash and we were on our way.
Chief was a very confident dog. The moment he hopped into the car, he gave my husband a quick lick on the face, then turned to me to give me a smooch. We paused and looked at each other for a moment. It left us a bit stunned but pleasantly suprised.
From that moment on, we learned that each dog truly is an individual. During the three days we had him, we would proudly say to each other statements like, “I just got kissed by a Pit Bull.” “Hey, I’m walking a Pit Bull.” “Look, I’m hugging a Pit Bull.” Chief was the best ambassador for his breed.
In Chief’s biography at the sanctuary, it said he would make a great hiking buddy, but once we got him home to the rental, all he wanted to do was snooze and snuggle on the couch.
We were happy to oblige.
Which brings me to this next photo, which was actually kind of a mistake. We were having dinner on the patio outside and Chief was such a good dog, it didn't even cross his mind to beg for our food. He just sat quietly with us. After dinner, I got my camera out to take some pictures. I was trying to get a shot with his face looking directly at me, and he just kind of turned away for a moment. I would normally think this is a throwaway photo, but his expression looked kind of proud and I saw something more in it.
After a couple of sketches based from this photo, I popped a wine glass next to his leg and went ahead and created this watercolor and ink, ”Pinot Noir Pup.” The wine glass added a lightness to the art that I enjoyed. In addition, I loved the idea of taking an underdog breed like a Pit Bull, and elevating it, to a very proud, distinguished, elegant dog that is, well...kind of snooty about his wine.
Taking a dog that has such an undeserved bad reputation and giving him a regal presence delighted me. I still think about Chief a lot and wonder how he is doing, I recently learned that he was adopted and found a nice home with his very own couch to sleep on.
Since meeting this gentle soul, I now know why people dress their Pit Bulls in pink collars and tutus. Because this is how they are viewed by many of their owners...a dog sweet enough to wear pink.
And they’re not wrong, because so many of them are.