I see articles like the one I saw tonight fairly often, and have for many years, but, for some reason, tonight it hit me especially hard. Maybe it’s because my daughter, my sweet baby girl, is the same age I was all those years ago. Maybe it’s because there have been so many negative stories in the news lately and they are starting to get to me. Maybe I’m just tired and need to get some rest. Whatever the reason, tonight it hit me pretty hard.
The article was about a pitbull attack on a child. Again. And, of course, there were the same comments attached to the article from all the pitbull lovers in the world espousing how wonderful pitbulls are, we all love our “pitties”, they are the sweetest dogs ever, it is bad owners not a bad breed, etc, etc. You can preach to me until the day I die about how wonderful pitbulls are, but I will never like them. Never. I always feel bad when I read those comments. Like I am a bad person because of my dislike of pitbulls. Like I am a racist, or, more accurately, a breedist. How can I be so unfair to a whole breed of dogs when it is only a handful of them who are actually bad? There are bad people in the world, too. Do I dislike all people?? No, of course not.
Logically, I understand the reasoning behind not judging a breed based on a few. I get it. But, emotionally, I feel differently.
Thirty years ago I was eight years old. I was all skinny, gangly limbs and long golden blond straggly hair. My biggest cares in the world were which neighborhood friend I was going to play with on a given day. One day I went to play with my friend, Kara. She lived about 3-4 blocks away from me, so I called her from our wall phone with the rotary dial and said “can you play?”
She yelled “MOOOOOM!!! Can I play with Jennifer!?” She came back on the phone “I can play, I’ll meet you.”
We would both walk toward the other’s house and meet each other halfway so that we didn’t have to walk so far alone. We spent the afternoon playing. I really can’t remember what we did, but some of my memories of playing with Kara include listening to a cassette tape of “Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q (I don’t think it was the actual album- I think we recorded it off the radio) or “Mr. Roboto”, playing some Winter Olympics game on an early model computer or Commodore 64, and doing gymnastics in the backyard.
When it was time for me to go home, Kara again walked with me to the halfway point. Before we got there, however, we noticed that the pitbull that always barked at us that was kept in a big chainlink kennel was out of his kennel. We were scared of that dog so we crossed the street. A teenager was holding the dog on a leash as the owners were cleaning the kennel. At the same time that we walked past, the paperboy came walking up toward the dog. The dog lunged at the paperboy, but the teenager didn’t let go, so then the dog turned on the kid holding it. He let go of the leash.
The rest is sort of a blur. For some reason the dog came running across the street toward Kara and I. I started to run. Later, much later, I would register that a male voice was yelling “DON’T RUN!” but I didn’t hear it at the time. I heard “RUN!” Every ounce of my being was telling me to run as fast and as far away from that dog as possible. The dog attacked me. It jumped up and knocked me down and then chewed the heck out of my face. My 8 year old face. The force of the fall caused me to hit my head on the sidewalk and I cut my head open and broke a back tooth. I bit my tongue. As it was happening I remember thinking, “why is this dog licking me?? Get it off me!” It felt like it was licking me all over my face. There was no pain, but it was all very wet.
Eventually (it felt like hours, but it was probably seconds) the owner pulled the dog off of me. I turned and saw Kara running up the street screaming “MOM!” I did not want her to leave me with these strangers. I tried to get up and then I saw the blood. So much blood. Why was there so much blood? The dog was just licking my face. Somebody ran over to me with towels and the man- the owner- knelt down on one knee and sat me on his lap while he held the towels on my face. I remember being horrified. I was extremely shy. I did not know this man. He had on dirty jeans! I did NOT want to be sitting on his leg! I honestly don’t remember if I cried. I imagine I did.
Soon Kara’s mom drove up in her car. She sat me in the driver’s seat to take me home. I remember I tried to pull down the visor mirror to look at my face and she wouldn’t let me. We pulled up in my driveway and she told me to wait in the car. She ran up and knocked on my front door. My mom opened it and I could hear Kara’s mom talking but I couldn’t make out what she said. My mom looked at me sitting in the car. The color drained from her face and her hand flew to her mouth. That look will stick with me for the rest of my life. She grabbed my brothers and ran them over to the neighbor’s and then got in the car with us. We only had one car back then and my dad had it at work. Kara’s mom drove us to the hospital.
I don’t remember much after that. I had to have plastic surgery. Dozens and dozens of tiny stitches on my face. I had three areas that were bit, one on my cheek, and two close to my eye. I was lucky, I could have lost my eye. I remember getting the numbing shots and laying with a paper over my face with cutouts for where the surgeon was stitching. I remember the doctor telling me I could hold my mom’s hand, and thinking that was weird because we weren’t a handholding bunch. I imagine my dad must have come to the hospital at some point, but I don’t recall anything after that.
Some of the memories of that time are hazy, I don’t remember any pain except for the numbing shots, I don’t remember what I looked like with all the stitches or how long I had them, I don’t remember the dog’s name, I don’t remember if I had to go to school- it may have been summer? But I remember other parts in vivid detail. What it felt like when the dog was “licking” me, how terrified I felt when I was running so hard up the hill and the dog was right behind me, my mom’s face when she saw me. Those I will never forget.
If the attack had happened today, it would be in the news, but back then it was not. The family that owned the dog did not have insurance. Luckily my family did; I imagine the hospital bills were astronomical. I was told the dog was euthanized, although I didn’t know what that meant until my parents explained it to me.
Surprisingly, the incident didn’t have that much of an impact on my life. I was a kid; kids are resilient. My 8 year old self went on to grow up into a fairly well functioning adult. I am not overly afraid of dogs, unless I am walking and one runs up to me. Then I FREEZE! And when it leaves I shake uncontrollably. When my kids were born, before they could even walk, I taught them to freeze if a dog is chasing them.
And now I have an 8 year old daughter. One with straggly golden blond hair. One whose only cares in the world are who she will play with that day. I think about my “attack” (that sounds so melodramatic, but that’s what it was) and I think of it happening to her and I get weak in the knees. I picture my mom’s white face at the front door. I think about it from the perspective of a mother; my mother, and me as a mother, and it is absolutely horrifying.
So, do I love pitbulls? No. Do I think all pitbulls are mean, vicious dogs? No, I know they are not. I also know that any dog can bite if it is not trained. But I was not attacked by a german shepherd or a rottweiler, or a doberman. I was attacked by a pitbull. And when I read articles about another innocent child being attacked by a pitbull, all of the memories come flooding back. Then I read comments online, some of them pretty rude and degrading as many online comments tend to be, telling people how they are supposed to feel about pitbulls.
Guess what? No one can tell me how to feel. Just as with all aspects of everyone’s lives, my life and my thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears are all shaped by my experiences. I had a horrible experience with a pitbull. I will be kind to pitbulls and their owners, I will not say anything rude about the breed, but I will not love them. I will not even like them. And just as all the pitbull lovers are entitled to their opinions, I am entitled to mine.