This episode has two alternate titles: “Opposites Attract” and “Asha’s Turn.”
When Jamie and I adopted Asha, it was a pretty big deal for us as a couple. Asha would not only be our first dog together, but Jamie’s first dog ever. Back when Jamie and I first met, she was not somebody who would have ever called herself a “dog person.” At the time, this was a concern of mine. Because I came with an elderly greyhound named Emma. And we were not sold separately. But not only was Jamie great with Emma, my elderly hound helped change Jamie’s mind about dogs in general. When it was time to say goodbye to Emma, Jamie was right by my side holding my hand. Her presence made the incredibly difficult and heartbreaking ordeal that much easier to get through.
I was not ready to get another dog right away. I’d had Emma for a little over 12 years and the canine-shaped hole she left in my heart took a long time to heal. But time has a way of healing hearts and eventually Jamie and I started talking about getting a dog together. I’m still not totally sure how we started focusing on pit bulls. I think in large part it was due to the fact that virtually every rescue and shelter in the Detroit area is filled with them. Add to that the fact that discrimination and misinformation make it even harder to adopt these guys out, and it’s hardly a surprise that we were drawn to pits. Plus, as gay folks, we certainly know a thing or two about having insanely inaccurate “facts” used against us in order to enact and support horribly discriminatory laws and policies.
But we were just in the “talking” stage. And if anybody was dragging her feet about moving forward, it was me. In the fall of 2012 I told Jamie that we couldn’t even consider bringing a dog home until we did a massive overhaul of our backyard. For one thing, we needed to replace a large section of fence. For another thing we needed a new deck, updated landscaping, a new locking mechanism for our gate… Did I mention I was stalling?
But about a week after our fence was fixed, I had an interesting encounter. While leaving work for lunch one day, I got on the elevator with a few guys I’d never spoken to before. I don’t tend to be a very gregarious or chatty person with strangers, so I did what most people would do on an elevator: stared straight ahead and listened to their conversation. One of the guys was talking about how his wife had just found a dog a few days prior and they were trying to find a home for it. He was joking around with the other guys about how one of them would have to take it. I said nothing, but thought to myself, “I wonder what kind of dog? Probably not a pit bull.” Then the elevator opened and we dispersed.
When I got back from lunch, I somehow ended up on the elevator with these same three guys. The guy who found the dog recognized me from earlier and made some sort of “haven’t we already done this before?” joke. Then he said to me, “Hey, do YOU want a dog?” I cautiously responded, “What kind?” I was still operating under the assumption that there was no way it could be a pit bull, so it would be super easy to shoot him down. He responded, “She’s a super sweet little pit bull mix. My wife found her as a stray in Detroit. We would keep her, but we already have four dogs.” I cautiously responded, “Well, my girlfriend and I have been talking about adopting a dog, but I’m not sure we are really ready yet.” I felt a little sweaty and anxious, but figured I could rely on Jamie to help talk me down. After all, she was the more level-headed one. So I sent her an email letting her know about my elevator encounter. I fully expected her to respond with a cautious reminder that we were going to wait until spring, that we couldn’t just take a dog because some guy at my work found one, etc. etc. But her immediate response was this:
OHMYGOD SEND ME PICTURES RIGHT NOW!!
That’s when I knew that we would be taking this dog.
Joe and his wife Judith brought Asha over to our house a few weeks later so we could meet her. When Jamie opened the door, Asha strode right in and came straight to me with her tail wagging. Though I’d like to claim some sort of “love at first sight” feeling, my actual first thought was, “Wow, this dog is way smaller than I expected.” The photos we had seen of her didn’t really provide a good frame of reference for scale and I had assumed she’d be a lot bigger. Asha is only about 40 pounds and pretty short. A far cry from the greyhounds I was used to being around. She also had such terrible skin that dime-sized flakes snowed off her body as I pet her. Which was gross. I looked up at Jamie to get a read on how she was feeling about the situation. Jamie was positively beaming. That’s when I knew we were now the official guardians of this small, gross dog.
Asha was smart in that she used her exuberant charm and irresistible cuddle abilities to make a strong first impression. We were pretty much instantly smitten with her. This despite the disgustingly large number of dead tapeworm segments that were all over her bed the next morning (Did I mention how gross she was?). Jamie was even lucky enough to end up with a live, writhing tapeworm segment on her pant leg when Asha crawled up in her lap. If there’s anything that would turn a person from “Ok, I think I’m becoming a dog person,” to “Nope. Never mind. Get this living, breathing worm machine out of this house,” it’s parasites. Ticks, fleas, tape worms… these are the grossest things about letting a dog live with you. Thankfully, Jamie handled it in stride and we made an appointment with our vet for some “anti-tapeworm butt pills” (that’s a technical, veterinary term).
I was very conscientious about owning a pit bull mix. I wanted to make sure that we gave Asha every opportunity to thrive, so we enrolled her in a doggie daycare. On her very first day, we got a call saying that Asha just wasn’t fitting in. In fact, Asha was baring her teeth and snapping at any dog that came toward her and generally seemed overwhelmed and scared. There had been a couple incidents during that time (we’d only had Asha about a month) where she had snapped at one of us. These snaps always seemed rather half-hearted, never all that forceful. As if she was trying to convey, “I don’t feel comfortable right now, and I’m not sure how else to show you because nothing short of snapping has worked in the past to get people to listen to me.” This is the message a lot of smaller dogs are probably trying to send when they snap at somebody. The cuter and smaller the dog, the less we tend to take them seriously.
When the doggie daycare thing didn’t work, I contacted Tammy at Fido Personal Dog Training and got Asha started in training classes. I remember watching Tammy “charge” the clicker and how quickly Asha seemed to “get it.” The more training we did with her, the more her confidence grew. And the better we learned to communicate, the more she trusted Jamie and me and believed we had her back. Watching Asha’s amazing progress made me a force-free training convert for life. Not to mention I can’t imagine any other kind of training working on her. Just thinking about using “leash corrections” or “alpha rolls” with her makes me feel ill. I can’t help but wonder how many dogs like Asha ended up dumped at shelters because they panicked and snapped at someone who was attempting heavy-handed training methods.
Though we haven’t tried doggie daycare again, in the time we’ve had her Asha has developed a small roster of “dog friends” and generally seems a lot more at ease with other dogs. She’s also gone from being cautious and nervous about having visitors to vying for attention from every person who enters our house. That’s one of the reasons we started thinking about getting her a sibling.
And of course, dear readers, that sibling ended up being Gomez.