“Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face-to-face.”
– Nelson DeMille
September 2011 presented a month of milestones: Jazzy passed the one-year mark since finishing radiation treatment for cancer. (With a malignant fibrosarcoma tumor, just making it past a year is a really big deal.) And, as hard as it is to believe, we also celebrated the six-year anniversary of her adoption. It seems like yesterday when Jazzy had no idea what a sofa was, didn’t know how to go up and down a flight of stairs, and had never tasted people food. What a difference six years makes – as I write this, she’s snoring on the sofa with her head on a pillow in a big patch of sun after bounding upstairs from the garden for a piece of roast chicken.
September is also the month I finished the proposal for a book based on this column. As I went back through our adventures, I fell in love with Jazzy all over again. On a recent walk around Stow Lake, however, I was reminded that “breedism” toward pit bulls remains rampant when a woman let out a blood-curdling scream as she rounded the corner and saw Jazzy smiling up at her. Unfazed Jazzy lay down patiently on the grass as I talked to the woman about pit bulls and their many misconceptions. As I said in last month’s Editor’s Note, a headline-hungry media and some incredibly irresponsible owners are mostly to blame, and for each of the exceedingly rare bad stories splashed across the front pages, there are many more untold stories about the millions of pit bulls like Jazzy without a mean bone in their bodies toward humans (despite the fact pit bulls are by far the most abused and neglected breed in America). Are there a few bad apples? Of course, as there are with all species, including human beings. But as I told the woman at Stow Lake, just because Casey Anthony killed her child doesn’t mean that all mothers will do the same.
The woman’s body language slowly relaxed, and as we talked about Jazzy’s cancer there was a look of true sadness in her eyes. Eventually she allowed Jazzy to come up to her. “Well you are a sweet thing, aren’t you?” she said, tentatively stroking the top of Jazzy’s head. Jazzy sat down on the woman’s foot and leaned against her leg, grinning from ear to ear as she stared up at her newfound friend with those big blue eyes. It was a moment like so many others when Jazzy won somebody over with her gentle, calm nature and genuine adoration for anyone showing her the slightest bit of attention, and it was yet another lesson in never judging anyone – canine or human – based on looks or assumptions.
One of the best examples of this occurred several years ago when my friend Brian came for dinner with his Yorkie – seven pounds of terrorizing terrier that bullied Jazzy every time he visited. I made a couple of beautiful rib-eye steaks, bone-in, of course. Nowadays veterinarians and other experts say you should never give your dogs cooked bones, but when I was a kid we always gave our dogs cooked bones (beef only, never chicken, fish or pork). Everyone else we knew did too, and all of the dogs lived long, happy lives. I don’t give Jazzy cooked beef bones often, and I always watch her carefully when I do so when the bone gets down to a nub I can take it away and toss it.
Once I brought the steaks to the table and transferred them to our dinner plates, I put the empty platter down on the floor so the dogs could lick the juices. Within moments, Jazzy’s nemesis was up to his old tricks, standing in the middle of the platter, which was bigger than he was, and growling at Jazzy as he lapped up every bit of juice. She patiently waited her turn, but by the time he was finished there wasn’t a drop of juice left. (I made sure she got the juice from my plate, though, by holding it up in the air higher than a foot-tall-on-his-hind-legs pooch could reach.)
After dinner I took both dogs downstairs to the backyard and gave them each one of the leftover bones. Jazzy waited for me to set hers down on the lawn; Mr. Yorkie snatched his out of my hand, lifted it above his head in what could only be described as a feat of super strength (think ant with a crouton), and scurried inside the house and under the bed. Moments later he reemerged, skittered back into the garden and up to Jazzy, brazenly yanked her bone right out of her mouth, and ran back under the bed with me following close behind. When I got down on my hands and knees and peaked into the darkness, I saw two glowing, beady eyes glaring back and a bared set of pearly white fangs accompanied by a high-pitched whirl the timbre of a remote control helicopter. “C’mon now,” I said with as much authority as I could muster in the presence of a devil dog. “You’ve got your own bone under there – why do you need Jazzy’s, too?” Even Devil Dog’s owner knew better than to risk putting his hand in the lair and pulling back a bloody stump, preferring instead to use the handle of a broomstick. As he carefully swept Jazzy’s bone from under the bed, his snarling Yorkie slid across the hardwood floor, ferociously attached to the broomstick like a Great White to chum.
After Brian managed to pry Devil Dog’s mouth off the broomstick, the four of us headed out for an early evening stroll around the neighborhood. As we neared the intersection of Buena Vista East and Buena Vista Terrace, I saw a little boy running toward us and, a few feet back, his mother, who audibly gasped with panic as she watched her son throw his arms around Jazzy’s muscular neck. True to form, Jazzy sat down in front of the boy and sweetly kissed his face, thumping her tail on the sidewalk in a display of what I’ve come to know as her uniquely understated enthusiasm. Then the boy spotted the cute little Yorkie and made a beeline. I looked back to see Devil Dog’s upper lip curl into the Elvis position, revealing one pearly white fang on the left side of his little bearded face, so I grabbed the boy by the hood of his sweatshirt and held him back. Just then Devil Dog lunged and snapped like a wee furry alligator, missing the boy’s fingers by an inch. The boy’s mother, out of breath, a little pale and a tad embarrassed, thanked me profusely, taking her son by the hand and squeezing it tight. But as she passed Jazzy she paused, first looking at her and then at the now-calm Terror of Tiny Town. She offered her hand for Jazzy to sniff, which Jazzy took as an invitation to bathe her entire arm with kisses. “Well,” she said, stroking Jazzy’s head. “I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
I glanced back at Brian, who was using Devil Dog’s black and red argyle-patterned harness as a handle to lift him up nose to nose, staring directly into those dark, beady eyes as he quietly but not very seriously scolded him.
“No,” I agreed, “you certainly can’t.”
The Morris Animal Foundation’s 2011 Canine Cancer Walk in Los Gatos will take place Sunday Oct. 9. Every dollar of entry fees and donations goes to canine cancer research. If you would like to participate donate, or find more information, please visit www.caninek.org.
Also during the month of October, buy any Zuke’s treats at Pet Food Express and 10 percent of the sale will go to the Dog and Cat Cancer Fund, a wonderful organization that provides grants to help families who otherwise could not afford treatment for their pets. For more information about the Dog and Cat Cancer Fund or to make a donation, visit www.dccfund.org or call 970-403-8059.