“… I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance,
I could have missed the pain
But I’d of had to miss the dance.”
— “The Dance,” by Tony Arata
As summer turns to fall, Jazzy’s morning glory is once again winding up the white trellis in Kickie’s garden. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I lost Jasmine Blue to cancer. When she was diagnosed with an aggressive fibrosarcoma at the age of four, doctors gave her just two months to live — but anyone who followed her column knows that Jazzy never gave up, and I never gave up on her. That strong bond helped us defy the odds and stretch two months into two years.
When I wrote the chapter about Jazzy passing (“Saying Goodbye to Mommy’s Little Girl”), I was flooded with handwritten sympathy cards, letters, and e-mails from her many fans around the world. A number of people wrote to say they felt as if they had lost “their dog,” and in many ways Jazzy was theirs as much as she was mine.
It wasn’t always that way. When I first started the column, I received letters from unhappy readers, like the woman who asked why I “loved the breed that killed Diane Whipple.” As I responded that those dogs were Presa Canarios, I realized Jazzy and I had a long road ahead to change the perception of pit bulls.
In the late 1800s pit bulls were known as “nanny dogs” because they were gentle, loyal, and protective toward children. The most decorated canine in military history, Sergeant Stubby, was a pit bull; he earned several medals during World War I and was honored at the White House. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson both had pit bulls, as did Helen Keller. Perhaps the most famous pit bull, Petey, the faithful sidekick to The Little Rascals in the Our Gang television series, spent countless hours with his young costars and was one of the most intelligent, popular Hollywood dogs of all time.
According to the American Temperament Test Society, pit bulls have a passing rate of 86 percent — slightly higher than golden retrievers. Though the pit bull population has exploded due to irresponsible backyard breeders, there are remarkably few incidents. You wouldn’t know that from my fellow media: The rare attacks by pit bulls on humans make headlines, but the thousands of attacks by humans on pit bulls don’t, like the the Fairfield, Calif. man who recently drowned a pit bull in a public pond. Witnesses said the dog never fought back. The man told police “he didn’t know why he did it.” Maligned, abused, and misunderstood, the statistics are staggering — only one out of 100 pit bulls gets out of a shelter alive.
Jazzy was one of the lucky few, and her column showed pit bulls in a positive light doing things people rarely see pit bulls do. She stayed in over 45 4-star hotels, including the penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, where she slept in the same bed as luminaries like Mick Jagger and Vice President Dick Cheney. Dressed as Mrs. Paws for an appearance at Macy’s, legions of fans showed up to meet her and take photos in support of the San Francisco SPCA’s annual window display. Jazzy helped to break many pit bull stereotypes, like when our house was burglarized and she proved what I’d known all along — pit bulls make terrible guard dogs. I wrote a chapter called “The pit bull showed them the silverware,” because the police found a stuffed animal in every room where the thieves had taken their time removing flatscreen televisions. Apparently Jazzy was following them around as she did all our guests, holding a toy in her mouth as a gift. “What kind of dog do you have?” one officer asked. “A pit bull,” I answered. “A pit bull!” he said with a surprised chuckle. “I thought you were going to say a Chihuahua.”
One of Jazzy’s most endearing qualities was her immense love of children. On walks, people often recognized her. A mother told me that before the family started reading about Jazzy her young son was afraid of dogs, but now he wanted to volunteer at the shelter. When the boy approached, Jazzy sat down so he could hug her as she softly nuzzled his cheek. Her sweet, gentle nature also made her wonderful therapy at nursing homes. She once rested her head in the lap of a man in a wheelchair for more than half an hour as he stroked her head. “Pretty dog,” he said softly. The director of the home told me those were the first words he’d uttered in five years.
When my father, who suffered from dementia, moved in with us, it was Jazzy who taught me patience. She learned to wait at the top and bottom of the stairs so that he could make his way safely, and she kept him company, lying next to him for hours on end. After my father passed away, I wrote a chapter called “A very sensitive dog,” which also ran in the San Francisco Chronicle, about how she got me through one of the darkest times in my life.
While Jazzy was known for her love of all humans great and small — even burglars — there was one human she absolutely hated: Jim Cramer, the frenetic host of CNBC’s Mad Money. She could be snoring on the sofa upstairs or basking in the sun outside, but the minute she heard his voice she would grab a toy and charge the television, her blues eyes fixed and beady. As Cramer babbled on, Jazzy would shake her toy violently, snorting and growling, only setting the toy down long enough to bark a few times before picking it up and shaking it again. My friend Marc didn’t believe me, so I videotaped it. “She just goes crazy because he’s loud and obnoxious,” he said. So I taped an episode of Judge Judy, to which Jazzy had no reaction at all. Marc finally had to admit that Jazzy did indeed have a deepset hatred for television’s best-known stock-picking pundit.
For those who want to honor Jazzy’s memory, I hope you will consider adopting or fostering an animal from a shelter or a rescue, and if you can’t have pets, please consider volunteering or donating. We kill four million of the eight million animals in this nation’s shelter system each year because people don’t spay and neuter, and there aren’t enough homes. With a city budget that leaves San Francisco Animal Care and Control out in the cold, and with donations to rescues shrinking in a tough economy, homeless animals need your help more than ever.
And if you are ready to adopt, please consider a pit bull. Jazzy was the rule, not the exception — pitties make smart, funny, loyal, loving companions, as happy partnering for a morning jog as they are snuggling next to a fellow couch potato on a rainy afternoon. There are so many deserving pit mixes at rescues and shelters like Jazzy and Skylar, whom I adopted after Jazzy’s passing. Like Jazzy and Skylar, they’re just waiting for a good home, and a chance to be breed ambassadors, ready to show the world how wonderful they truly are.
Friends of Animal Care and Control:
1200 15th Street,
San Francisco, 94103,
All contributions directly support the animal welfare services of ACC and its rescue partners
California Pit Bull Rescue:
This is a fairly new rescue doing great work that really needs support!
[email protected] (preferred mode of contact is email);
Wonder Dog Rescue:
P.O. Box 40121,
San Francisco, 94140-0121,
Check out their new youth training program
Toni’s Kitty Rescue:
Provides foster care for sick, orphaned kittens that are too young until they are old enough to be adopted
Purebred rescue organizations:
Looking for a specific breed? Don’t buy — adopt!