Guest Blogger: Animal Friends’ Volunteer and Blog Contest Winner Alicia Drosendahl
Fear, hope, trust, iron will: seemingly contradictory terms that all add up to represent the life of a “bully breed.” Ignorance, hatred, discrimination, and prejudice cloud the persona of the Pit Bull, the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, the Chow, the Doberman and often times the Great Dane.
Growing up an only child, I found my best friend in a German Shepherd/Doberman mix named TJ. To echo countless nostalgic remarks, TJ truly represents what it means to be “girl’s best friend.” Even though I was initially afraid, I grew to love her as my own furry sibling.
So, the day after my thirteenth birthday (the first day that I was officially old enough to volunteer for Animal Friends), I attended Animal Friends’ volunteer orientation.
As I progressed through the Open Paw dog handling levels (first green and then yellow-collared dogs), I kept noticing this cute little “pocket pittie” named Salmon. Seeing how my mom, a long-time Animal Friends volunteer, loved her, I was intrigued to have my first encounter with her. The yellow-level dog that I walked was Salmon.
The little spitfire grabbed at my heartstrings and refused to let go. I learned to move my shoestrings out of the way when she was in a mood, for she took out her frustration on shoes. I was not fazed by this at all because in a very strange way, I could relate. All she wanted was a friend to play with and a family to love her. The trials and tribulations of seventh grade in public school made me see this “difficult” Pit Bull as a dog who was just looking to figure out what life means.
Even after my delightful introduction to Pit Bulls, I was still hesitant around them. I had heard the stereotypes and seen the news stories of Pit Bulls injuring people. However, when Animal Friends’ Pittie residents O’Bannon and O’Ney entered my life, my entire perception changed.
The “O’Pits” were Pit Bulls that were rescued from a local fighting ring. After months on a court hold and then a wait for medical and behavioral evaluations, the O’s finally made it to the adoption floor. My mom had been assigned to mentor O’Bannon, a sweet boy who had to have ear surgery because his ears were so infected. He was deaf, but still toddled around like a champion, soaking up the sun, the love, and the Natural Balance treats. The hesitance in his eyes was heart-wrenching, but there was a subtle hope that lingered. After months of interaction and bonding, the fear dissipated, becoming a hopeful look that was often partnered with a funny little tap dance. A dog who had been through Hell, with visible scars, had not given up on the world, which in turn persuaded me not to give up on the harshly stereotyped breed.
“NEY NEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY” was the call that often came out of my mouth that summer. Echoing off the kennel walls, and confusing the public, my call let my friend O’Ney know that my mom and I were coming to spend time with her. As I rounded the corner, I heard the paws on the rungs of her cages, prematurely putting her paws up for her harness. Her big brown eyes, charming grin, and the endearing “wiggle butt” never ceased to amaze me. She had been through Hell too, but she constantly emanated an unbridled love. An undeterred lover, O’Ney solidified my faith in Pit Bulls as truly being “lovers not fighters.” If O’Ney and O’Bannon could love like that after what they had been through, I could take a stand and topple the false stereotype.
Countless other Pits have passed through Animal Friends and found their ways into my heart. My experiences with the biggest, baddest, bully breed (a.k.a. the Pit Bull) inspired the theme for my Senior Project. At North Hills High School, one of the requirements to graduate is to take a “Graduation Project” class. Out of the selected courses, I chose Leadership. In order to pass the course and fulfill the requirement, I had to come up with, create, and execute a service project that benefitted someone. I chose to sell bracelets and bags with the message “Help Don’t Hurt.” The profits benefitted a local bully breed rescue organization. The final, essential component of my project was compiling and presenting a PowerPoint Presentation about the false stereotypes. As someone who has always disliked presenting, my offer to present to my class was uncharacteristic, but also evidence of how passionate I am about the breed I love. After presenting, I took questions from my fellow students and, surprisingly, my teacher. My presentation was supposed to last for twenty minutes. Including the question and answer session, my presentation took 35 minutes of the 40 minute class period. Even though I was nervous, I let my instincts and passion take over, and was able to change many minds, including my teacher’s.
Without the experiences I’ve had with Salmon, O’Ney, O’Bannon, and countless others while volunteering at Animal Friends, I would be a completely different person. I wouldn’t have cared about my Graduation Project, nor would I have stepped up, compiled and executed an effective presentation. Compassion, drive, and patience have all been taught to me by four legged friends who just happen to be pit bulls. I have seen these dogs come out of the darkest of situations, thus inspiring me to continue on working with all dogs, even if they are scared or bite shoes when they get frustrated. Without my beloved companion TJ, I never would have been inspired to volunteer at Animal Friends, let alone embrace the bully breeds. The so-called “vicious, evil, nasty, bloodthirsty” dogs are everything but. Working with them has taught me to never, ever judge a book by its cover, whether it be a four, three, or two-legged creature. You never know when a spitfire dog named after a fish will blindside you and change your life forever, in the best way possible.
Alicia Drosendahl was the first-prize winner in our volunteer blog contest! Congratulations and thank you, Alicia!