I want to tell you a story about your dog, Zoe. We found her cowering at the pound. She wasn’t barking like the other dogs. She was simply laying there, looking up at us. The tag said, “lab mix” and she was slated to be killed in a week. We fell for it, thinking we were buying a lab.
She is not a lab. She is a pit bull.
As Zoe grew, we came to realize the pound had lied. I was scared. I felt irresponsible for letting this type of dog into my home. All of the stereotypes, preconceptions and worries filled my mind. Should I take her back? What would people think of us?
She is the definition of disenfranchised. When first time guests visit we lock her in her cage, not because she is dangerous, but because of unspoken fears. She receives wary glances from strangers as they attempt to veil their tentative skittishness.
You can almost hear them thinking:
“Should I pet her?”
“Don’t look her in the eye!” (something we are all told not to do with Pit Bulls.)
Then Zoe goes to work breaking down walls. She knows what she needs to do. When people visit, she locks on my queues. I put my fingers by my side and snap. That’s all she needs. She rolls on her side, exposes her belly and shows the room that she knows her place, that she is safe to be around.
She builds the bridge. How tragic.
River, imagine a life of assumed mistrust and immediate barriers. Guilty until proven innocent. Imagine the tentative, wary interactions that would fill your day. This is Zoe’s life.
Yet, as a pit bull she is stubborn to prove them wrong. We brought you home from the hospital and her strong, gentle spirit shined. She sniffed you twice, glanced at me for approval then laid at your feet. She can explode into a maelstrom of muscle and speed but has never knocked over your older sister. She is gentle and strong, protective and loving. I feel shame for doubting her, for believing the pundits about her breed.
As a middle class white girl, you won’t experience life like Zoe. People won’t cross the street to avoid you. You won’t be hassled at the airport, searched while driving near the border, followed in stores, or questioned by police (unless you deserve it). “Probable cause” will be a foreign term to you.
River, you will encounter many people like Zoe as you grow, and you always have a choice. You can either embrace them or shut them out. Beautiful, strong, caring, and lovely people are all around.
Zoe is a pit bull, that’s a fact. A few years ago I stopped thinking of her as a pit bull, however, and started thinking of her as simply my dog. I stopped defining her by her breed and started defining her by her species.
The same goes for people. Before there is white, black, muslim, and christian, there is human. Individual dogs. Individual humans. Individuals with fears, hopes, dreams, pains, and loves.
But, never stop there. You see, eventually I began to love and appreciate Zoe’s breed. I no longer needed to look past her breed to feel good about my dog. I was proud to own a pit bull. I began to appreciate her strength, attentiveness, and tenderness.
Of course, Zoe knows no different. She isn’t separate from her breed. It’s an integral part of who she is, and it’s one of the many reasons that I love her.
And that is the goal.
Pursue holistic love and respect for every person. Sure, you may need to search out individuality and humanity to make a connection, but never stop there. Press on to marvel at the beautiful and unique characteristics of the whole person. What is uniquely beautiful about your Muslim friend, or your black friend? What is it about the particular race or religion that shines, that sets them apart? What can you learn from both the person as an individual and the person as part of a larger community?
River, like Zoe, you can be a hurricane of peace. You have the power to build a bridge, to destroy fears, and to weave harmony into the fabric of your community.
Love with all your heart. Watch and learn from those around you. Be an agent of peace.
Unleash your inner pit bull.
– Love Dad
Get your #agentofpeace Zoe t-shirt today. Buy the shirt, take a selfie with your pittie in the shirt, then upload to social using #agentofpeace #unleashyourinnerpitbull.
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