Actually his name is Browser—which I can’t bear—but more likely his name will never be known; whoever dropped him by the side of the road or let him run away may have given him a name in the short year he’s been on this earth, but I will never know it. Which is just as well, since I am in the process of claiming him for my own. I will name him Pip, in memory of the undaunted orphan in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”
Whatever trials Pip has gone through on his way to the safe haven of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter—a blessed sanctuary for all kinds of cast-offs, feathered, furred and scaled—his spirit has not been broken and his body has not been harmed. He is as handsome as a little panther, long, lean, lithe, and totally black, the silky color of the lapels of an old-fashioned gentleman’s smoking jacket. He sports one white paw and the passionate expression of the bull dog breed—I know this breed well because of my earlier dogs—which the French writer Colette so brilliantly described as “attentive insouciance.”
Pip is not a licker, a lap sitter or a hugger, although he did touch my hand with the tip of his pink tongue. He is a trail dog, attuned to the mountains I hike, alive to adventure and interested in other dogs but never possessed by them; he does not bite, snap or bark but outruns the dogs he meets or runs alongside them with joyful abandon.
Ah yes, but Pip is a pit bull, or at the very least a mix of some kind, although he looks pure bull dog to me. And we hate pits; we harass them off sidewalks, chain them in doghouses, put them down at the first possible excuse. On the trail, hikers will flinch away from him and he will learn to dart into the bushes to avoid arousing their suspicions. There is nothing he can do about it, anymore than Dickens’ Pip could do anything about his orphaned state. The world has made its decision, and it will stick with it. Orphans are throwaways. So are pit bulls.
I have never understood prejudice although I grew up encased in its most virulent form, in the pre-integration south. Hatefulness always seems to me put on, curiously beside the point, as though an evil wind passed through and deposited nasty expressions and ugly words randomly as it passed. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who genuinely hates another person, or an animal, because of race or breed or color, although I have met many who pretend to for mysterious reasons. And that pretense is lethal, as we had to learn again, for our sins, in Charleston; those hateful words, whether meant or not, will kill.
I will have to protect Pip against the same tide of distrust and dislike, which he will never be able to dispel, nor will I.
Useless to say, as many owners of pits do, that they are extraordinarily intelligent, even in their way wise; that their charms are subtle and discreet and all the more powerful for that; that they are the best of companions, inside and out, and instantly appear at one’s side when there is any distress. They are not guard dogs and they do not fight, except when they have been perverted by cruelty, have submitted to having their ears and tails knifed off and to being chained day and night in small yards. They are driven mad then, just as men in solitary confinement are driven mad. We know how to do that and we do it skillfully and often to men and animals.
So black Pip and I will make a team, and we will have some difficult moments, but at the end of a strenuous day in the mountains, he will lie down by my side as he did in the dusty yard at the pound, glance at me once, then rest his noble head on his paws, home for good, and safe.