Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ohio, Here We Come!

I'm traveling to Ohio with Savvy, my Pit Bull service dog, for two screenings of the documentary Beyond the Myth, produced by Libby Sherrill. The getting here was tough. It involved a four hour flight from Sacramento to Atlanta--hich I learned on the flight over is the "busiest airport in the world." Oh, lucky me! To think I could've gone my entire life without discovering--much less experiencing--that.

Savvy's flight over was more miserable than my own. I got a coach class seat. Savvy, on the other hand, got to spend the four hours stuffed under a small seat, with me constantly readjusting him to avoid carts and feet crushing his toes or tail.

When the coast was clear, I'd let him stretch just a bit (but he couldn't block the aisle).

A pleasant surprise on the flight ended up being the passengers in the first class row in front of mine. Savvy was situated under a gentlemen's seat, and the man glanced back and down at Savvy, smiled, and asked, "Pit Bull or mix?" I said, "He's a purebred" to which the passenger asked, "Amstaff?"

Few people call a dog an Amstaff unless they know something about the breed, so with a pleasant nod, I said, "Yes," and he proceeds to whip out his cell phone and show me a photo of his two. I asked if he shows them (because of the "Amstaff" remark and the fact that the two dogs looked more like the show type). He said he used to, but it got to be too much.

A woman's voice next to him asks, "Is that Dawn?"

Huh? I wondered if suddenly I got famous and no one told me! She peeks around and says, "It is you! We have Clyde and Zsu Zsu!"

Oh my goodness! Now it all comes back to me, and I recognize both of them. I know them, they've been to my house. What a small world! So, I got to spend some time chatting with fellow Amstaff lovers!

We had a changeover flight in Atlanta, as I mentioned, which would take us to Louisville, Kentucky, our final destination for the night. I would've had an hour and a half to take Savvy outside the airport for a potty break, but since our flight was delayed a bit in Sacramento, I had less than an hour to get all the way across the airport, outside, and then back through security and across the airport again. I tried. I made it outside only to find a concrete jungle without a spot of dirt or grass anywhere.

I let Savvy mark up one of the huge planters that were out of the way and rushed back inside (hoping "number 2" wasn't on the horizon anytime soon for my canine companion). At least Atlanta has a train that gets you from one end of the airport to another, but it's not what I would call dog friendly. The only warning you get before the train takes off at light speed is a "warning, train is about to start." We humans get either a seat or a pole to hang onto. Savvy only had the leash and collar attaching him to me as he was propelled toward the opposite end of the carriage at warp speed.

Neither he nor I had eaten anything all day. By the time we got to our Louisville connection at 8:35 p.m. Atlanta time, I was starving, and I knew he was, too. I grabbed a Chevy's to go wrap from the vendor who was conveniently situated five feet from my gate (the plane had already boarded). I rushed on board and got Savvy situated and out of the way (since there was an empty space between me and the other passenger in this row, he got to stretch out a bit more).

I scarfed down my wrap at record speeds, offering Savvy a few morsels of the chicken and tortilla. The passenger in the other seat was a dog lover, so she was delighted to share the row with Savvy.

We finally landed in Louisville. Savvy was just happy to finally be outside again!

Libby and friends picked us up, and we made the drive to her friend's house where we'd get to crate and rotate dogs. I got to see Joey, a dog Libby originally adopted from us a little over a year ago when he was only about 4 or 5 months old. My how he's grown! His tan and white face finally filled out, and he looks like quite the handsome man. Then there's Fern, Libby's first rescued Pit Bull, and Sarah, the Labradoodle (owned by Gina, the host). Tanner, not seen, is Gina's Lab mix.

Poor Savvy got a potty break and then ended up stuffed in a crate to decompress and be kept separate from the other dogs (I was in no condition to do dog-dog introductions at that point).

We got up the next morning and made the three and a half hour drive (oy!) to Columbus, Ohio for the screening at Ohio State University. We stopped in Cincinnatti on the way and got something to drink at Panera while taking advantage of their wi fi network. The entire state of Ohio declared Pit Bulls to be "vicious dogs," and Cincinnati has its own anti Pit Bull law, but even though the law doesn't say it, service dogs must be exempted under federal law. So, I took Savvy inside Panera with me -- the place was packed, and we got quite a few admiring and curious looks! Although, to be honest, I still felt like a fugitive who should be in hiding, and part of me kept an eye out for police and animal control officers as I mentally prepared to pull out my lawyer sword.

Fortunately, House Bill 14 is working its way through the state legislature. If passed, it would remove the term "pit bull" from the Ohio Revised Code's definition of vicious dog. Visit the Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates for more information.

We arrived in Columbus just in time to get our merchandise table set up. Savvy got a brief potty break. Libby, Savvy, and I were all starving. We'd only had 8 people buy advance tickets, so Libby was a bit concerned about what turnout we'd get, but the theater filled up nicely and seating became scarce.

Savvy and I were seated in the back row, by the door, so as folks came in, they stopped to pet Savvy. A few realized his service dog vest meant, "Please don't pet me," but for that night, I let him go up and say hi and unwind a bit. He enjoyed all the attention. In fact, when one guy offered Savvy a piece of popcorn, Savvy was more interested in licking him then taking the popcorn (though he scarfed it down as soon as the nice man left!)

I found the movie just as powerful this time around as I had the first time I'd seen it. Afterward, we engaged the audience in a one-hour question and answer session. Molly of Buckeyes for Canines and Babes for Bullies was on stage with Libby and me to answer questions.

Some of the questions were, "Should we call our dogs Pit Bulls when asked?" and "How have things changed since 1996? (when Chako started)?"

In answer to the first question, Libby said it's really up to each individual. I gave my perspective and talked about how Denver went through its animal control database to round up Pit Bulls when the ban first went into effect. So, when licensing my dog or having his/her records at the vet, my dog is a terrier mix -- which is actually true since Pit Bulls are mixes of terrier and bulldog. Folks who get their dogs from rescues or shelters really have no idea what the dog might be, so it's best not to try to label the dog and just state its breed is unknown.

One very astute woman raised the point that that may scew the statistics when legislatures say there are few Pit Bulls in comparison to the number of Pit Bull bites (meaning Pit Bulls seem more likely to bite). In fact, the percentage of dog owners who actually license their dog is pretty small in comparison to the number of dog owners. Further, the number of folks who will label their dog as a "terrier mix" when it's a purebred APBT or AST are even smaller, so statistically, the percentage won't be scewed enough to make any kind of difference in that argument. Finally, since just about every shelter says their kennels are filled primarily with Pit Bulls and mixes (and have a tendency to slap the Pit Bull label anything that looks remotely like a Pit Bull--if you have just the right lighting and squint--it's easy enough to get the shelter to produce its intake records and show that Pit Bulls and mixes make up--according to the shelter--a large percentage of the community population).

As to the second question, that was a longer answer, but basically, the media coverage of Pit Bulls has intensified, the dogs have become even more popular--especially with irresponsible owners--and of course social media has (as one woman pointed out) has changed the landscape even more proufoundly.

Afterward we signed posters, Savvy got to loosen up a bit and walk around the closed theater. We munched on some left over pizza that they'd put up for sale in the lobby (about the only real food we'd had all day), and even Savvy got to enjoy a few morsels of pizza. Then, we packed up and made the three and a half hour drive back to Louisville.

The gals from Babes for Bullies and Buckeyes for Canines with me (above) and Libby (below) (and, of course, Savvy).

Now, I'm off for another three and a half hour drive to Knoxville, TN. Next weekend, it's back to Cincinnati, then home to Sacramento! I'll need a vacation from this trip!