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Running With It
It all started five years ago with Sports Illustrated. On the cover was a light brown dog sitting with her tail tucked and her head tilted to the side. One ear down, one up. When I first glanced at this picture I was fifteen and I knew little about pit bulls, so the image on the cover didn’t spark much of a reaction. In fact, as far as I knew, the dog on the cover wasn’t a pit bull. She wasn’t barking or chained up or posing in front of someone trying to look tough and so to me, she wasn’t a pit. She didn’t match my definition and so to me she was simply a dog. But, then again, she was a dog on the cover of Sports Illustrated and so I took a look at the title: “Vick’s Dogs: The Good News out of Bad Newz Kennels by Jim Gorant”.
It’s been four years since I first read that story. Four years of pit bulls. Aside from the three pits that my family adopted during that time, I have worked with hundreds of pit bull type dogs from all kinds of backgrounds. I started in the Bay Area then spent a year in Philadelphia and now I am in the Los Angeles area. I have other pursuits in my life (school, football) but nothing compares to working with the dogs. I plan to always work for these dogs and it’s amazing to think that it all started with one story. One story was the catalyst for something I plan to do for the rest of my life.
Two years into my pit bull work I realized that working at the shelter wasn’t enough. I saw so many things that people in the outside world could never imagine and I knew that many of these things could help change peoples’ minds. Or maybe, at the very least, they would make people think. Over the years all these stories and all these thoughts on the struggles and triumphs of pits had built up and I constantly found myself wishing that everyone could walk down the shelter kennels and know the pits like I knew them. I wanted everyone to shift their attention from the newspaper stories to the millions of pits without families. The world had this type of dog so wrong and I figured that I had to share what I knew in hope that a few people would change their minds. So, as a staff member for my high school’s sports magazine, I started writing. Five months later I had a twenty page story and a teacher that wanted every word of it in the magazine.
When the story came out in the final issue of the year, there was a significant impact on campus. Kids, faculty members and parents who I had never talked to came up to me and told me that they were looking at pits with a new attitude. I was thrilled at the fact the people were starting to think. I was thrilled that they read past the first paragraph. In reading the story they followed me in to the kennel and met real pit bulls that were waiting there through no fault of their own.
The story got out to different media groups and pit bull people passed it around the country. The National Scholastic Press Association recognized it as one of the ten best feature stories written by a high school student in 2010. It was still on a relatively small scale, but I knew that it would change a few minds and to me that was worth it.
Before I got off the phone with Jim Gorant, the man who wrote the story that inspired me, I had to thank him. Gorant helped me with the story after I reached out to him. As one of my pit bulls stood in the doorway I thanked Jim for bringing this story to the public eye. Without it, my pit bull wouldn’t be there in the doorway and I’m sure there are other people who read that story that can say the same. I often thought about how many lives he saved by choosing to write about the pit bull plight. I could count three in my house. I could count more at the shelter. I hope I can keep counting.
We are never far from inspiring a new pit bull advocate. It can be as simple as a stranger asking to pet your dog and then walking away thinking about the friendly pit bull he or she just met. Maybe, with an image of your pit bull in his or her head, that person will begin to recognize pit bulls in everyday life and know them for their good nature. Maybe they will realize that they had overlooked these dogs simply because they didn’t match their definition for pit bulls. That initial meeting may have seemed small, but it can create a reaction that can jump from one person to the next and you never know how far that next person will run with it. This is how Jim Gorant’s story changed my life and more importantly this is how it saved the lives of my dogs. That kind of opportunity is always around the corner. We just have to be willing to run with it.
Alistair's dogs featured above from left to right: Barkley, Goldie, Queenie