Thursday, October 2, 2008


Ten years ago, I worked in a warehouse, taking calls on the order desk.  One of my co-workers was a furry, four-legged fellow: a pit bull named Gumbo.

Gumbo was the colour of the Grand Canyon.  Kind of a rocky, orangey-yellowy brick colour.  His eyes were the same shade as his coat, so, when he held still, he looked like he was carved from stone.  His pelt was smooth as silk.  I liked to put my hands on either side of his head, on his jaw muscles, big as grapefruits, bulging under his stoney little eyes.

Mostly, Gumbo was just like any dog.  

The hallways in the warehouse building were covered with stucco.  Each morning, Gumbo would bolt from the elevator and press his side up against the white wall.  He'd walk all the way to the office leaning on that wall, getting himself a nice stritchy-scratch along the way.  After he'd been showing up for a month or so, a shiny deposit of  dog-pelt oil became visible, building up along the wall just above the level of my knees.  It didn't seem to concern his owner.

He liked to have his noggin rubbed.  He demonstrated quite an astonishing understanding of spoken English.  He napped in a corner on the hardwood floor.

But sometimes the pit bull in Gumbo came out.

I used to go across the street to a greasy spoon diner on chilly mornings to get a hot, Western sandwich.  It came on that kind of thick-sliced white bread that has almost no crust, cut diagonally, and wrapped tightly in silver paper.  When I got that sandwich back to my desk and opened the wrappings, banners of fragrant steam would unfurl into the air.  They'd stretch across the warehouse to wherever Gumbo happened to be impersonating an obelisk, and tickle the underside of his nose with savoury, tempting fingers.

Gumbo's ears would tent up.  Then he'd arise, shake himself off, and follow the beckoning smell back to the source: me.  I'd be into the second bite, with my mouth full, when I'd catch sight of him from the corner of my eye.  The growling would start, low in his throat.  I'd think of those enourmous jaw muscles, how they fit in the palms of my hands when he was calm, and how they could probably take my head off with one chomp if he got angry.

I did feel scared, but I didn't let it show.  I stood up to my full height, and said in a loud, deep voice: "Gumbo, NO!"  Lucky for me, he accepted my authority.  He'd duck his head down and unhappily skulk away.

I liked Gumbo, but I never entirely trusted him.  I knew that his obedience was conditional.  I'm still on the fence when it comes to pit bulls.  I believe they are to be appreciated with care and discernment, like handling a loaded gun.  You just never know.


Warped Mind of Ron said...

That's a good philosophy for any dog. What's funny is that a lot of smaller dogs can be agressive, but they just don't have the muscle to back it up so nobody makes a big deal about it.

Dianne said...

I think pit bulls have gotten a bad rap because of bad owners.

Even Gumbo, as well behaved as he seems to have been, should not have been allowed to be hanging out in a warehouse.

People don't do their homework before they pick a breed and then they don't do the training work needed and then they don't pay attention.

You wouldn't let a child wander a warehouse without supervision.

My cat is a prime example - left on his own Siren will react agressively to certain things - a man's heavy footstep, an object being dropped. I know these things and make sure I'm around when he is around other people. It is MY responsibility to keep them safe and Siren safe.

Every animal has triggers.

People are the problem.

Good on you for not giving Gumbo the food, it would have started a chain of behavior - he would have come to expect more. And when it wasn't there he would react and people would all be carrying on about why did he react.

This is a subject near and dear to me having worked with rescued animals for years and years.

People are the biggest part of the problem.

Nilsa S. said...

That's interesting. I've always believed that dogs are a product of their upbringing. And if you have a dog from puppyhood, you can choose to train it to behave. However, I think many pitbulls start off with owners who have bad intentions and therefore, it may be difficult to shake off those first impressions.

Karen said...

You went "wolf" on Gumbo. Dog Whisperer would be proud.

whatigotsofar said...

Did I miss something? Why was there a dog at work?

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: Yeah, undisciplined, yappy little dogs are annoying. The owners often spoil their lapdogs and then think it's really cute when they threaten people. I don't find it cute.

Dianne: It's true - his owner did have an attitude problem. She also liked to complain about how "misunderstood" pit bulls are. I guess she wasn't familiar with the concept of psychological projection.

Nilsa: The owner and her friends definitely had something to prove. They'd get together with their dogs, then get drunk, and when the dogs started to fight the drunken owners would try to intervene and get badly bitten. Not very smart.

Karen: Thanks! I love the Dog Whisperer.

Whatigotsofar: The dog was allowed because I was working with a bunch of hippies and punked-out freaks. Most of them had hearts of gold, but a lot of weird stuff went on there.

Mainframeguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
unsigned said...

Pit bulls are great dogs. The only part about them that's bad is when they go up to a baby or small child and tear their face off with their teeth. Other than that they are just fine.

San said...

An entertaining post, as always, Spark. You painted quite a picture of Gumbo. His jaw muscles do threaten.

And I can smell that Western sandwich from here. Even 10 years later.

Aurora said...

Sounds like good dog-whisperer behaviour: Be the calm assertive pack leader and everything will be okay!