My daughter married a wonderful man named Tyler. Darla came with Tyler. Darla was a typical looking bully breed dog about 7-years old. Tyler assured me that Darla was a sweet pitty and that she would rather greet you with a slobbery kiss on the face than a bark or bite. Ty was absolutely correct, Darla was a great companion and I always felt comfortable around her.
I never owned a bully breed dog, but was familiar with them because they line the rows of kennels at the shelter where I volunteer. From my limited experience with them in a shelter environment I believed they may be getting a bad rap. My observations are that most of them are not aggressive which is counter to what their published reputation compels many of us to believe. But, I'm not an expert.
However, when Courtney gave birth to my first grandchild, Cash, I couldn't help but find myself concerned with Darla being around him. The preconceived ideas that make headlines each time a "bully" type dog bites someone were at the forefront of my thoughts. Ideas like, they are unpredictable, they bite and don't let go, they are a dangerous breed, they shouldn't be around children, they are only bred to fight, and so on... My daughter would, often, reassure me that she was absolutely positive that Darla would never hurt Cash. I grew to tolerate this living arrangement, not only because of my daughter's lack of concern, but also because I would closely monitor interactions between Cash and Darla and I was never able to find a single behavior that would suggest Darla may act aggressively towards Cash. I should point out that Cash did get bit in the face by a dog when he was two-years old, but it wasn't by Darla. Instead, it was by a little Chihuahua.
Daisy, came along a few years later and I found myself less concerned with Darla being around the kids. Then came Holliday and I had lost any feelings of concern with Darla being around my three grandchildren, all of them under the age of 5. Darla was always fantastic around the kids. Never showing a hint of irritation, aggravation, or aggression towards them.
I spent a week with Ty, Courtney, Darla, and the kids in late March. Darla was now 14-years old and noticeably slower and weaker than the last time I saw her. She still mustered up the strength to come and say hello and to be under-foot when dinner was served in hopes of getting a few dropped morsels of human food. I took a few selfies of the two of us and Darla obliged by giving me a big smile and slobbery kiss on my face. Soon after my visit Darla stopped eating and started having "accidents" in the house.
Darla went to the vet and Ty was informed that she only had a few days left. Ty took her back home and fed her steak, hamburger, and anything else he thought she may enjoy. Ty, Courtney and the kids had a week left to say goodbye to their precious family member. Last Saturday, Ty took Darla to the vet for the very last time. This hit me harder than I could have ever imagined. I cried more than once. She wasn't my dog, why did her death have such an impact on me? I think it was because Darla challenged me by having access to my grandchildren. Access that I couldn't control. Access that would have allowed her to kill them in an instant (after all, that's what "killers" do, right?).
Darla taught me a life-lesson on how real the effects are that the media have in swaying public opinion to the detriment of a target group. In this case, "bully" breeds. These breeds make up the majority of dogs in shelters. Not because they are "killers", but because they are status symbols of a culture that our mainstream population is not comfortable with and because they are villainized by the media at every opportunity. We learn lessons from the most unsuspecting places. RIP Darla May.