If I'm not complaining, I'm probably dead. I know this about myself; it's not one of my better qualities, but it's there. Fortunately, I believe that in order to complain about something, you have to be willing to take the necessary steps to make things better. This philosophy is why I vote. It's why I volunteer to be on committees at work. And it's why for the last few years, I've been on the A Rotta Love Plus education team. Most pit bull owners, myself included, can tell stories about people who cross the street to avoid their dogs. Or people who will be petting their dog and then suddenly stop and back with a look of horror when told what breed of dog they're touching (because me saying, "(S)He's a pit bull" is actually code for, "Attack! Attack!"). I don't have the patience needed to educated these people. So instead, I tackle the next generation. I firmly believe that ignorance is a 100% curable disease (stupidity is, of course, a different matter).
The ARLP education program works mostly with children, and children are remarkably and wonderfully open-minded. I've been itching to get Rubi into the program for a while, but I wanted to wait for the right environment. I wanted a site that I'd done before so I would know what to expect. Not only the building and the room, but also what the kids were going to be like. Some groups can be really wild, and I didn't want to put the added stress on myself to control the kids and Rubi at the same time. I also wanted to do a program without any other dogs, for obvious reasons. I have no doubt that Rubi will be able to do programs with other dogs in the future, but again, I didn't want the added trouble.
I decided that our debut program would be at the Science Museum of Minnesota's "Get Set to Be a Vet" class. ARLP has been working with the Science Museum for several years, and every year I've volunteered for it because dude - you get to take your dog into the Science Museum! How cool is that?
The day of the program with Rubi, I went the extra mile to make sure Rubi was well exercised - literally. We biked for about three miles and came home to play ball with the other dogs. After forty-five minutes of ball, I was a little worried that she hadn't fallen over from exhaustion yet. When I first got Rubi, we went out for a walk. A mile from home, she laid down and refused to go another step. I managed to coax her half a mile back, but I ended up carrying her the last half mile. How we have both changed!
I loaded Rubi up into the van and headed out. Rubi regards car rides as the greatest of adventures, and this trip was no different. She sat in the crate watching the world fly by, ears up, grinning like Peter Pan. I have a terrible habit of being late to the Science Museum, so I made sure that we left in good time. As a result, we were twenty minutes early. As I geared up and got us going, I quietly begged my dog, "Please, if you behave, you can have a whole can of green tripe for dinner. Please." She gave me this look, which I thought was rather cryptic:
Those twenty extra minutes flew by, and before I knew it, it was game time. We piled into a room with about ten eight-year old girls who immediately start ooh-ing and awe-ing over B (although thankfully remaining in their seats a respectful distance away - have I mentioned how much I love the Science Museum kids?). Upon seeing the them, Rubi lights up and starts doing the Pit Bull Wiggle'n'Wag Slut Dance. I gently tug B over to her mat and get her settled. Luckily, while she's clearly excited about everyone else, she's still focused on me.
Laura A, the facilitator, introduces herself and the rescue. I introduce myself and Rubi.
"Does she bite?" One little blonde asks warily.
"She sure doesn't," I reassure her.
"Does she, like, put her mouth on you and chew on you?"
"No, she doesn't do that either." I lean in, about to tell a special secret. "She really likes to give kisses though."
The girls giggle.
Laura A talks about stray dogs, what a stray dog is, and what an eight year-old girl should do if she sees one. I spend this time doing unobtrusive impulse control exercises with Rubi on her mat. We do treats-on-paws, Zen doggie, and a few others.
When a stray dog approaches a child, we teach them that they should stand still like a tree, not look at the dog, and definitely not start screaming and running as small children are wont to do. We have the girls practice standing like a tree while Rubi and I walk between them, and I praise the genius that is Kellie Dillner, the lady who developed the Dog Safety Education curriculum. What an awesome idea to first show the dogs that kids aren't all that interesting and let them sniff everyone before doing anything more exciting. After "stand like a tree," we teach what you should do if a stray dog knocks you over, "curl up like a rock." The girls curl up on the floor with their hands over their heads.
"Just don't step on anyone," I whisper to B. She doesn't, but I have a near miss with a tiny shoe.
After talking about stray dogs, we talk about responsible pet ownership. And how to greet a dog you don't know. First, ask the owner. Then, let the dog sniff you. After that, pet the dog's neck and shoulders. The girls get to come up one by one and practice on B. They're thrilled at how she tries to shake their hands instead of sniffing them like she's suppose to. Hey, I'm not going to complain.
"What do dogs need?" Laura A asks once everyone's settled down again.
Food, water, training, a habitat, love.
"What does love look like?"
"Well," one of the girls explains, "you have to pet them and give them treats and attention. That's love." The little girl points at me. "Like she's doing with Rubi."
I look at Rubi. Rubi grins at me. It's amazing how children have a way of reminding you of the important things you've forgotten.
After responsible dog ownership, we talk about training. I explain to the girls about dog sports, and give them a glimpse into everything from tracking and disc to obedience and therapy work. Then, I show them Rubi's tricks. They're very impressed with "touch" when I have Rubi jump to shoulder height to nose bump my hand. I teach the girls how to teach their own dogs "touch," and then I show them how to teach roll-over and beg.
"What do you use for treats?" one girl asks.
I pull a fistful of goodies out of my bait pouch. I have hot dogs, pepperoni, and soft cat treats for my high value; kibble, Charlie Bears, and marshmallows for low values. This leads into a discussion about feeding dogs people food, and then into a discussion about raw diets. The girls are amazed that Rubi gets to eat raw chicken, ground hamburger, and fresh veggies instead of kibble.
"Does Rubi always listen to what you tell her?" someone pipes up.
"Do you always listen to what your parents tell you?" I counter.
"All the time!"
I stare at the group for a second with the sound of snickering from the adults in the room behind me. "Well," I say, "I imagine Rubi listens about as well as you do."
Too quickly, the hour is over. The girls line up to leave, and I bring Rubi over to the door so they can say good-bye as they go. Rubi's in heaven, her whole body vibrating with joy.
"Good girl," I tell her. "That'll do, pig. That'll do."