My second blog on dog rescue is a bittersweet story about Clark.
One cold, grey, drizzly January morning seven years ago, a wet, emaciated, rust colored dog approached me, apprehensively, with his head lowered, in the parking lot of my downtown Louisville office. He was clearly starving, and he looked up into my eyes seeming to ask for help. I said to him, “If you’re still hanging around when I get out of my meeting, I’ll help you out, buddy. I promise.”
An hour and a half later, I walked back out in the parking lot, fully expecting him to have vanished, but there he sat, patiently waiting. I coached him into my car with a leftover piece of some taffy-like Christmas candy I found in the door compartment. He devoured the candy, licking his lips. When I started the car, he began to tremble violently, and he climbed into my lap as I steered the car out of the parking lot. I drove straight to my veterinarian. On the way I called Glenn. He immediately agreed that we would get this dog the treatment he needed and would then foster him and introduce him into our family that consisted of two Weimaraners, Hedda and Max, fifteen years old and ten years old, respectively, and a twelve year old cat we rescued named Lucky.
The City of Louisville had recently demolished Kentucky’s first public housing project built in 1939 called Clarksdale that was located just a few blocks from my office. I realized as I saw all the horrible scars on this frightened creature that he was a pit bull—a pit bull that had been in some nasty fights. Surmising that he must have been abandoned as Clarkdale was depopulated, I named him Clark.
Ten days later, neutered, fleas and lice gone, and a bad hernia on his stomach repaired, Clark arrived home from the vet. We introduced him to the other dogs and cat and began a serious crate-training program with him.
Here is a photo of Clark when he first came home. Notice how his right ear flops over. The cartilage must have been torn in a brutal dogfight and the ear was permanently damaged. Clark also had a chunk the size of a lima bean missing from the tip of his tongue—another cruel badge from his past.
Hedda clearly despised him, Max seemed to like him, and Lucky, clawless and blind in one eye, bit him in the face to establish the clear fact that the cat ruled the household. I’ll never forget the first time Glenn and I took Clark with the other dogs to run freely behind the tennis courts at chauffeurs’ rest in Cherokee park. The little guy smelled the earth and ran with pure joy, jumping high into the air in mid-stride during his gallop. My heart melted, and I was so glad we saved him from certain death at the dog pound.
Here is a photograph of Clark joyfully running at the tennis courts in Cherokee park.
Clark was probably the smartest dog I’ve ever had. I only had to tell him once to do or not do something and he would understand. It seemed as if we had found a special creature, a wonderful addition to our family.
And then one day, about a year later, after Clark had graduated from the crate, and was left alone in the den with the other dogs when we were out, we arrived home to find Max with bites all over his beautiful face, head, neck and ears. It was clear Clark had bitten him badly. Max was fine, wagging his tail, so glad to see us, but his puncture wounds were numerous and required a visit to the veterinarian and treatment with antibiotics. We thought this incidence was just a fluke, but we were wrong. It happened again a couple of months later, so back to the crate Clark went.
And then, to our horror, it began to happen even when we were supervising the dogs. For no reason, Clark would violently attack Max. We wondered why he never attacked Hedda, and then, one night, I witnessed the answer.
I had attended a dinner party at Jack Ruby’s Restaurant and brought home a large bone-in rib eye that I had barely eaten. I split the meat with all the dogs and Lucky, but gave the bone to Hedda as a special treat because of her advanced age. Clark tried to take the bone from Hedda, and to my amazement, she turned into something nearly as scary as Ridley Scott’s Alien. Growling madly, she drew her lips back, completely revealing her formidable canines, opened her jaws, struck at Clark’s neck, grabbed him, picked him up, shook him violently, then threw him down. Whimpering, Clark scurried away. Hedda licked her lips, picked up her bone, and walked to her favorite chair to enjoy her bone.
Hedda, who had been my running companion for years and could easily accompany me on a fifteen mile run, was gradually losing the use of her hind legs and was clearly approaching the end of her life.
Here’s a photograph of Hedda and me running through the tunnel at Churchill Downs. This was during a 15 kilometer Vencor race sometime during the mid-1990s, back when most local road races still let canines compete. Hedda was the first canine finisher that day. She was extremely competitive. I had to keep her on a short lead because she would snap at any runners passing us.
The following April, it became clear to us that it was time for Hedda to go. Glenn and I had to support her with a towel underneath her belly every time she had to go outside to relieve herself. Her quality of life had deteriorated greatly, and she seemed to be losing her dignity.
We arranged for our veterinarian to euthanize her at home. It was a beautiful, spring day. Hedda spent the day on the back porch stretched out in her favorite chaise lounge. Many of our friends came over throughout the day to say goodbye. I had beautiful flower arrangements on the porch, and I played relaxing music on the stereo. Hedda had been on morphine since the previous day and seemed at peace. Clark paid particular attention to Hedda that day, remaining by her side. To everyone’s amazement, when Dr. Gregg Hill tried to insert the needle into a vein in Hedda’s back leg, Clark used his nose to push the needle away. This happened twice. Finally, I had to hold Clark, as I watched, through curtains of tears, my baby girl, my first Weimaraner, peacefully pass.
Glenn and I really missed having the peculiar, sweet, sassy, headstrong attitude of a female Weimaraner, so we decided to get a female puppy from Richard Selby, DVM and Teresa Evans. Little Sophie, an eight-week-old bundle of energy, arrived in September of that year. Fearing that Clark would attack her, I kept Sophie tethered to my side when she and Clark were not in their crates.
To our amazement, Clark fell in love with Sophie. Except for two small bites when she tried to eat his food, he was as gentle as a lamb with her. Sophie adored Clark and was always by his side. The two dogs played constantly, and even in play fighting, Clark was gentle.
You can see the bond between 12-week old Sophie and Clark in this photograph.
In the next two photographs, you can see the pair remaining bonded as Sophie grew.
I was determined to establish myself as the alpha ruler of the house, so much so that Clark would never dare cross me or harm Max again. I enrolled Clark, Max, and little Sophie in an extensive and expensive canine boot camp run by a guy who trains police dogs. After three weeks of this, there seemed to be a calming order established in our household.
And then, it happened again. Glenn took all three dogs to the park and Clark viciously attacked Max, and we had to take Max to the emergency animal hospital.
We were devastated. We didn’t know what to do. I joined pit bull and bully breeds dog forums on the Internet, but, other than keeping Clark crated most of the time, I found little advice. I purchased all of Cesar Milan’s videos and watched them over and over. We tried to find someone experienced in bully breeds to take Clark, perhaps someone who didn’t have any other dogs. We even put Clark on Prozac.
Days would pass and everything would be normal. Here’s a photograph of Glenn reading in bed with the dogs, everyone so peaceful and calm.
And then, without warning, Clark would snap, transforming from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, capable of inflicting mortal wounds.
The episodes begin to occur more frequently. One day in my bedroom, I reprimanded Clark for snapping at Sophie. His eyes glazed over, he started to growl, showing his fangs, and he lunged for me. I separated myself from him with his metal crate, managed to open the door and get him in the crate. He stood inside in a wild rage, striking at me through the crate. Then, as suddenly as it came over him, it subsided. He eyes were no longer glazed over, and he began wagging his tail, panting, wanting to come out to play.
I prayed for guidance. I thought about having his canines removed. I thought about having him put down. I feared someone would secretly report him to our insurance company and we would lose coverage. What if he attacked a child in our neighborhood?
I needed to get away. I went to Atlanta to visit my dear friend Frances Eaves for a long weekend. That Saturday, Glenn phoned me. I could hear the distress in his voice, my heart raced. He had all three dogs in the park and Clark attacked Max without warning. Clark had locked his jaws onto Max’s throat and wouldn’t let go. Glenn tried to separate them. Clark let go, turned around, viciously attacking Glenn, biting into his right wrist several times, ripping open the tissue, exposing muscle and fat.
That was it for me. Right then I knew Clark had to be put down. I would do it when I returned home that Monday. No longer would I be held hostage by something I loved so much.
Glenn’s arm looked terrible. The doctors would not sew it up because of the puncture wounds. I could barely look at it. To my complete surprise, Glenn forbade me to have Clark euthanized—he was not ready to give up. We had a heated argument, and I relented, determined to refocus my efforts to rehabilitate Clark.
Early one morning about four months later, right after the dogs had finished eating breakfast, Clark attacked Max in front of me. Max was such a sweet dog, but he was twelve years old at this point and no match for Clark. Clark bit into Max’s throat and Max let out what sounded to me to be a death wail. I grabbed my biggest butcher knife, but I just couldn’t stab Clark, so I grabbed a heavy saucepan and slammed it into Clark’s spine as hard as I could. The handle snapped off and Clark continued his death grip on Max. Frantic, I grabbed Clark’s back legs and lifted him up. He let go, and I dragged him, still firmly holding onto his hind legs, and shoved him into a crate.
I saved Max, but he was bitten badly. As Glenn and I comforted Max, we looked at each other, and without saying a word, we knew what had to be done. I called my friend and Sophie’s breeder, Teresa Evans. Teresa told me she would take care of everything.
About ten o’clock that morning, I calmly took Clark out of his crate and put his leash on. He was his gentle, happy self. I walked him around the block and let him poop in our front yard. I didn’t even bother to pick up the poop. He loved to ride shotgun in my car. I put on sunglasses with the darkest lenses I could find, put Clark in the front seat, and drove to Dr. Selby’s office. Clark sat up straight the entire ride, smiling, looking out the window—the perfect little gentleman. I cried the entire way, and I couldn’t even speak to Teresa as I gave Clark to her. I did bend over, hugged him, and managed to tell him how much I loved him and that I was so very sorry I didn’t know how to help him. Each time I walked Max and Sophie for the next two weeks, I looked at Clark’s final poop pile as it decomposed and shrank, while my grief grew and grew.
That was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Every time I think about it, I cry. I take full responsibility for not having enough knowledge and skill to have rehabilitated Clark. I truly regret that. I do know I gave that little starving creature all the love that I had and three splendid years in a secure and comfortable home.
When I needed a pit bull character for my story line in Blood Brothers, I found my chance to create a life for Clark the way I wish it could have been. In Blood Brothers, I portray all of Clark’s beautiful virtues, and he will live on forever in those pages.
I call this picture Happy Times. It shows the way I prefer to remember Clark shown here basking in the summer sun with Max and Sophie.
My pit bull story is indeed a sad one. I have nothing against pit bulls or any of the bully breeds. The breeds are not bad. But vile and ignorant owners who promote aggressive behavior in dogs for sport and monetary gain are bad.
When I think about the person or persons who took Clark as a little puppy, made him fight, and then abandoned him, I get so angry. I realize this anger is wasteful negative energy. Karma will catch up with those people. In fact, I have a profound sense that it already has.
Rest in peace my dear little boy.