To say I’ve been looking forward to posting tonight’s National Pit Bull Awareness Month honorees is an understatement. Theirs is a story of two ordinary people doing extraordinary things to change the perceptions and stereotypes that surround pit bulls. Kim Wolf and Thad Stringer are everything the National Pit Bull Awareness Campaign stands for, and I am truly inspired by them and very honored to bring their story to you.
I have just one favor to ask of you all… Please share this wonderful story of how a very special elderbull touched the lives of so many, and the two people who made that happen.
In Thad’s words:
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” ― Aristotle
1 Geriatric Social Worker
1 Pit Bull
= The Original Elderbull
Sarge spent the first 14 years of his life with a man previously convicted of animal abuse and neglect. But those 14 years were just the prologue. The last 3 years were his story. And now that Sarge has passed, in honor of his legacy we are working on the epilogue.
Sarge has a story not unlike that other underdog from South Philly. And like Rocky, we like to think Sarge got better once he found his Adrian and Paulie. Such is the human – canine bond.
After 14 years of neglect and abuse, Sarge and his 30 housemates were rescued by PSPCA humane officers from a row home in South Philadelphia. After a several month stay at the shelter waiting for the court to deal with his previous owner, Sarge come home to our house. Our expectations were low. We thought we were giving an old dog who had a rough life a few peaceful months before he died. Sarge had different expectations. Sarge had work left to be done.
It didn’t take long to notice the affect Sarge had on people. People stopped in their tracks to meet him. They pulled over their cars to see him. Our 14 year old pit bull had puppy-appeal.
With Sarge’s appeal and Kim’s geriatric social work background, it was inevitable that we would be making dozens of therapy visits with Sarge to nursing homes. What wasn’t inevitable was the hundreds of visits that followed. Visits to schools, libraries, churches, synagogues, offices – a list too long to enumerate. Sarge moved beyond providing comfort, he began educating. He was a gateway pit bull.
While we never learned for sure what Sarge’s “pedigree” was, he was invariably called a pit bull by those who met him. And for many who met him, he was the first pit bull they met up close and in person. With his broken body from his past life, Sarge moved slowly and predictably allowing even the most timid the opportunity to love him. But while his body showed scars of a hard life, his eyes conveyed the soft soul inside. Whether we were in the classroom or the boardroom invariably everyone ended up sitting on the floor, surrounding his geri-bed. Perhaps it was the change in altitude, but sitting on the floor it became so obviously clear how unimportant labels were. Victim of abuse, shelter dog, elder, pit bull – those lables fell away and all that remained was Sarge. A dog.
The role Sarge played in our own lives was nothing short of life changing.
We became part of a brotherhood that didn’t care if you were white or black, rich or poor, yuppie or hipster, fit or flabby. We were pit bull guardians and lovers – and we were in this together.
But we became more than just pit bull people: we became part of our community.
We walked (i.e. pulled Sarge in his wagon) in Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Halloween parades. We were a constant presence in schools across the city doing humane education with people we had no other reason to meet. With Sarge, we interacted with elders tucked away in nooks and crannies of the city we didn’t know existed. We met amazing young men in a group home for abused teenagers. We had lunches at law firms, happy hours with bankers. We met them all.
We met friends. Friends who had pit bulls, friends who thought Sarge was cute, friends who we chatted up at the bar….we met so many. All because of Sarge.
We worked with vet students, college professors, corporate officers, scholars, advocates, social workers, teachers, and politicians. We added more friends (both real and Facebook….which became real) to our lives than we could have hoped for. And we adopted Martha Washington and Junior – the newest members of our family – both “pit bulls” from our local shelter.
The education that Sarge shared with snuggles and pets continues in 0’s and 1’s. Sarge’s Facebook page continues as a hopeful source of education and joy (and no shortage of appearances by a certain No-Neck Pug). His blog remains active, aiming to continue to move the conversation forward.
Sarge passed peacefully this summer with his beloved pug by his side. We felt so blessed to have shared three years with him that we chose to share him with the world. We remain amazed by the impact he made and by the thousands of condolences we received. But what touched us most, were the number condolences that started “Because of Sarge….”