I’m going to stray from the usual format today. Many, if not all, of the stories shared with you over the past couple of weeks detailed people who found their inspiration through a dog. Their relationship with one special dog helped to change and better the lives and the futures of many other dogs and people.
Today’s story is no different, with the exception that it hits home for me because its about my dog, Tiffin.
When I decided to honor inspiring individuals during the month of October, I already knew who would fill the spot for today – National Pit Bull Awareness Day. My first pit bull, Tiffin, was the inspiration for my work with pit bulls, and my love for him blossomed into a love of the breed. He was the inspiration for Bless the Bullys, for the work and time dedicated to fighting breed specific legislation, and for National Pit Bull Awareness Day. It seems only fitting that Tiffin be honored today of all days.
Tiffin passed away this February at the age of 13. I was devastated. In a way, I still am – part of my heart will probably always be broken. Many believe in soul mates, although most view a soul mate as a somebody — another person — who makes you whole or complete. I’ve always had difficulty forming bonds with people, which is probably why I bond so strongly with animals. Tiffn was, in a way, my soul mate. I believe with all my heart that he was meant to be mine. His life was meant to be an inspiration for me. In his passing, the work that I continue to do will be his legacy and done in his memory. When the idea of honoring individuals came up back in May, I thought by now I would be in a place where I could write about Tiffin without sadness. But I’m not there yet. I miss him every day.
To the average person, there wasn’t anything extraordinary about Tiffin. He wasn’t a therapy dog, he didn’t have his CGC, he didn’t even do any special tricks. But he was extraordinary to me. We shared an incredible bond. He was my best friend. He was my confidant. We set out on unchartered territories together. The two of us picked up and moved 700 miles away from home and started a new life in Tennessee. We had adventure after adventure together. We climbed mountains and we played in the ocean. I took him everywhere with me. That incredible bond was the one thing I so wanted to share and why I got involved in rescue. The thought of helping people find that same bond with their adopted dog still excites me!
Tiffin had a soul, he was deeply sensitive, and he loved his “granny.” When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Tif and I went home when she had a mastectomy. As she was getting ready to go to the hospital, Tiffin paced the floor nervously – he knew something was going on. When my dad came home later that evening, without my mom, Tiffin kept walking to the door looking for her. He would look out and let out these long sighs. He was up all night – walking from window to window, front door to back door – waiting for her to walk through. When she came home from the hospital the next morning, she was hurting and she was extremely sick. My dad, of course, wouldn’t let Tiffin in the bedroom, so he lay at the door…waiting patiently, guarding his granny. She emerged from the bedroom later, and Tiffin never left her side. I would hear her talking softly to him, his head resting in her lap, both of them peaceful and content with each other’s company.
He had a mischievous side that would get him into “trouble.” He loved to be out on my grandmother’s farm. One afternoon while we were out in the pasture, Tif began playing with a calf. He would get down into that half crouch, and then do the zig-zag thing and run around. The calf would chase him a little, and Tif would chase in return. When the calf darted off down the hill, Tiffin followed just like the game had gone before. A minute later, here comes Tif, charging up the hill full speed toward me, mama cow in fast pursuit. What does Tif do? He plants himself right behind me, and then peers out from behind my leg as if to say, “HA! What are you gonna do now? My mom will protect me!”
And protect him I did. Having a pit bull in my life exposed me to an ugly side of humanity (or lack thereof). The judgment…the very real hatred…the brutality…all heaved onto a group of animals out of ignorance. Having Tiffin in my life, a dog that I loved so very much, and knowing there are people in the world who want to eliminate all dogs like him, forced me out of my introverted comfort zone. Had I been asked ten years ago if I would be traveling across the state of Tennessee addressing city councils and speaking at public engagements, I would have laughed you out of the room! But I looked at Tiffin, a piece of my very heart and soul, and I realized that I couldn’t be quiet and wait for the day BSL came to my city. I had to stand up and be his voice and the voice for dogs like him and owners like me. My love for him gave me the courage to stand up for what I believed in so strongly because of him.
Because I took Tiffin absolutely everywhere that I could, he had a lot of interaction with different people, and he changed a lot of minds about pit bulls. His silly, playful, and warm personality made him instantly endearing to anyone he met, whether that be a pizza delivery kid or a State Representative. He even inspired people that I worked with during the last 13 years to stick up for the breed when they heard negative comments about pit bulls. Nothing spreads the truth about the breed more than an extraordinary breed representative, and Tiffin was indeed that.
Tiffin had a wonderful life. I have 13 years of pictures and memories to show for it, but I don’t have him, and that’s a pain and emptiness that only time can mend. I wouldn’t trade those 13 years for anything, and despite the pain I feel now, I’d do it all over again, exactly the same, with Tiffin right by my side, exactly where he was meant to be.