Yesterday after school my 10-year-old daughter Avery was furiously pecking away at the computer. Too often, this time of day is accompanied with whining, intermittent chants of “homework isn’t fair,” and numerous trips to the kitchen for snacks and distractions.
But this was different. I could tell that her thoughts were flowing and she was in the zone. After reading the journal entry she was working on, her laser focus became clear. She was writing about animal cruelty, specifically discrimination against Pit Bulls. She was writing from her heart.
Describing how it felt when some classmates were teasing her after finding out that she lives with a Pit Bull she wrote, “The next thing I know people are looking up pictures of ‘scary Pit Bulls’ and saying, ‘Look, Avery, that’s your dog.’” She went on to share: “The thing that hurts my heart is when people say all Pit Bulls like to fight and are mean. Knowing my dog you would never believe that ‘story.’ People may be scared of Tula’s 70-pound Pit Bull bark, but they don’t know her for who she is—a sweet, slightly chubby dog who loves to be loved—and my best friend.”
At 10 years old my daughter has deeply grasped a concept that many adults still struggle with: No one deserves to be judged on outward appearances. The essence of someone’s character cannot be seen by the color of her skin or the type of car she drives. Nor can the behavior of a dog be determined by the shape of his head or the size of his muscles. Yet, this type of stereotyping happens everyday, both overtly and covertly. Avery goes on to recount how she replied to her friends, which is really the crux of the issue: “Maybe that’s just your story. Maybe because you think Pit Bulls are scary, they appear scary.”
And she’s absolutely right. We each make up our own stories all the time. Some come from within us, but many come from outside influences such as parents, friends, the media, or society at large. The problem is that somehow we forget we made it all up, and believe our perspective is the truth. The meaning we give to these stories governs how we feel about ourselves, as well as others, and how we show up in the world.
Our feature about Safe Humane’s Lifetime Bonds program that pairs juvenile inmates with dogs is a perfect example of ways we can begin to break that cycle. It allows the boys in prison to tell a new story—one in which they can give and receive love unconditionally and begin to see that they are good people who just got into bad situations. Their stories are not the truth of who they are, and the dogs see them as pure love, nothing else.
This is true for all of us. When I ask people why they love their pets so much, the most common answer is some version of, “my pet loves me no matter what.” Uncombed hair, bad breath, messy room, beat up car, last year’s iPhone… your companion animal knows nothing of your status in this world, only that you are an amazing human being who can do no wrong in their eyes. And what a gift that is.
The moment we remember that our experiences are shaped by the lens we look through is the moment we are free to see something different—choosing to write a new story.
May your next chapter be full of love and all good things—
Janice Brown Gork