They didn't look like the eyes of a killer . . . deep brown and full of mischief. And her bite, when she clamped down on my shoe laces, didn't seem able to do much harm.
Not that it mattered much by then. Pit bull, schmit bull . . . I'd fallen in love.
She was a mistake, the pet shop owner told me gruffly. His prize-winning Rottweiler--German born, with championship lines--had been "knocked up" by the pit bull owned by the folks next door.
Both were family pets; neither had been bred for fighting. Still, it was a volatile mix of two aggressive breeds--a fact not lost on the young men who'd lined up to stake claims to the litter of 13.
This was the only puppy left, the runt of the litter, all paws and eyes and soft, downy fur. If she wasn't sold by the end of the day, the shop owner said, she was going home with the guy from the pizza store next door.
I'd seen that guy . . . the silver studs lining his ears, the tattoos on his neck and arms. I stared at this puppy, tugging fiercely on my shoestrings--and my heartstrings--and I made her mine.
If I didn't know then what public scorn I was courting, it wasn't long before I learned.
"You got a what kind of puppy?" asked my friend, the ultimate soft-touch, with three dogs of her own. "Have you lost your mind?"
My veterinarian handled the 8-week-old fur ball as if she were made of dynamite.
"You know these dogs are very aggressive . . . can't be trusted . . . attack dogs by nature."
My puppy looked up and licked his hand.
My daughter's friend announced she no longer would be allowed to play at our home "because you've got a killer dog."
I schooled my children in the art of subterfuge and tried to dodge inquiries.
"Oh, she's mixed," I'd answer nonchalantly when asked about her breed. And then I'd cringe when my 5-year-old announced with pride: "Her name is Cookie. She's a pit bull!"
I can't say her breed's reputation didn't sometimes scare me. She'd joined a household with three children, a mother and a teenage au pair.
But, oh, how our family came to love her. She was raised gently, with as much dignity as life with children will allow. She slept with them, her head on their pillows, and jumped with them on the trampoline. Mostly, though, she loved to doze the day away.
Mindful of her heritage, I would test her occasionally . . . snatch away her food bowl in the middle of a meal, pry a shoe from her mouth as she chewed it vigorously. She never growled or challenged me but simply stared back balefully.
As she grew older, though, I began to see flashes of that pit bull ferocity, moments that set me to wondering: Was the horror in her genes about to be unleashed?
There was the time a neighbor's Chihuahua charged at her, yapping. She was on the smaller dog in an instant and might have mauled him hideously had I not been there to intervene.
About a month later, she snapped at a rambunctious, visiting puppy, biting his head and drawing blood.
So we stopped offering foster care to strays. We stopped visiting the off-leash park, after Cookie got into a brawl with a German shepherd that had gone after our other dog.
Cookie was still little more than a puppy when she died last year, after accidentally eating rat poison.
In her three years, she'd won over her detractors. Even the vet cried as he watched her die. A more loving dog, he said, he'd never seen.
She'd defended her turf and her family with the intensity that makes pit bulls good fighters and watchdogs--but, conventional wisdom decrees, makes them dangerous to families.
It is hard these days to defend the pit bull, to argue its nobility in the face of a 1-year-old mauled to death by a family pet.
But it breaks my heart to hear that at animal shelters across the city, pit bulls are being turned in--to be put to death--each day by owners now afraid of pets they've raised.