One thing we love about our SociaBulls group
is hearing the stories of so many dedicated owners and watching their pups evolve. Medgar is one special pup with a very dedicated dad who has been helping him get over his fear of….everything. While his dad was originally looking for a running buddy, newly adopted Medgar spent the first 4 months of his life refusing to walk outside his apartment. This 50 lb pup even had to be carried on his first few SociaBulls walks. And he was so petrified of the world around him, it took over half a year for him to wag his tail.
Here is the story of how dedicated his family (including his cat!) were helping him get over his fears, learning to walk, and even the ironic outcome of learning to wag his tail.
We are so happy to have Medgar, Blue and his people as part of our SociaBulls family.
PS. Yes, we were all were clapping for you!
Pitbulls are the new
I was going to get a pit bull and name her Tulip. She was going to be the most outgoing,
fun-loving, and sociable dog on the planet.
She would be the perfect pit bull ambassabor. She’d pick up newborn babies in her mouth and
gently drop them in their crib, unscathed.
Thinking about planning an extravagant birthday for your spoiled young
daughter? – Tulip would be there, saddled up and ready to make the birthday
girl’s every wish come true. Forget pony
rides. Tulip would introduce the world
to Pitbull Rides. She’d put ponies out
of business. Tulip would make pitbulls
the new ponies.
When I was ready to find Tulip, I Googled: “weimaraner pit
bull.” You see, in addition to Tulip’s
talents of gently carrying human babies and giving birthday pitbull rides, she
was also going to be my running buddy.
The weimaraner in her would guide me on my long distance marathon
training runs, and the pitbull in her would push me during my track and tempo
runs. I’d never seen or even heard of
such a thing of a weimaraner pit bull mix, so I was expecting my initial search
for Tulip to come up empty.
But then I found Medgar. One Tail at a Time had rescued
Medgar from a shelter on the South Side of Chicago. I immediately put in an application and was
lucky enough to meet him at Parker’s in Hyde Park that very same day, which
happened to be the day before my first Chicago Marathon. I had found my running buddy. I had found my Tulip.
Medgar refused to walk outside the first 4 months I had him,
and living in the city without a yard and with a dog, this was a huge problem. He was scared of the entire world- noises,
people, dogs, and inanimate objects. As
soon as I would get his leash to go outside, he would start shaking uncontrollably
and tuck his tail between his legs as far as it could go. He refused to budge even an inch and he
wasn’t treat motivated. I tried hot
dogs, chicken, and cheese- he refused to eat anything. So for the first couple months we lived
together, every time he had to go out, I picked him up like a sack of potatoes
and carried him like a baby, down 3 flights of stairs and onto the only patch
of grass he felt was suitable to do his business. As soon as he finished his outdoor chores, he
sprinted as fast as he could to the entrance of my building.
After a couple months of experiencing what it would be like
to tote around a 54 pound baby, we both decided that it was time to do the
normal dog-human thing- you know, I get the leash and attach it to his collar
and then I walk on my two legs and Medgar on his four. There were 14 stairs from my apartment to the
second floor; 12 stairs from the second floor to the first; and 6 from the
first floor to the street. 32 stairs, 1
dog, 1 human and our task was to get to the street without me carrying
I’m a terribly impatient person. Medgar didn’t really care. I soon learned that most things in life with
him would go step-by-step, stair-by-stair.
I’d sit a couple of stairs below him and try to coax him towards
me. Despite my upbeat urgings, Medgar
would continue to shake uncontrollably, as if he had just sat naked through 4
quarters at Soldier Field in late January.
Eventually, he would compose himself, stop shaking, and take the most
timid step you have ever seen. 1 stair
down, 31 to go. We followed this same
pattern for the next 31 stairs, until we eventually got outside.
The whole process took about 30 minutes. And besides walking about 1 sidewalk square to
do his business, he would refuse to walk a step further away from the
apartment. So we would sit on the porch
and take it all in- people, dogs, the Red Line, and CTA buses (Medgar’s mortal
enemy, especially when they stop to lower the bus to let passengers on, letting
out a hiss). All the while Medgar would
shake and shake and shake. He refused to
make eye contact with me and was completely overwhelmed by everything in the
outside world. You could put a filet
mignon in front of him and he wouldn’t even bother to look at it or smell it.
Inside, it was a bit of a different story. When he laid eyes on my 2 year old kitty
Catuli, he knew he had met his life partner.
Medgar is completely obsessed with her to the point where she would have
filed for a restraining order if she were capable. Medgar would never take his eyes of her. As soon as Catuli entered a room, Medgar was
right behind with his nose in her butt.
If he ever lost sight of Catuli when she scampered under a couch, he
would whine uncontrollably until she reappeared.
At first 7 pound Catuli didn’t take well to having a 54
pound pitbull as her shadow, as evidenced by the ever present scratch marks on
Medgar’s snout for the first months I had him. Now though, Catuli walks around
proud with Medgar behind her, knowing she holds some sort of spell over
him. All the “Leave Its” in the world
can’t distract Medgar from her. We’re
convinced that Catuli is some sort of deity that Medgar feels called to
follow. We’re also convinced that Medgar
is part pitbull-weimaraner-feline, based on the way he slinks around sneakily
like his idol Catuli.
Medgar’s other comfort is my girlfriend Kirsten’s dog
Blue. Kirsten adopted 3 month old Blue
about a month before I got Medgar. The
two have become inseparable and can often be found cuddling in bed. Blue is directly responsible for giving
Medgar the confidence to walk outside for the very first time. To this day, Medgar will put up a fight to go
outside unless Blue, Kirsten, and I are all walking out the door with him.
Using your Cat to
Walk your Dog
We tried over the counter calming medications in the form of
liquid drops and pills. We tried the
Thundershirt. We tried prescription
Prozac. Name an anti-anxiety treatment
for dogs- we tried it and it didn’t work.
The poor guy is so fearful that when he would accidentally knock his
tags against his metal bowl to make a loud clink, he would refuse to eat from his
bowl, or any bowl for that matter for the next several days. He would only eat his meals from my hands.
I tried many out of the box tactics to entice Medgar to walk. Given his affinity for Catuli as described
above, I decided to use her as motivation to walk. With Medgar in one hand and Catuli in her
carrying case in the other hand, I thought I had found the perfect
solution. I didn’t care how crazy it
looked to take my cat with me every time I had to walk my dog, Medgar needed
the exercise and I lived yardless in the city.
Walking on leash was the only way Medgar could get his exercise. Dog in one hand, cat in the other, we
embarked on what I thought would be Medgar’s first walk. One step down, two steps down, and that was
it. He completely pancaked and started
shaking uncontrollably. His goddess
Catuli couldn’t even conjure up in him the courage to walk.
I’ve learned not to take for granted things humans normally
do with their canine companions. Like,
for example, walking them on a leash and then walking to the nearest garbage to
throw away their waste. After doing his
business, Medgar refused to walk anywhere away from home, including to the
garbage can. Which meant I had to take
him outside, pick up his poo, take Medgar back inside, and then go back outside
to throw away the bag. This was just
another exercise in patience Medgar had decided to impose on his terribly
Eventually, we got Medgar to walk the ¼ block to the nearest
garbage can. As soon as he heard the
garbage can lid close, he would attempt to bolt home. So I figured we could try another unorthodox
game to get him to walk. Before I took
Medgar out, I walked to the garbage can and moved it a foot further. I went
back to get Medgar, and we started walking.
He stopped exactly where the garbage can originally sat, right down to
the sidewalk crack, refusing to move the extra foot.
I vividly remember the first day that Medgar walked on a
leash outside. It was a snowy February
afternoon and Kirsten, Blue and I needed to walk to the local pet store in
Wrigleyville. It had been 4 months since
I adopted Medgar, and we decided that today we weren’t going to give him a
choice: he was going to walk with us. I
did the normal routine- coaxed him down the stairs to the spot outside the door
to do his business. Soon after
finishing, he attempted to bolt for the door like usual. I held my ground, not allowing him to move an
inch, and he started shaking uncontrollably like normal.
I tried baiting him to walk with us, but as he’d done for
the past 4 months, he refused to move even an inch. At this point, we would usually wait him out
for 10 minutes, and then eventually head inside feeling defeated, as he would
still refuse to walk any distance from the apartment. Today was different. Kirsten had had enough. She took the leash from me, barked a stern
“Let’s go!”, tugged his martingale, and we were off. Medgar was walking for the first time ever. And I had nothing to do with it. Of course he would walk for the first time
without me holding the leash. We went
about 2 miles that day. When we got
home, we were certain that we had cured Medgar.
As soon as Medgar began to walk, he developed severe leash
reactivity towards dogs and select humans.
This reactivity was especially frustrating, since he never presented any
signs of it during his time with One Tail and during the first couple months
that he lived with me. In fact, One Tail
had brought them along to all their adoption events, because although he was
very shy, he was definitely dog and people friendly.
Now, Medgar would lunge and bark fiercely at the very same
dogs (and humans) that he would barely even care to look at as he sat shaking
on my porch during the stage where he refused to walk. Medgar now had enough confidence to walk, but
he was still so intensely petrified of the world that his anxiety manifested
itself as leash reactivity.
We scheduled countless home visits with trainer Emily
Stoddard and enrolled Medgar in her 6-week leash reactivity class, which
equipped us with many tools to manage Medgar’s reactivity. Leaving my Cubbie blue passion behind for the
sake of another love, we moved to Woodlawn to provide a better training
environment for Medgar, away from the dog and human density of
Wrigleyville. As would become the
general rule of thumb for Medgar’s behavior, improvements came slowly,
The first walk we went on was a complete nightmare. I practically had to tackle Medgar the entire
walk he was so worked up and reactive.
He barked fiercely and lunged at other dogs and people. Due to Medgar’s
multiple moods and personalities, the 2nd walk was the complete
opposite- I had to carry him in my arms most of the way when he refused to
walk. The walks were physically and
mentally draining. I kept coming back
because everyone in the group was incredibly supportive and provided a space
for Medgar to feel comfortable while working through his issues.
One experience in particular demonstrates the incredible
positivity and good vibes of Sociabulls that eventually made their way into
Medgar’s brain waves. We were at the
back of the pack and Medgar, as usual, began shaking uncontrollably in fear and
stopped walking completely about 5 minutes into the walk. I did not have the mental or physical energy
to continue on with him that day, so we decided to call it quits and come back
next week. I was sitting next to Medgar
on the grass as he worked through one of his episodes, when a few minutes
letter E and Mr. B came trotting back.
Mr. B tried attempted to get Medgar to notice him, when finally Medgar let out
a reactive bark. A few minutes later
Medgar and Mr. B were walking side-by-side on their way to catching up with the
group. We caught the group during a
water break, and as they saw us approaching they began to cheer and clap for
Medgar. Or at least I imagined that they
did- handling Medgar on those first few walks were just a blur. But I’m pretty sure it happened. We should have plenty of witnesses. After that standing ovation, I knew Medgar
and I had found a permanent home.
A Leash Reactive
After having Medgar for about a year, it was clear Medgar
would not be the perfect pitbull amabassador I had imagined in Tulip. He’s not kid, people, or dog friendly. While we do everything we can to minimize his
reactions, we can’t prevent them all.
Whenever he as a terrible reaction in public, my heart sinks, knowing
that he’s living up to the negative pitbull stereotypes held by onlookers.
As a pitbull type dog owner, I feel extra pressure for Medgar
and I to be perfect, so as to not reinforce the negative image of pitbulls
painted by the mainstream media. A Halti head collar offers the best
control for a dog that is leash reactive. I avoided using one for the
longest time with Medgar, because if you aren’t a dog trainer or your dog
doesn’t use a head collar, you probably think it’s a muzzle, especially if you
see it on a pitbull. I’ve seen other breeds use the headcollar, but on
Medgar’s walks I constantly have people asking me why he’s muzzled. The
Halti is not a muzzle at all and doesn’t serve the same function. The
Halti is a training tool to stop your dog from pulling and to quickly distract
him and pull his gaze towards you if he locks in on another dog, squirrel,
person, etc. I often
want to tell annoying people who ask why he’s muzzled, “It’s actually not a
muzzle at all, he can take a good chunk out of you if he wanted.” But
we’re good breed ambassadors, so I just say it in my head.
Eventually, I decided that addressing
Medgar’s behavioral issues were more important than maintaining his public
image. Like many other breeds, Medgar is leash reactive. And like
many other owners of reactive dogs, I need to do what’s best to address his
issues, even if wearing a headcollar means he might be reinforcing stereotypes
in the minds of passerbyers. Pitbulls aren’t inherently leash reactive in
the same way that tiny white lap dogs aren’t leash reactive. Although,
based on participatory observation research on the streets of Chicago, I’d say
leash reactive small breeds vastly outnumber leash reactive larger breeds.
The bottom line is Medgar is not perfect, pitbulls are not
perfect. But people forget that pitbulls
are dogs too, after all, and dogs aren’t perfect either. There are poodles that are not kid friendly-
my sister has an old scar on her cheek to prove it. There are labs, vizlas, and collies that are
leash reactive- Medgar has sparred with them all. There are beagles, pugs, and
retrievers that are not people friendly- I’ve seen their stories on Animal
Planet. All different types of dogs have
all different types of issues, Medgar just happens to be a pitbull.
While Medgar might not be a good pitbull ambassador in the
traditional sense of the word, there is no doubt he’s done a lot for his
breed. As is well documented above, when
Medgar refuses to walk, I have to carry him like a baby. There have literally been hundreds of people
on the streets of Chicago that have witnessed me carrying a terrified, shaking
pitbull. That surely shatters the
stereotype of pitbulls being dog and people aggressive. While carrying Medgar, I’ve had this exact
conversation with pedestrians more than I can count:
“Is that a pitbull?”
“Yes, he sure is!”
“Why is he shaking and why are you caring him?”
“He’s scared and doesn’t like to walk.”
“What??!?!?! Pitbulls aren’t suppose to be scared!”
I then proceed to share a bit of Medgar’s story.
Inside the house, Medgar is a perfectly fine
ambassador. After spending an entire
labor day weekend as a guest in our apartment and effectively serving as
Medgar’s Tootsie Pop (we had a lick count but eventually lost track) my friend
remarked as she wiped one last smooch from her skin, “I’m glad my first
experience with a pitbull was with Medgar.”I grew up with a dog. His name was Sparky, a 15 pound apricot toy poodle
that my parents purchased from a local breeder. I was fortunate to have
many animals growing up, from Sparky to cats, guinea pigs, turtles, hamsters,
and fish. My parents were animal lovers, but they weren’t the rescue
animal type. And they most definitely weren’t the pitbull type.
When I was fostering Medgar, I checked with my parents to see if they would be
willing to watch him if I was out of town for short periods of time.
“A pitbull?!?! I’m not letting a pitbull in my house. What if your
father isn’t home? I can’t be alone with that thing?”
I adopted Medgar anyway, knowing his good lucks would win my parents
over. This past summer was the summer of weddings for Kirsten and
I. We were out of town for 4 weekends. During those four weekends,
my parents flooded my inbox with pictures of Medgar and the following
captions. “Look, I made Meddy scrambled eggs for breakfast.”
What about the carefully measured portions of dog food I gave you mom?
Now I’ll be picking up soft serve the next 3 days. “Look, Meddy is
on the couch cuddling with your father.” You don’t even let your
cats on the couch, mom! “Look, Meddy has another feline friend
besides Catuli.” My parents are counting down the days until our
trip to Peru, when they’ll have Medgar for a full 2 weeks. I love the
random call or text from my parents saying, “You know if you ever need a
break you can bring Medgar over to stay the night.”
When you add it all up, Medgar’s done a hell of a lot more good than bad for
pitbulls, proving that even a human and dog unfriendly
pitbull can be a great ambassador for the breed.
Medgar has a white tip of fur at the end of his tail. One day after coming home from work, I let
him out of his room and he bounded down the hallway as he normally does,
whipping his tail around and sniffing to find a clue to answer his eternal,
burning question: where have you been all day?
As I bent down to pet him and receive his breathtaking
smooches, I noticed that the entire tip of his tail, normally white, was
completely soaked in blood. I called his
vet and took him in a few hours later.
His vet, who knows Medgar pretty well, examined his tail and chuckled. He explained to me that Medgar had a case of
Happy Tail. When dogs get so overly
excited and happy, they wag their tail with so much torque that when it hits
something (a wall, dresser, etc), it sometimes splits open. Medgar had to have surgery the next day to
remove a small growth from the tip of his tail that kept splitting open. He wore a heavily padded bandage on the
length of his tail for about 2 weeks that made him look like a
You could tell Medgar viewed his tail bandage as a dunce cap
or scarlet letter of sorts. I, on the
other hand, couldn’t be prouder. Medgar
had happy tail. I adopted Medgar in
November 2011. The first time wagged his
tail was May 2012. He was so petrified
of the world around him it took him over half a year to finally wag his tail. I
even have a picture of when it happened for the first time outside!
When I returned from the vet after Medgar’s diagnosis of
Happy Tail, I noticed that blood was spattered on the wall throughout our
entire hallway, and on every bedroom and bathroom door. The blood pattern was
located exactly at the height of Medgar’s tail.
I grabbed a rag and some soap. I
don’t think anyone on this planet has ever been happier to scrub blood spatters
off their walls.
“Now you wouldn’t
believe me if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows. From that day on if I was going somewhere, I
Medgar was finally walking.
Now it was time for him to run.
While Medgar would now walk outside away from home, he still refused to
run with us away from home (even if it was the same route we took walking.) So
we started running in his safety bubble, which we determined to be the 4
sidewalk squares outside our apartment where he would walk before beginning to
shake uncontrollably. We would run back
and forth, 10 ft at a time, sidewalk square to sidewalk square. People looked at us like we were crazy, but
Medgar was running!
This past week, for the first time since I adopted him 1
year ago, Medgar and I went for a walk or run for a week straight, seven days
in a row, all by ourselves. Medgar loves
to run and walk by the lake- the water is calming to him, especially early in
the morning. In fact, he loves the water
so much, that he has to be as close to it as possible without actually touching
it. Rather than run on the smooth lake
front path, he pulls me toward the rocky shoreline, where I’m sure one day I’ll
sprain my ankle. But it makes Medgar
happy, so I’m happy too.
After we finish a run together, I look down at him and think
about how we got here. We got here going
step-by-step. It some times took us 30
minutes to get down 32 STEPS at an apartment in Wrigleyville. Now, in that very
same 30 minutes, we can run 4 miles along Lake Michigan on the South Side of
Chicago. And we get to actually cover
some ground on our runs, as opposed to running back and forth on 10 feet of sidewalk. Thank you to everyone that has played a part
in a journey that really is just beginning.
Your Canine Good Citizenship is up next, right Medgar?
There are so many people to thank that have helped Medgar
along the way. First, thanks to One Tail
at a Time for rescuing a petrified pitbull puppy from a local animal
shelter. Medgar wouldn’t be a part of my
life if it weren’t for you all. Thanks
to Emily Stoddard from My Canine Sports for all the hard work you’ve done with
Medgar. I think we eventually figured
him out! Maybe? Thanks to Blue for being
Medgar’s cuddle buddy, playmate, and the only canine friend he is allowed to
touch. Thank to Catuli, our cat, for
being Medgar’s entertainment and eye candy in the house. Lastly, thank you to the entire Sociabulls
family. Medgar would not have been able
to walk outside if it weren’t for you all.
Mostly importantly, thank you to my girlfriend Kirsten for
being by my (and Medgar’s) side throughout the entire way. You’ve gone through countless hours of
training with Medgar, had many the unpleasant experience of reaching into your
coat pocket to find 2 week old, rotting hot dog and cheese pieces, and have had
to watch Medgar learn his bite inhibition by “practicing” with your dog
Blue. You also agreed to break your
lease and move to the South Side so that Medgar could live in a quieter
environment. You’ve been the most
supportive partner I could ask for in dealing with the most frustrating and
stress inducing dog on the planet (even though we both know he’s worth it!)
Medgar didn’t get his perfect
owner in me, and I didn’t get my ideal dog in Medgar. Since he’s part feline,
he’d prefer a human that sat on the couch all day and stroked his head
gently. He’d prefer never to have to step outside the four walls of his
home, but since he must, he’d prefer a quiet place in the country, where he had
a fence and didn’t have to ever be introduced to a leash. He’d prefer an
animal sanctuary, where every day is the same.
Instead Medgar got an owner who is as
equally stubborn as him, and who’s an avid runner that lives in one of the most
densely populated cities in the country. He got loud noises, thousands of
enemy dogs, hissing CTA buses, rattling CTA trains, no fenced in green spaces,
and a choir of heavy machinery in Chicago’s never ending construction
Medgar’s a far cry from Tulip the
pitbull that I had always dreamed of as my companion. And as I’m sure
Medgar would tell you as I wake him from bed every morning to strap on his
leash for a walk or run, I’m not exactly his ideal human. Despite our
differences and thanks to an incredible web of support that surrounds us, I
think you’d be hard pressed to find a better team. Thanks, Meddy boy, for
not being Tulip.