Steve took them in as full grown dogs when he found them abandoned in a park (Pooh) and on the street (Fancy). He gave them food to eat, a warm dry place to stay, plenty of exercise, and love by the bushel full.
They were, and remained until their passing, pit bulls: If you petted them it felt like petting a coil of steel wire wrapped in industrial carpet. If you were within swinging room when Fancy wagged her tail, it felt like somebody was slapping you on the leg with a rubber hose.
Big dogs. Strong dogs.
And despite their breed’s reputation, two of the loveliest, nicest animals I have ever known.
Now, all animals have the potential of being dangerous, and pit bulls by their size and strength need a little extra precaution, and I certainly won’t tell anybody who has ever had a negative experience with a pit bull that’s they’re wrong in their feelings.
Pooh and Fancy were never treated with anything less that love and affection and kindness in Steve’s stewardship. They reciprocated in turn: Lovely, friendly animals who were always happy to see a friend of Steve’s drop in. In all the time I knew them I never saw them acting aggressively, never heard them growl (they could bark -- oy, how they could bark! -- but that was usually from excitement and happiness).
I bring this up because of the nasty reputation the pit bull has (who was the comedian who said pit bulls were the dog for people too lazy to load a revolver?). We hear stories of children and elderly people being killed by pit bulls, of adults being attacked seemingly without provocation.
Even the nicest tempered animal can lash out at someone who teases or torments it beyond endurance, and far too often young children don’t realize the dangers of antagonizing an animal, especially one as big as they are armed with strong jaws and sharp teeth.
But in the overwhelming majority of stories I’ve read on pit bull attacks and bitings, there always seems to be an element of human neglect and abuse involved: The owner never properly trained the animal, often keeping it chained up or locked in a tiny yard, showing it no affection, teaching it to fear the owner but not to refrain from attacking other humans.
Nobody knows Pooh and Fancy’s histories; as I said, Steve found them abandoned.
But because Steve showed them love, they responded with love. And because Steve neither feared nor hated anyone in his circle of acquaintances, neither did Pooh nor Fancy fear or hate anybody them came in contact with.
I bring this up because of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and literally hundreds of other young African-American men and women who have been killed by frightened citizens and overzealous cops.
It would be insulting to apply as simplistic an analogy as Pooh and Fancy to the problem of race relations in America, but there is something there we can learn from, a kernel of wisdom, as it were. And just as African-Americans most explicitly are not animals nor are they obliged to be owned and control by others, there is none the less a reasonable lesson we can learn from Steve Gerber’s dogs.
When you treat people -- and animals -- the way you would like to be treated, they tend to treat you that way in return.
When you approach a citizen on the street and treat him in a suspicious and denigrating manner, you cannot feign surprise when you receive resistance and hostility in return.
“But they’re n[egroe]s!” some will say. “They’re not like us! They’re not law abiding citizens, they’re demonic animals who charged loaded guns and rape people and smoke dope and crank out babies that they expect white people to pay for!”
And if Steve had treated Pooh and Fancy with rubber hoses, how do you think they would have acted to any other human?