I lost Paula Pitbull last week. She was 17. Even though she had a blessedly long and happy life, the grief, the missing, is profound. She was my little beloved.
She came to me at the end of 1997, at about 8 months of age, a rescue from the New York group "For Pit's Sake." They had found her running around the Bronx. I took her back to my tiny apartment in Soho, she jumped up on my bed, and as I went to sleep that night she curled up under my right arm. That's how we slept for the next sixteen years. My relationship with Paula was the longest of my life to date.
It was also the snuggliest. Pit bulls are known as "leaners" because they will never just sit or stand next to you, they have to be touching. Paula was no exception. I did have to warn strangers about her though, telling them not to put their faces too close: She was an indiscriminate kisser and liked to stick her tongue in.
In 1999 I met Jim, and he moved me and Paula, along with her adopted brother, Buster Dawn, out to California. I started working in animal rights, focusing on media, and Paula soon became a celebrity pit bull, an ambassador for her breed. When the Los Angeles Times featured us in their story, "Pit Bulls Out of the Doghouse" it was surely the picture of Paula, hanging out of my VW Beetle and looking fabulous in a pair of Doggles, that landed the article on the front page. Yes, Buster and I are in that photo too, at least in the version of it that appeared further back in the paper. Paula always liked to have us around -- as back-up to the star. It's a darn shame I never could explain to Paula that she'd made the Los Angeles Times front page; if I'd been able to, she surely would have died an even happier dog.
Suggesting that a dog would care about celebrity must sound utterly anthropomorphic to anybody who never met Paula. Whenever we entered a bookstore or a hotel lobby, anywhere with a good carpet and potential audience, Paula would throw herself on her back and start wiggling around until she was surrounded by a circle of oohing and aahing admirers. I am so glad somebody got video of that display at the 2010 Taking Action for Animals conference. It banishes doubt as to Paula's love of the limelight. Incidentally Paula was a 13 year old puppy when that was taken. Don't let any veterinary "experts" tell you that dogs can't be vegan.
When Jim and I were together, we took Buster and Paula everywhere. We knew every dog-friendly hotel and restaurant patio in California. Shortly after Jim and I split up, Buster died and it was just me and Paula, "my adorable little side-kick," I almost wrote, then realized I probably had that backwards. Well, whichever one was front or side, we made a terrific and inseparable team.
As Paula got older, she mellowed. A vestibular condition kept her slightly off balance, leading to rumors that she had developed a drinking problem. By noon she generally looked like she'd had three mimosas. On her fifteenth birthday she was still bounding along the beach, with just a slightly drunken gait, but by her sixteenth it was more of a totter and by her 17th she was bumbling. She would fall down a lot. Age brought a vulnerability that made her even more irresistible. In the last months of her life she couldn't walk long distances so I wheeled her in a stroller, which naturally led to more strangers' choruses of "oh how adorable," which suited Paula just fine.
Three weeks ago, surely in one her fits of drunken exuberance, Paula tried to jump over a fence, caught her foot, and came down with a hard thump. It took us a while to realize she had broken her back left leg. The arthritis in her other legs made her unable to support herself on three, and she became immobile. The vet warned us that even with surgery the chances of Paula ever walking again were slim. Then an x-ray revealed a tumor in her lung. Putting Paula through surgery that was unlikely to be successful, knowing she had limited time left anyway, was an option I actually considered because the thought of letting her go gutted me. But I didn't want her blessedly happy life to end with months of agony, so I forced myself to make the choice that was kindest to her.
Paula died last Wednesday, lying across my chest, as I looked into her eyes and kissed her and told her over and over how much I loved her, and that I would always love her, that she was utterly and completely beloved.
On Saturday I attended the National Animal Rights Day ceremony at Santa Monica Pier, where activists gently held in their arms the bodies of animals who had not died that way. Some cradled piglets, victims of vivisection, whose bodies and faces, now peaceful in death, looked like Paula's. I realized that while Paula had been so important to me, those adorable piglets had been no less important in the grand scheme of things. But they had been deprived of the chance to know love, either from their own mothers or from caring humans. So I close this piece about Paula Pitbull, filled with gratitude for having spent almost seventeen years loving her, and with a longing for the day when all beings get to know such love. I close with a prayer: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. May all beings be happy and free.