Some say that our prayers are always answered, but perhaps not in the way we expect. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Two weeks ago, as my dog Brandy lied on her side, emaciated and panting heavily, I prayed for a miracle. Two hours later she was dead, and I internalized that, thinking my prayers are never heard. But my friend Cindy said no- that was my answered prayer, it just didn’t come in the package I wanted. She said the miracle was that Brandy’s suffering had ended. I had a hard time seeing it that way.
This has been an intense, painful, and profound year. I will always remember 2010 as one of the worst of our lives and yet, it’s possible miracles were being shaped in the middle of the misery, miracles I may not be able to see at this time. It’s possible…
One of the awful events of this year was the ongoing nightmare with our violent neighbor and his vicious pitbulls. It began early this year when they moved in to the rental house next door. A few days later, their pitbulls who were running loose, came after us in our own yard. We first dealt with it in a neighborly way, addressing the new neighbors in a calm manner. Then the pitbulls attacked our friends’ Dalmation, sending her to the hospital. Twice. Then it happened again, and again to other neighborhood dogs, then their Shepard chased my pregnant daughter-in-law down the street snapping at her legs, and finally in May our dog was attacked. The neighbor’s scoffed at our $400 vet bill, as well as other neighbor’s vet bills. And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, the neighbor took it to a new level when he threatened my husband’s life. That was when we ran the background check on this loser and found out he had a previous arrest for assault with a deadly weapon – against a woman.
Troy and I are gentle people. We don’t name call, we don’t threaten, we don’t fight with people. But this awful situation put us all in danger, and like it or not, we had to fight. We put a restraining order on the guy. We got court orders against him and his dogs. The court orders were that he could only take his dogs out harnessed and muzzled only in the early morning or late evening, so other neighbors could walk their dogs safely during the day. He repeatedly violated this court order, staring me down as he walked by, his dogs barking and lunging at me.
For a year, we’ve had to endure the snarling at the fence every time we go into our yard. We couldn’t let Evan ride a bike or play outside at all. We could no longer enjoy the daily hikes that we’d taken every day for the past eleven years. I couldn’t go running in the beautiful hills- had to stay inside on my treadmill. We’ve been prisoners inside our own home, all the while hearing the constant barking and snarling next door as the pits fought each other over food or lunged at the fence at other neighbors who passed by on the street.
Every night I prayed and prayed for these dogs and their owners to go away.
And then last Friday, it all exploded. It was a gorgeous day, so Cindy and I took our five year olds and my French bulldog to the park for a picnic. The kids were playing in the sand, Cindy and I sitting on a picnic blanket with my little dog when to my horror, the pitbulls came running unaccompanied into the park. Amidst a lot of Oh my God Oh my gods…I swooped up my dog and jumped to my feet. Cindy screamed for the children to climb to the top of the jungle gym. Just at that moment the pits zeroed in on my dog in my arms, who they’ve been trying to attack through our backyard fence every day for months, knocking one of our fenceboards loose. They barreled toward me barking and snarling. I tossed my dog over the chain link fence that surrounded the children’s play area while Cindy screamed and waved a stick at the pitbulls. I then jumped over the fence, grabbed my dog and ran to the top of the jungle gym positioning myself in front of the kids. I screamed for Cindy to grab the steel trashcan and drag it in front of the entrance to the play area. Cindy stood behind the trashcan with a stick, ready to strike. I held the kids who were now frightened, because I was crying. Cindy called 911 and called my husband Troy. About a minute later Troy came running to the park, video camera in hand. The dogs charged toward him barking viciously. They’ve wanted a piece of him for a long time. They growl at him through our backyard fence, and every time their owner walks them they lunge at him, straining to break from their leashes. Now they were free and he was standing alone.
I screamed for him to get away but he stood unmoved, video camera running. When they got within a few feet of him, Troy still didn’t move. He was so full of rage at this point he was ready to take them on, and to my amazement, the dogs actually slowed down, then ran the other direction. I was stunned. Troy showed no fear, which seemed to unnerve the dogs (either that or they could see the ten foot tall guardian angel that was surely standing over us all).
I remained trapped at the top of the jungle gym with the kids and my dog, waiting for the police. For forty minutes those damn dogs ran loose, as Troy stood watch with a big stick, and Cindy ran home for help.
The entirety of our Friday was spent dealing with this ordeal. We had the police at our home, animal services officers, etc…and a million phone calls between. Once again, because of these neighbors, Troy lost a full day of work (in addition to the days spent in court and at Animal Services and filing police reports etc).
Is there a reason for all this godawful drama? Are we being taught to stand up to bullies, to be tougher? Are we just having our faith tested? I felt angry as I thought about how much I’ve prayed this year for those dogs to be gone, and how once again my prayers went unheard. But then another thought came. Maybe it took this terrifying ordeal to finally get animal services to do something more than post warnings, and for the courts to do something more than issue a piece of paper.
On Saturday morning Troy drove out to Animal Services to have a meeting with the lead sergeant. Cindy and I both wrote detailed reports of the event (never mess with two writers- the pen is mightier…as they say) which he turned in plus showed her the video of the pitbulls charging at him.
I continued to pray, even though I thought I wasn’t good at it.
Saturday night we were at a gig when Troy got the voicemail from Animal Services. After a year of hell, the officer called to tell us we could finally get a good night’s sleep knowing our neighborhood was safe. The pitbulls had been confiscated from the neighbors.
I couldn’t believe it. Maybe that horrific event was indeed the twisted answer to my prayers. There are a million other ways that scenario at the park could have played out, and believe me I stayed awake that night playing them out in my head. Just moments before, Evan and Olivia had been running races across the grass…just moments. And yet, we were all safe and whole.
What is to be made of all the madness of this year? I know from experience, sometimes it takes great distance from trauma to see anything positive in it. Troy and I have surely been changed but for the better? I’m not sure. Troy said to me yesterday “I may have won the war, but I’m not without scars from it.” (and as a writer I couldn’t help thinking what a great line that was). But it’s true. My arms and legs are bruised from throwing myself over the fence, but what’s worse is my bruised spirit. We are tougher, jaded, guarded - not who we wanted to be, and we are left wondering why.
I may never realize the reason for all of this - there may not even be one. Maybe the world really is just chaos. All I know is I won’t let those people destroy who I am. I choose to be a positive person, in spite of the ugly things that have transpired, and I’m continuing to pray, just because. My prayer today is of gratitude, I might even feel a jaded, guarded slight glimmering of hope …and I will continue to pray until I see a moving van pull up in front of that house.
I'm not sure what I know or what I believe any more. What do you think? Are prayers always answered?** (As an aside, I want to make it known that I am an animal lover, but dangerous animals have no place in a neighborhood. I have known good-natured pitbulls, but the reality is certain dogs are prone toward aggressive behavior. Michael Vick wasn’t arrested for fighting golden retrievers or collies, and you don’t hear about toddlers being mauled to death by poodles. Pitbulls are fighters, and people who own them should be forced to obtain a license and to undergo intense training. Irresponsible potheads with police records like my neighbors should never be allowed to own them.)