Seven years ago, as I was walking through the kennels of the Tallahassee Animal Shelter, I noticed a tiny brown puppy, his back pressed against the metal links of his kennel that lined the shelter’s walkway. I approached one of the staff and asked if I could see this little one. As the puppy turned toward me, I noticed he had a huge bloated belly, as if a cantaloupe was sitting in his stomach.
Rinlee – then named Marvin (yes, Marvin) – was painfully skinny and didn’t walk like a normal dog. His back legs crouched down so far, with his tail completely tucked under, that his butt almost dragged on the concrete as he walked.
Rinlee and Levity’s first photo together, still at the Tallahassee Animal Shelter
I asked another staff member what was wrong with his legs and was told that sometimes the legs of dogs who live on dirt don’t form properly, but that they should straighten out within a year.* Apparently, prior to being at the shelter, Rinlee was in some kind of kennel with four or five other dogs, all of them living in each other’s urine and feces. His bloated belly began to make sense.
Rinlee wanted to be held. He wanted to gain a spot in my lap as I sat on the shelter bench and didn’t pick him up right away. He wanted to follow me. We went to a small enclosed room where it was just us and I proceeded to walk from end to end, side to side, did figure eights, and every time, he followed. When I finally stopped, he came to sit right at my feet and rested his head between the crooks of my ankles as if to say, “Momma, I’m home.”
“No, seriously, Mom. I’m home.”
Rinlee has been my guiding light, my heart, my comfort, my best friend, my bubba, my everything. Rinlee is the reason for everything that I do with dogs, especially Pit Bulls.
He is the reason that I paint, write, photograph, advocate for and love dogs. He is why there is Dog Pawps by Levity, my commissioned pop-art pet paintings. He is why my heart created The Re51lient Project, my art advocacy project that combines my love for writing, art and Pit Bulls into 51 paintings and stories of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels. He is why my love for Pit Bull and Pit Bull-type dogs runs happily, deeply, fiercely and truly.
My painting of Layla, a wily, magical, dirt-hole digging dog, from The Re51lient Project
I was just thinking last night about how lucky I feel and how happy and full my heart is to be a part of the Pit Bull community. That’s Rinlee. He opened, and continues to open, a whole new world for me.
Rinlee, as human as ever, hugging me
Yes, I was able to change Rinlee’s life the day that I adopted him, but he has given back to me that same life change over and over. Rinlee has enriched my life and my heart, and through the actions that I do because of him, the lives of many others.
Rinlee and his puppy
I am so very grateful for what happened that made me go to the shelter seven years ago. It was absolutely the best decision I have ever made.
Thank you for choosing me to be your mommy, Rinlee. I love you more than I could ever tell, my sweet boy.
(*As it turned out, Rinlee was just terrified in the shelter; his legs straightened and his tail untucked almost as soon as I brought him home.)