New York Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski didn’t start out a Pit Bull person.
“I was just a dog person but never had a Pit or a shelter dog before,” he tells us. “I had a Weimaraner, and my family had a German Shepherd and Maltese/Poodle mix.”
That changed six and a half years ago. As has happened to so many of us, Ken saw a Facebook post from his local shelter—Hi Tor, in Rockland County—about a dog who needed some help.
Ken was on his way back home from Albany, where New York State politicians do their lawmaking, and gave the shelter a ring. He spoke with the person who’d found the dog, wandering the streets; she said the dog wasn’t doing so well in the shelter, and she wanted to get him into an immediate foster home.
“I showed up the next day with a friend to foster him,” says Ken. “He was honestly close to perfect once he got out of the environment—besides an initial bout where he would faint like a fainting goat when he would run around from such a bad respiratory infection!”
Ernie has been Ken’s companion ever since. Not just at home, either, but in the halls of power.
“Sometimes he would sit in on meetings in my Assembly office,” Ken says. “I took him everywhere.”
And Ernie inspired Ken. He has become a committed advocate for our blocky-headed friends.
Last year, Ken sponsored a proclamation making October Pit Bull Awareness Month. This year, he introduced legislation that would prohibit landlords from discriminating against dogs by breed—this bill is seen as a real boon to families with Pits, who have a punishingly hard time finding rentals.
“There’s no causation between the behavior of a dog and the specific size or breed of the dog,” Ken said to The Journal News, pointing to Ernie as proof. “Time and time again, you can point to studies that show it’s mainly the proper training or improper training of a dog that leads to their behavior, and not some sort of genetic predisposition to being mean.”
Last year, at just 7 years old, Ernie was diagnosed with a liver disorder.
Ernie’s vets were able to mostly keep the condition at bay. But recently, Ernie went through several bouts of declining and bouncing back.
During the last bout, last week, “all his organs started to fail,” says Ken.
Still, up until that very end, except when the illness was really acting up, Ernie was able to run and play, and wrestle with Ken’s mom’s dogs—the German Shepherd and Maltese/Poodle mix—and his brother’s Golden Doodle.
“He was able to be himself,” says Ken. “I have an amazing vet—Dr. Howard Gittelman of Animal Medical of New City, NY—who did everything he could. He believes Ernie’s unbelievable energy and toughness probably pushed through and masked the illness until the very last moment.”
After that, Ken wrote a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring note about his dog, who’d kept him company, and kept him motivated to make the world a better place for others of his kind:
I want the world to know that Ernie was special. He was a hi-tor shelter pit bull and my best friend. It is hard to describe the relationship you establish with a dog but it is as deep and as meaningful as the relationships with family and friends. Eyes met from across the room and the wag of a tail depicts the consistency of the bond.
Ernie Boy was funny, affectionate, energetic, intelligent, independent, quirky, devoted and one of a kind. He could tear across a lawn or room with reckless abandon but gingerly greet a child and make them comfortable. Sometimes he would roll on his back making gremlin sounds, asking for a stomach rub; other times he would give you a respectful greeting but be quickly on his way tending to his own business.
I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to share 6 and a half years with. We were a team and if I could tell him one thing, beyond how much I loved him and how much he was my boy, it would be that I was proud of him. His breed is so unnecessarily maligned and because of him a whole bunch of people know that pit bulls can be wonderful family dogs; they just need a chance. Ernie had that chance and we are better for it.
We are so sorry for your loss, Ken. And so glad Ernie had the chance to get from the shelter to the legislature—that his great journey will pave the way for other Pits, other shelter dogs.
It’s a very good legacy, for a well-loved dog.