Angel was a white, heavy-set Pit Bull with a head twice the size of mine, and she came to the shelter after being hit by a car. As a result of the accident, one front leg was slightly shorter than the other, so that when she walked, she had this adorable strut, this irritable wiggle, and a butt so big and noticeable she was nicknamed Kim K.
I met Angel while working in the marketing department at a local humane society, during my lowest of lows. The love of my life had just moved out, anyone who knew me was telling me to go back to rehab, and I was spending all of my money on food that I’d inevitably throw up. Sometimes, I vomited up to 20 times a night. After seven years as a bulimic, I saw no difference between myself and the homeless drug addicts who lived outside of my studio apartment. Their drug was heroin; mine was cupcakes.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how I could have possibly kept a job during this time, but then I remember dogs like Angel. She made me smile with that strut — and how insistent she was to be in a person’s lap, all 75 pounds of her. I’d hold her and talk to her, tell her about my problems until I forgot about them for a few precious minutes. I’d get lost in the emotion I felt looking into her eyes — a combination of a sadness, anger, and disappointment. Angel had been at the shelter for months and very few people showed interest in her. She was surely as affectionate the Bichon Frise I’d grown up with, and better trained.
Yet her bulky appearance was intimidating. And if anyone could understand judgment based on appearances, it was me. Most of the time, my entire self-worth was based on my weight. Sometimes, I closed my eyes in the shower because I couldn’t stand to look down at my body. My body was normal-sized, perhaps even too thin, but that’s not what I saw. I saw what my mind told me, and it was always the same — fat, disgusting, ugly.
The mind doesn’t know everything. This is what addiction and six years working in animal welfare has taught me. The mind doesn’t know everything.
Despite years of therapy, rehab, spiritual retreats and nutritionists’ appointments, I did nothing but grow sicker. I was around Pit Bulls every day. And at my worst, these dogs gave me a place of comfort and acceptance, which I felt I didn’t deserve. With them, I was free from the burden of a critical and often delusional mind. I thought less and felt more. I breathed. I soothed. I petted. I told dogs like Angel the awful things I did in the night, the paychecks I spent at Burger King and 7-11, the food and blood I vomited, the ugliness of the life I was desperately trying to hide — and they’d look at me no different. Actually, they’d look at me like I mattered, like I meant something, like I was a reason for joy. Those eyes, those sweet Pit Bull eyes — they gave me something to live for.
Before I worked at the humane society, I was afraid of Pit Bulls. I’d seen the news stories. I’d seen how big they were. I’d never interacted with one. I didn’t know that a dog is the way that he or she is for many reasons, breed being just one of them. I didn’t know that every dog, like every person, is different. I didn’t know that Pit Bulls would come to be the great passion of my life and ultimately help me to heal.
According to the National Association of Anorexia and Eating Disorders, 24 million people of all ages suffer from some kind of eating disorder, and only 1 in 10 seek treatment. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, underscoring the widespread nature of this often silent condition. In some small way, I hope that my story (which I’ve shared on Salon as well) will encourage more sufferers of addiction to turn to animals — whatever animals they are drawn to — as a source of love and healing.
I’m still turning to Pit Bulls, and I hope I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
My definition of beauty has changed. What I once ran from, what I once didn’t understand, I can find beauty in today.
#pitbeautiful = uniquely, unconventionally beautiful
Every dog, like every person, is different. Let’s change society’s perception, and help spread awareness about #pitbeautiful dogs across the country in need of homes. Join me in sharing adoptable pit bulls on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #pitbeautiful.
1. Wilson #pitbeautiful, available through Karma Rescue
2. Bambi #pitbeautiful, ready for adoption through the San Diego Humane Society
3. Gentle Ben #pitbeautiful, available from It’s the Pits
7. Faith, #pitbeautiful, available from It’s the Pits.
8. Juliet, #pitbeautiful, available through No Kill Los Angeles.
Do you know Pit Bulls in need of homes? I encourage you to post them in the comments below and use the hashtag #pitbeautiful.
Read more about Pit Bulls:
Read more about the bond between humans and dogs on Dogster:
About the author: Shannon Gusy is a San Diego-based writer and hardcore animal lover. She is working on a memoir about eating disorders, pit bulls, and the courage to change everything. Follow Shannon on Twitter.