A short fictional account, inspired by a true story from “Pit Bulls and Parolees”

On a July afternoon in 1993, Emily’s parents made the fateful decision to take their eyes off their daughter just as a 95-pound pit bull, easily four times her size, lunged at her stroller. The sleek grey dog, all muscle and mouth, was already on top of the stroller with its enormous head covering Emily’s face when her parents turned around. By the time the owner managed to pull the dog back, it was too late. Emily had been licked. She wheeled around to look at the culprit trotting away, and the culprit looked right back—his wet tongue still dangling from his pink mouth. Emily squealed.

There was 80-pound Poncho and 102-pound Scout and then Ginger with the big white paws who really broke Emily’s heart, which Treason very much helped to heal, before Emily left home and pursued her veterinary career. She loved all dogs but she was fascinated by pit bulls because of the strong bonds they formed with their owners; she also saw first-hand the struggles of finding them homes. Emily believed that by carefully observing and listening to dogs we can understand what they are communicating and learn how best to care for them. She built a successful practice in New Orleans on this philosophy. But there was one dog that Emily would never forget, because he reminded her that even the most highly skilled caretakers cannot always make sense of a dog’s behaviors.

Domino bounced from shelter to shelter in New Orleans as a puppy until he finally found Lacy. Described as a “terrier mix,” Domino was all pit bull in appearance with brown eyes and black and white fur covering his pudgy body. Lacy and Domino were immediately connected and spent seven years together. As Domino reached his eighth birthday, things had changed. There were fewer walks, fewer cuddles, and almost no visitors to sniff. Lacy confused Domino by laying motionless for hours until one night in a haze of lights and noises Lacy was gone and Domino found himself loose on the streets. After more than a year looking for his home and fending for himself, Domino was caught and behind bars again, this time at a shelter that specialized in pit bull rescues.

The shelter gave Domino almost five months but still could not figure him out. He came with no history. He was going blind. He showed injuries, maybe from the streets or maybe from abuse. And he was aggressive—very aggressive. He barked and snapped uncontrollably when people approached. He could not be trusted outside a pen without multiple handlers. They tried everything but the decision to have a vet euthanize him was necessary to make space and resources available for another dog.

The handlers took Domino (they called him Siren) to the vet. That vet was Emily. When the handlers brought Siren into the examination room, Emily recognized him immediately as Domino, a gentle pit bull patient of hers for years. But this was a different dog. He was out of control, showed signs of physical trauma, and was going blind. Emily went straight to her files and made a call, to no avail. And then another call and another, until Lacy was on the line. Emily explained the situation and Lacy frantically told her what happened, her heroine addiction, her overdose, losing Domino, months in recovery, and then a year heartbroken unable to find him.

Lacy hardly remembers driving to the veterinary office that morning though she would never forget the moment Domino recognized her—his feet dangling above the floor, paws gripping shoulders, desperate to lick Lacy’s face. It was Emily, though, who broke down in tears. She now understood what had happened, and what almost happened. No one could have known that Domino’s aggression was his way of trying to communicate his predicament. I have someone. I have to find her. You have to let me go. She needs my help. Having found Lacy, the handlers were no longer needed.

This story could end on any one of the many evenings Lacy and Domino sat enjoying the outdoors in their neighborhood park. On this particular October night they had the park to themselves, the only ones willing to brave a chill in the air. Unbeknownst to Lacy, Domino was now fully blind. He was leaning against her. She was thinking as she often did about how her recovery had brought hope and peace, and Domino, back into her life. She then turned to look at him and noticed his head bobbing up and down in the breeze, his eyes shut, his mouth open in that unmistakable pit bull smile. Domino was possessed of a magical power—the magical power of all dogs—to experience the world in the full spectrum of its brilliance using only his snout.


In contemplating this story, I learned of another pit bull story about a dog that had been abused and tortured by its owners. They set him on fire, cut off part of his genitals, shot him three times, and then left him for dead in a field. But here’s the thing. This pit bull was found. He was treated and made a full recovery. With a caring owner, this gentle dog now lives the life of most pit bulls, relishing the affection of humans and looking for love in all passersby—even though he has every reason to mistrust and fear them.


a short fictional account

Pop was Pop to his granddaughter Anna, who even at three listened to his every word as a doctor would a heartbeat, but decades earlier Pop was Sargent Ledford leading soldiers through rice paddies and jungles in search of an invisible enemy. For Sargent Ledford, the mission was to keep his men alive. “Leddy,” as they called him with affection, was 24 years old when atop a levee in the Mekong Delta a bullet exploded through the atmosphere not inches from his ear. Three of his men were hit before Sargent Ledford could turn around. The platoon dove for cover under heavy fire, but Sargent Ledford readied his weapon and rushed back up the muddy bank to pull the three fallen soldiers down the hill. This he did without hesitation, and although his tour was full of many such acts, it was after this incident that his soldiers’ eyes glistened when they saluted him or shook his hands, which they did often.

Anna was born just as Pop retired, and with her parents crisscrossing the country for conferences and symposiums, Anna and Pop spent many years together. Anna’s laughter was Pop’s medicine, but when Anna’s silliness turned to curiosity and attentiveness, Pop came to see himself in Anna more so than he ever saw himself in his academic-minded son. And it was this that gave Pop comfort in bringing Anna with him during his home visits as a volunteer hospice worker in Durham, North Carolina. Through doors left ajar, Anna watched Pop at work. She noticed the words he used, his touch, his calm demeanor. Pop always emerged from these darkened rooms and picked Anna up and carried her to the car. It was during these many car rides that Anna listened to Pop talk about being a soldier, the war, his career in the army, and life and death. He told Anna his hospice work gave him a sense of purpose, like he had in the military.

Pop died when Anna was eight. She ran to his car, jumped inside, and refused to get out. But Anna’s young heart healed quickly and Pop faded from her memory. Anna finished school and then college, but with the vigor of an assembly line worker clocking in and clocking out, day after day—ever hounded by her parents to do more with her life. But Anna was content. After college she started work as a manager at a supermarket in Raleigh. She became the general manager after a few years and lived a comfortable life. She dreamed of little more than evenings at home in her apartment and holidays with her parents and extended family. Anna enjoyed the opportunity to talk to her family, now scattered around the country, but she had become adept at steering conversations away from her life.

Anna was 34 when she reached for a bottle of aspirin at work just as it exploded off the shelf. And then a bottle of Tylenol, and then a bottle of Advil, and then Anna hit the ground. Through half-closed eyes she saw others on the ground too, not moving, some moaning, some in growing pools of red. Her fear was secondary to her sense of helplessness. She had to wait. When the silence came, Anna crawled to each pool to do whatever she could do. Anna’s parents were concerned that she would feel guilty for surviving when so many had not. But Anna felt something totally different. Within two years, Anna became a nurse. Within weeks, she developed a reputation for facing the most challenging situations at the hospital.

When the 2020 pandemic hit, Anna volunteered to work double shifts. In April, Anna tuned out the clanging and clapping as she left the hospital for the night, determined to sleep well so she could return early in the morning. By December, her hospital was overwhelmed. In the ICU, Anna watched as Pop after Pop died with only the comfort of her touch. For the first time, Anna was overwhelmed. It was not just the long hours and the endless suffering, but the reemergence of her childhood side by side with Pop. On the curb by the hospital entrance, Anna put her wet face into her hands as Pop came back to her. Anna knew what she had to do. She got up, wiped her face, put her combat gear back on, and returned to the battlefield to tend to the living and the dying.

At home late that night Anna read about the Mekong Delta, words she had just remembered. She learned that it is a place of beauty and life like no other place in the world, a sanctuary for thousands of newly discovered species. She would visit Vietnam a year later and spend three weeks taking in its beauty and history.


A short fictional account

Victor Hamlisch was not a gymnast. He wasn’t trained as a gymnast. He wasn’t built like a gymnast. And unlike a gymnast, Victor lost all awareness of his body and its position in the air whenever he broke connection with the earth, such as when he jumped off a diving board as a young boy. But five years ago in Fairmount Park, not long after sunrise, Victor broke a gymnastics record—by a stunning margin. With no equipment and no safety gear, Victor landed a tumbling move that no other gymnast in history had even thought to imagine—a forward flip in layout position with twelve rotations and eight full twists.

On the last rotation, Victor bent his knees to absorb the impact on the grass. His eyes pointed sharply downward searching for the ground to return to his field of vision, because the forward motion meant Victor’s landing would be blind and sudden. Victor hit the ground hard. He used all of the strength that remained in his body to stop the flipping and twisting. It worked. When Victor finally stood up, he stretched out his arms and opened his eyes wide. The park was empty at this hour. He heard the leaves in the nearby trees still shaking from the commotion. He looked back where he had started and traced each footprint along his path to the deep grooves where his feet were now firmly planted.

Victor would never tell anyone what he had done. In the years that followed, his friends and family noticed something different in Victor, and Victor also noticed that he saw the people close to him in a new light. But what amazed Victor the most, what he couldn’t explain, was the joy he began experiencing when talking with strangers.