I wanted to see the monster up close. My jugular pulsing in my exposed neck, I slowly -- think like the Crocodile Hunter! -- lowered my face near the maneater's stormcloud-colored head of fur.
Only a few inches remained between me and the breed of dog the Etowah City Commission voted Monday night to ban from its city.
"This is a true pit (bull)," said Karen Walsh, executive director of the McKamey Animal Control and Adoption Center.
Then the beast lunged.
And I got licked. And licked. All over my face. Slobbered to death, by pit-bull kisses.
"This is Cindy Lou," said Walsh. (Like Cindy-Lou-Who. You know. Dr. Seuss.)
"I love to give hugs and kisses," said the sign above Cindy Lou's kennel.
What? Hugs and kisses? Dr. Seuss?
"The mere possession of pit bulls poses a significant threat to the health, welfare and safety of Etowah citizens," reads Ordinance 732, which also describes the pit bull in nightmarish ways: a tendency to attack, tear flesh and fight to the death.
It's another example of the demonization of the American pit bull, the canine version of our Salem witch. Thanks in part to dog-fighting mystique (great going, Michael Vick), redneck culture and the media's tendency to overhype certain dog attacks, the pit bull has become a cultural devil onto which we project fears, stereotypes and biases.
"There are other ways to address this problem than banning a breed," said Walsh.
Yes, pit bulls attack. But not because they are pit bulls, Walsh said, but because any aggressive tendency has been overencouraged and overbred by bone-headed owners, dog-fighters and dope dealers who surround their drug houses with chained-up pits.
"You could make any dog aggressive," said Walsh.
One national group that studies canine behavior found that the American pit bull tested better in temperament than, say, a bearded collie or Chinese shar-pei. A recent University of Pennsylvania study on canine aggression identified breeds most likely to bite humans.
Picturing a junkyard dog with Confederate mud flaps nearby? Think again, amigo.
"This is Lady Bird," Walsh said, holding up a brown dog about as big as a bowling pin (and ugly as a bowling shoe).
"When a pit bull bites somebody, it is serious," she said. "Small dogs like Jack Russells and Chihuahuas bite people more, but most people don't report it."
Forty-two percent of all dogs at McKamey are pit bull breeds. So bad is the problem that Walsh is campaigning to neuter or spay 1,000 pit bulls in the Chattanooga area.
The folks in Etowah (who join Miami, Denver and other U.S. cities that have adopted anti-pit legislation) may have their hands full, as pretty much any dog with a squarelike head and stocky body can be considered a pit.
But pit bulls aren't the only animals with stigma. In East Ridge, a family who owned a pygmy goat -- first-graders can be bigger animals -- is moving to Georgia because the City Council won't allow pygmy goats as pets. In Chattanooga, citizens are working to overturn the ban on keeping urban chickens.
In the meantime, Cindy Lou sits in her kennel, slobbering all over her pink octopus squeaky toy. This Saturday is National Pit Bull Awareness Day. Somebody, go adopt that dog.
Just watch out for the Chihuahuas while you're there.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...