Ever since the first camp wolves came to live with our stone-aged ancestors, humans and dogs have been beating the darkness together.
Animals that have suffered terrible abuse — episodes of horror beyond description — develop an odd sort of pack dynamic with stronger animals. Oftentimes, they’ll find the biggest and strongest pack member around, and live as close to its scent as possible. The logic being that the scent of the stronger animal (even an animal of another species, like a human) will scare away predators. That’s how we end up with lap dogs, or dogs that sleep in your pile of dirty clothes, next to your shoes, or in your chair or bed when you leave.
Looking at the blissful smile on Emma Wishenski’s face, pressed as it is into the chocolate-brown fur of a 73-pound pit bull named Jeffrey, it’s hard not to see a certain familiarity of concept.On the morning of December 14th, 2012, Emma had a doctor’s appointment — one that made her fatefully late for another appointment at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Emma barely missed the predator Lanza’s killing spree; only in her imagination did she ever watch the boogeyman, stalking from room to room and slaughtering her friends and teachers. Only in her dreams did she imagine herself hiding under a desk as bullets turned her classmates into bloody heaps of dead hope.
But dreams and reality aren’t so far separated in the minds of children like Emma. Emma might have survived a predator’s rain of bullets through luck, but fear haunted her relentlessly, and little could bring that once-easy smile back to her face. After all, what comforting words can Mom and Dad give when you find out first-hand that the boogeyman is real? Emma needed a hero.
Jeffrey, at one time, needed one too. Jeffrey had the misfortune of being born a pit bull in New York, and placed in an animal shelter. And he was one of hundreds sentenced to death that day for the crime of being born the wrong breed. His hero came in the form of Michelle Houston, a Hospice Worker who had found him through the Bruised Not Broken animal advocacy site. Michelle arrived just in time, adopting Jeffrey mere hours before his schedule execution.
Recognizing Jeffrey’s sweet nature and love of people, Michelle decided on a fairly radical life direction for this member of a “notoriously violent” breed. Two years later (long after he had been both obedience trained and certified by the American Kennel Club as a therapy dog), Jeffrey “The Positively Peace Pit Bull” found himself at a Christmas Party at Sandy Hook elementary.
Among the many survivors at the Christmas Party was Emma. Quickly, Emma’ innocent smile returned like the sun from an eclipse. She was delighted by the way this beast of a dog, this four-legged embodiment of canine violence, curled into a ball, rolled on his back to expose his soft tummy, and tucked his paws up to expose those silly painted toenails. Mimicking Emma’s smile with his own doggy grin and lolling tongue, Jeffrey was pleased as a peach to make his new best friend laugh. Jeffrey’s friendship was so true that he even showed up at Emma’s 9th birthday party, decked out in party hat and occasion-appropriate nail polish.
According to her parents, Emma never stops smiling when Jeffrey’s around.
These days, Jeffrey has his own Facebook page and over 700 fans (a lot more now we’re guessing), and Emma dreams of becoming a veterinarian. But, sadly, it’s not her only dream. Too much has happened in Emma’s young life for her to never again dream of the boogeyman, the darkness of his presence as palpable as the shadow on a classroom door.
Now, though Emma has an ally against the night. She can fight back. Jeffrey, The Positively Peaceful Pit Bull is there. Those enormously pointed teeth, made to hold tight to a throat, will never turn on her. The solid, muscled flanks that Emma felt ripple under her hand give her strength, and even Jeffrey’s silly, painted toenails would become digging claws at the boogeyman’s chest. His calm, steady gaze, and the subtle, Earthy scent she breathes from his chocolate coat say “Stay by me.”
Once minutes from death, now friends for life, Emma and Jeffrey continue to rescue each other from darkness.
Watch a news report about Emma and Jeffrey here: