I’m afraid of almost everything. I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. At age four, I started excessively washing my hands; at ten, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; at seventeen, I was hospitalized after refusing to leave my room for several months.

I’m afraid of big things, like death and loss, and small things, like garbage, appointments, and, god forbid, plans with friends.

The one thing I’ve never feared is my pit bull Brenda.

pit bull in pajamas

Source: Ellyn Kail

By 24, I had mostly recovered from my turbulent childhood and adolescence. I had just gotten married to my husband Tim, and we visited the animal shelter in search of a furry companion.

Related: Homesick Dog Breaks Out Of Shelter To Find Her Human

As all the dogs rushed to the front of their runs, a little red pit bull stayed in the back, hiding.

“She has OCD too!” I said to Tim, pointing at the dog curled beside a space heater on a chilly November afternoon.

Tim didn’t want to get a pit bull — after all, he’d heard the scary stories — but he instantly knew Brenda was the dog for us.

pit bull snuggles

Photo credit: Ellyn Kail

We’ve had Brenda for over a year now, and I’ve learned to my relief that she does not in fact have OCD. She is a joyful dog, and although she has moments of anxiety, she is also a calm dog.

Brenda sleeps in a tight ball next to my belly. We call it “Brenda pregnancy” because while we sleep, I can feel her breathe and kick. We’re being silly, but we’re also being serious.

I have had night terrors ever since my hospitalization. I scream often, and Tim has frequently had to wake me, hold me, and remind me of where and when I am.

“This is our apartment,” he says, “You’re not a teenager anymore.”

He used to give me a stuffed animal to hug. Now, he tells Brenda, “Go do Brenda pregnancy!” and she tucks herself into a tiny comma between my arms.  

There have been many nights she’s woken me herself, pawing at the blankets until she sees I’m all right.

pit bull sleeping

Photo credit: Ellyn Kail

Brenda understands because she has nightmares of her own. I’ve sat with her as she has with me, coaxing her out of some terrible darkness at the back of her subconscious while her cries fade into contented purrs.

Related: The Incredible Promise One Woman Made To A Terrified Shelter Dog

People stop us during our walks to ask, “What kind of dog is that?”

When I respond, “She’s a pit bull mix,” they scrunch up their faces and go silent.

There’s an elderly woman in our neighborhood who I think has lost her memories; every few months, she’ll ask me what breed Brenda is, and we’ll play out the same painful choreographed routine: her delight at seeing a smiling dog, her disappointment in learning the dog is in fact a pit bull.

Sometimes pedestrians cross entirely to the other side of the street just to avoid walking past us. The only time I’ve screamed at a stranger is when he told me my dog was a bad dog.

Photo credit: Ellyn Kail

Photo credit: Ellyn Kail

This isn’t a story about pit bulls, but it is a story about a specific pit bull who teaches me to be a little bit braver.

Brenda doesn’t protect me by barking at people when they knock on the door; her methods are far more subtle. She’s done battle with the demons inside my head, and she’s won.

pit bull with ball

Source: Ellyn Kail

Happily, Brenda can’t understand when people are afraid of her; she approaches everyone with the same sweet bashfulness as she did when I first met her. All Brenda will ever know is the smell of my sweat in the night, the sound of my voice when I’m asleep, and the comfort she gives me.

I’ve spent my whole life being afraid, so I understand fear backwards and forwards. I recognize it in others when we’re walking down the street. But because of my little red pit bull, I finally know what it means to let it go.

PupJournal is proudly hosting National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW, to celebrate blocky-headed wigglebutts, otherwise known as “pit bulls.” It’s time these pups are able to live their lives free from discrimination and harm. You can find articles, videos, and adoptable dogs on our National Pit Bull Week page and on Facebook. Join us by tagging National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW!