When I asked Andre for his thoughts on Chicago to write this, the first thing he said was exactly the same as the first thing I thought — “What can I say about Chicago?” Like father, like son, right?
And, really, what can you say, other than that it is a totally remarkable place, with many nicknames. The Windy City, the Second City, Chicagoland. It sits on the shores of Lake Michigan, which is the third largest of the Great Lakes and the only one contained entirely within the United States.
It’s located in the heart of the country, and one of the things I found there was the heart of the movement toward more humane treatment of animals.
We met some incredible people in Chicago, especially a group of fireman at Engine Company 46. Now, personally, I think that firefighters are among the biggest heroes around. Think about it. What do they do for a living? Basically, they spend every day risking death in order to save our lives or our property. And yet I have never met a firefighter who was not the most humble, honest, down-to-earth person ever.
About the worst that can happen to me at work is that a dog bites me. I can’t even imagine going to the office every day without knowing whether I’d come home to my family alive at the end of the shift, much less being so calm about it.
Now, when I say fire station, what’s the first dog you think of? I’m guessing that your answer is Dalmatian. Well, move over Dalmatians, because this engine company gave me just one more reason to admire firefighters. Their official firehouse dog is a pit bull.
This really touches me because it’s a huge endorsement of the breed, something that they really need and that everyone needs to see. A hundred years ago, pit bulls were proudly displayed as the mascots of the U.S. military and they were the all-American breed. You can’t get much more American than a fire station in the middle of Chicago.
Their mascot, Gigi, has few problems and is kind of amazing. Then again, she lives in an amazing place. I can only imagine what that must be like for a dog. It’s full of action, but also ridiculously clean, and every day is very structured, something that dogs find very comforting. Top that off with the camaraderie of a team which is trained to work together but also to remain calm in the face of mortal danger, and how could it get any better for a dog?
They say that all dogs go to heaven, but this is one dog who’s already there! All of that, and the place has good guacamole, salsa, and chips, and great couches. Andre and I both thought about signing up!
Of course, Chicago’s only heroes aren’t fighting fires. Some of them are planting ideas, and Andre and I got to see one of them sprout right before our eyes when we met with a group that managed to get a dog park built on the South Side.
The place is infamous for being dangerous, and Andre picked up on that right away. “The South Side is a place of fear,” he told me. “I’ve never felt so on edge and aware of my surroundings besides growing up in my home town, in Inglewood.”
It took them a lot of work and a lot of time, but it all finally paid off, and as we listened to their story, I realized that it was a wonderful process they went through, one that we all could learn from. First, you see a necessity, and then you have a dream to fix it. In order to achieve that dream, you need to bring together a community, and then all of you together have to have faith that you will succeed in achieving the dream and fulfilling that necessity.
When that kind of thing happens successfully, it’s incredible, and I could sense that energy in the dog park. It was unforgettable.
But even more unforgettable were the people who put themselves in as much danger as firefighters all for the sake of saving dogs.
This was the Unofficial Dog Rescue, a group that goes out on their own time to find and rescue abandoned and abused dogs on those mean South Side streets. I think it was an eye-opener for Andre, who told me, “The attitude towards animals is much less appreciative. Not everyone on the South Side, but I mean situations that I saw — people walking with choke chains and really buff dogs, hip displacement, a shattered jaw, a three-legged dog that hadn’t recovered 100%.”
Our ride-along with the group was definitely an eye-opener for both of us. As Andre pointed out, “Chicago is one of the most dangerous cities in this country at the moment,” and we felt that as we drove around at night. As you saw in the episode, my crew decided that it was better to get out of the area as soon as possible at least once.
But Chicago wasn’t all statistics and headlines. I was fortunate enough to be able to help a woman who had basically been kidnapped by her dogs. Because of what she perceived as their aggression, she had actually not dated anyone in eight years. And, really, that’s kind of the worst possible thing, isn’t it? Our dogs should never force us into a life of loneliness. Fortunately, I was able to help this woman with her dogs, and Andre and I got to leave Chicago with the hope of someday being invited to her wedding.
Stay calm, and see those necessities!