The first thing Kitty did was jump up on his bed and lick his face.
That was a year ago, and Kitty, Love says, has been helping him ever since — lifting his spirits, detecting his seizures and pulling his wheelchair, all without any formal training.
I spotted Love and Kitty on my way through Brookings, Oregon — the last coastal town one who is southbound goes through before hitting California.
We passed him as she pulled his wheelchair across the Chetco River bridge, saw them again cruising down the sidewalk after we stopped for gas, and finally cornered him when Kitty came to a halt in front of a shopping mall on the south side of town.
Love had gone there to pick up some medicine and check in on his buddy, a homeless man named Buddy.
“She’s my motor,” he said.
Though Kitty was initially just visiting, once her owner saw how taken the two were with each other, she suggested he keep her.
Love’s troubles — and he admits he has seen a few — began when he broke his leg while playing college football.
Complications set in — exacerbated, he says, by too many doctors and too much alcohol, and eventually Love lost the leg.
Things went downhill from there, but eventually Love took what he knew about being down, being drunk and being addicted and put it to good use, setting up missions to help those so inflicted.
He ran an outreach in Oklahoma, then moved back to Oregon and set up another. Not long after that, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, which kept him bedridden for long spells. The outreach lost its building, but he now runs it out of the motel room he lives in.
Buddy’s corner is about two and a half miles from where Love lives, but Kitty regularly pulls him the entire way.
“If I don’t hear from Buddy, I get panicky,” Love said, adding that he needed to visit a nearby drug store for medicine anyway.
Love also suffers from seizures, and he says Kitty seems to have developed the ability to warn him if one is coming.
“She seems to know I’m going to have a seizure before I do,” he said. She will put her head on his legs and look at him, and sometimes “she blocks me from going anywhere and won’t let me leave the house.” Love says he has woken up from seizures only to see the dog standing over him.
Kitty isn’t the first dog — or the first pit bull — I’ve heard of who, with no formal training, assumed the role of therapy and assistance dog. (You can read about another in “Dog, Inc.” my soon-to-be-released book advertised on the right side of this page.)
Sometimes, dogs– even those not trained for such tasks — just seem to know what to do, how to help.
For Kitty, one of those tasks is pulling, and she goes at with gusto and determination, straining up hills, slowing down at street corners, coming to a dead halt when she sees someone she’s not sure she trusts.
Kitty is 2-1/2 years old, and has had two litters of pups since moving in with Love. In her spare time, such as when Love stops to talk to someone, she likes to roll on her back in the dirt.
During the times he has been bedridden, Love says, Kitty has been at his side, disproving all he’d ever heard about pit bulls.
“I’ve always been told they were bad dogs,” he said. “But it’s all in how you teach them. She’s a very gentle dog and she’s great with kids. She don’t puddle on the floor or anything.”
I walked with them to the drug store. Love handed me the leash and we agreed to meet back up down at the corner where Buddy was sitting.
But when I tried to get her to come with me, Kitty wouldn’t budge, taking a seat and staring at the store. Only after much encouragement did she agree to come, and even then, every five steps or so, she’d stop, sit and stare at the store.
Once we worked our way back to the corner, she took a seat, her eyes never leaving the storefront.
I’d say Love found quite a dog in Kitty, a pit bull that assumed the roles she saw her owner needed — serving not as a fighter, but as nurse, cheerleader, motor and friend.