Once upon a time, there was a puppy no one wanted. She was left in the woods, all alone, and then collected, tagged, and put up for adoption. There was no love in her life, no support or family.
Then, one very average summer day, a young man stumbled into the shelter. The young man was looking for a middle-aged retriever. He wanted a quiet dog that would sit in the corner while he worked. What he did not want, he told himself, were two things: 1.) a puppy, 2.) a pit bull.
But—a story as old as time—the heart wants what the heart wants, and when he passed the cage of this motherless, nameless pitbull mix puppy, his defenses melted.
From that point on, the two were inseparable. He’d hurry home from his job at the hospital to take her on long late-night walks. Him getting lost in thought, the stress of the day sliding away; her getting lost in the smells and sounds of the city.
One day, during a particularly long shift at the hospital, a coworker asked the young man what he was going to do after he got off. He enthusiastically described the joys of his walks with his new companion. But what he heard next surprised him.
His coworker described a world he never knew existed, one in which she lived in fear. She would never take a walk alone at night, not even in her very safe neighborhood.
She quoted statistics that horrified the young man. She said she wished she could enjoy the same freedom as he did, if for only a night.
The young man went home that night, and, as always, he and his furry friend wandered the streets. But this night was different. There was no peace to be found, as his coworker’s words bounced around his head. How could it be, he thought, that so many people could live in a world completely different than his own? How had he been so blind to the suffering of so many?
He continued to walk and think about all the tools for safety: guns, knives, pepper spray, keys in a fist… What was it about all these things that did so little to prevent an attack from happening? He looked down to the pup for answers, and in her sweet, smiling face he found a kernel of a much larger idea…
He thought, when a criminal sees this pitbull on a leash, the criminal thinks—even for a brief moment—about getting bit. But when someone walks alone, there is no visual cue that they are protected, yet each and every one of us never truly walks alone. We have all our friends and family—and even the police, should we need them—right in our pocket. Our phone, he thought. Is there a way to make our phone seem as tough, as scary to criminals as a pitbull on a leash?
As he continued through his life, this idea of safety, of what safety actually means—to live free—stayed with him. Then, the unspeakable happened.
Cancer, the vet said.
In the day to day, it’s easy to forget what’s important. We have tasks and habits and routines that syphon off our life one forgettable day at a time. Cancer woke the young man up from that daze. The puppy who had grown into friend, a confidant, a protector was now growing thinner each day. How could so many years have passed so quickly, he thought.
That night they sat on the floor of his small apartment and he held her tight as he remembered all the lessons she taught him: Everyone deserves to be loved. Never judge someone by how they look (or smell). Be kind, be gentle, but be strong. And whatever you do, never miss an opportunity to enjoy the small, quiet joys of life, like a good walk.
Then, on one very average summer day, the young man dug a hole in a field behind a small pond. He stood there quietly until the sun slipped beneath the curve of grass. It was here that he knew her story was not over. He remembered the theory of safety she had shown him, and on that day he set out on a journey that would lead him across the country and over the ocean, studying and researching and learning from the smartest minds he could find.
He spoke to professors and doctors, survivors and advocates. Thousands of pages of hundreds of years of crime prevention research covered his floor until the wood disappeared. He attended webinars and talks and self-defence seminars, looking for a better way.
Game theory, visual priming, rational choice theory… He sought insights and answers from all corners of human psychology. And after years of study, he finally knew what needed to be done: He needed to give the world a way to take control of their freedom, to show criminals they were no longer a target. He designed and redesigned, but something just wasn’t right. Something was missing, so he took a walk.
He walked past his old neighborhood, along the harbor, and then out to a quiet field. There, in the silent grass, he discovered the missing piece. What he was to create not only need to be strong, to be a protector. It needed to care. It needed to love the people it would protect.
The young man ran home as fast as he could. He burst through his door and cleared his desk. And on a small piece of discarded scrap paper, he wrote the one thing that was missing. The one thing that would protect and love and accept everyone. He wrote her name: Sophie.