It’s a good thing professional sports teams are often regarded as extended families, because for new Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle, devotion to a beloved pet will leave his real family thousands of kilometres away.
Because of Ontario’s pit-bull ban, Mr. Buehrle, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins in a blockbuster trade in November, has decided to leave his wife, Jamie, son Braden, daughter Brooklyn, and two-year-old pit bull, Slater, 1,300 kilometres away at the family home in St. Louis, Mo., and travel to Toronto alone once the baseball season starts in April.
The family toyed with the idea of Mr. Buehrle commuting across the border from western New York or leaving Slater in someone else’s care, but ultimately decided that he was part of the family just like everybody else.
“A lot of people have said, ‘We’ll just keep Slater for you,’ ” Jamie Buehrle told ESPN.
“To me, that would be like if we moved somewhere that only allowed boys. I wouldn’t leave my daughter behind. Six or seven months is a lot of time. Slater would adjust. He’s real easygoing. But I don’t want him to bond with someone else. He’s our dog. That wasn’t really an option.”
Slater, one of four canines owned by the dog-loving Buehrle family, is no stranger to being deemed an outsider.
In his one season with Miami, Mr. Buehrle chose to live in nearby Broward County, because of a similar ban on pit bulls in Miami-Dade County, leaving the pitcher with a 30-minute commute to work.
“Obviously I don’t agree with the ban, the same thing in Miami,” Mr. Buehrle said shortly after being traded to Toronto, where owning a pit bull brings a $10,000 fine and six months imprisonment.
“I think it’s a discriminatory law. Just because the way a dog looks, I don’t feel like that dog should be banned from some place just because of the way it looks.
“I kind of joke around with my wife saying that they probably shouldn’t let me into the country before they don’t let my dogs. They’re so loving and so awesome.”
Just two years ago, Ms. Buehrle stumbled across him at Hope Animal Rescues in Alton, Ill., with Slater among 18 dogs due to be euthanized, but one look at the American Staffordshire terrier and she felt compelled to give him a new home.
“Slater was the epitome of when people say, ‘You don’t pick your dog, your dog picks you,’ ” Ms. Buehrle told ESPN. “We didn’t need four dogs. We still don’t need four dogs. But I kind of felt it was meant to be. Mark said: ‘I’ve never heard you talk about a dog this much. Just get him.’ ”
Slater’s family is planning to train him to be a therapy dog, visiting schools as part of a literacy program, as well as bringing smiles to terminally ill patients in hospital.
In the meantime, Mr. Buehrle has to turn his focus to the coming Blue Jays season in Toronto, where a series of bold moves has the team stationed as World Series favourites with some bookmakers and hopeful of a return to baseball’s postseason for the first time since 1993. But despite the excitement, the man who pitched a perfect game in 2009 and is entering the second year of a four-year, $58-million (U.S.) contract knows there will be times in the coming months where he will yearn for family time.
“We’re not trying to make people feel sorry for us,” Mr. Buehrle told ESPN.
“Obviously they’re going to say, ‘You make a lot of money. Boo hoo.’
“I know it’s part of baseball and every person deals with it, but this is our first time being away from each other all season. We’re going to travel and see each other and make it work.
“But those nights when we have a Sunday day game and I can go home and have dinner with the family and give the kids a bath and put them to bed, that’s what I’m going to miss.”