Zola Star Taylour Paige on How Her Dogs Taught Her About Love, Presence, and Patience
“Having dogs, rescue dogs, is not always convenient or comfortable — you have to get used to being uncomfortable. But it’s so worth it. The love is immeasurable.”
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Taylour Paige, who played the titular role in Zola, the viral Twitter thread-turned-indie hit, and starred alongside the late Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, speaks to her dogs in a language all their own. Cupping her two-year-old Pit Bull Juice’s face in her hands, the actor coos, “Huh, buh-buh.” Leaning over to show her other Pit Bull, Aretha, some love, she asks, “How old are you, muh-muh?” At one point, as they’re all curled up croissant-like with Juice’s blocky head on her lap, Aretha’s on his belly, Paige almost purrs to her pups, “Luh, luh, luh.”
They came together thanks to Paige’s volunteer work for The Animal Rescue Mission, a non-profit dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and re-homing animals in Los Angeles. A few years ago, the organization posted a plea for someone to adopt the last puppy standing in a litter, and Paige scooped up Juice in a heartbeat. Aretha didn’t come into the picture until several months later, when Paige got a call from the Animal Rescue Mission. Turns out they had rescued Juice’s mother and she needed a home. Once again, Paige didn’t hesitate.
The mother-son duo are model citizens of a oft-misunderstood breed — even if they don’t know it. While humanity has been languishing during the pandemic, Paige’s “velvet hippos” have been basking in their adored existence. These chonky, cuddly, at times clumsy pups are blissfully unaware of the size of it all (and their own size, for that matter). They have the run of their sprawling So-Cal backyard, but prefer to sprawl out in their human mom’s bed. “I didn’t know that Pit Bulls are lovers,” Paige confesses. “This boy, you see how big he is? He lays on my body at night, like a human!” Over the rhythmic rumble of Juice and Aretha’s snores, Paige and I talked about the boundless love of a rescue dog, the worries vs. rewards of pet parenthood, and trusting in karma.
* The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What is your connection to dogs and animals?
I have always loved animals and dogs. As a kid, I would cry when something happened to an animal — dog or cat or whatever. I think, as an actor and as an artist, we can be pretty self-indulgent and focused on ourselves. But even through the ups and downs, I’ve always wanted to contribute to something outside of my career. Having dogs, rescue dogs, is not always convenient or easy or comfortable — you have to get used to being uncomfortable. But it’s so worth it. The love is immeasurable. They teach you so much about love and presence and patience and unconditionality. “Look at these wrinkles!!” [Gently jostling Juice]
I’ve fostered a lot of dogs — sometimes dogs from Korea. They don’t speak English; they’ve been caged their whole lives so they don’t know how to walk on a leash or they’re diarrhea-ing on your rug. And you can see today, Juice and Aretha are drooling on my jacket. It can be really inconvenient. I think we need to be better to all living beings. As good as we can. Any way you can be good to some living being outside of yourself, I think is doing the work. Good work.
Have you always loved Pitties?
I have never been specific to any dog. I don’t know how I ended up with two Pits, to be honest. It wasn’t like I was looking for them. I do think that Pits — I equate them similarly to people of color — are very misunderstood. They’re pit against one another. But they’re very kind and loving and deeply misunderstood and unfairly treated. And the most euthanized and the most criminalized. I do have a special affinity for them, but it’s not like I was looking for a Pit Bull.
You didn’t have any preconceived notions of what it would be like to have a Pit Bull beforehand?
I didn’t know that Pit Bulls are lovers. This boy, you see how big he is? He lays on my body at night, like a human! No concept of how big he is. I did recently read that they’re the hardest to train — didn’t know that before. They’re quite stubborn. But then, you know, they’re a “bully breed.”
Do you find that you’re similar in any way to these guys? Are you also stubborn?
I’m very affectionate and loving, like them. I like to be touched. And I am stubborn, I think, in my convictions and values and what I think matters. As quick as I am to get upset, I’m so quick to, I think, forgive. These two get mad at each other all the time, and the next minute they’re licking each other’s faces. I think that’s kind of similar to me.
What are you like as a dog mom?
Oh, man. I should probably be a bit stricter. I bring them with me everywhere because I like them to be well socialized. Doctor’s appointments, hanging with friends, going to get coffee... They’re always in the car with me, which sometimes makes my life easier because recently, if I leave them home too long they’ll eat a purse or a shoe. It’s a new thing that they’ve been doing lately. I guess they’re frustrated that I’ve been busier. I don’t know. I just try to give them so much love. When I’m playing with them, I’m playing with them. I don’t have a phone in hand. When I’m petting them, I’m really taking it in. Unfortunately, the time that we get with these beings isn’t long enough. That’s really like life. We don’t know. I tell them, “I love you so much!” I talk to them like they’re people.
Did you notice yourself becoming less present with them? Is that why it’s a focus for you?
Yeah, I think at times I can be. We all are running around to the next thing, planning, emailing... Whenever I’m away from them, if I’m traveling or working, I miss them so much. I want to make sure they know. I appreciate the time that I have on Earth with them.
So when you go on set, for example, if you’re not in LA, then they won’t go with you?
No, not yet. I’ll get there — to that tax bracket where I can arrange for those kinds of accommodations! The last time I was out of town, they went to a dog board-and-train thing. I also have a friend who also has a Pit Bull and a Frenchie; she helps us with them.
Figuring out who’s going to take care of your pets is hard.
It’s so hard. No disrespect to people who have, like, a human baby, but it is similar to arranging with kids. You want them to get walked, you want them to be socialized, you want them to have their brain stimulated, you want them to eat healthily. I have two, and they’re big! I’m in a small space, making sure it’s consistent, but I also want them to be respectful and quiet in the morning when I need rest. It is like kinda raising kids before kids.
What do the dogs give you that other relationships don’t?
I think it’s unconditional forgiveness and love. Presence. Non-judgment. But maybe they are judging! I don’t know. We don’t think so, but maybe they’re secretly like, “Girl, where the hell are you? Get your life together. It’s 11 a.m. Get up.”
What are your favorite things about them?
Their stupid faces. They’re so squishy and cuddly and sweet. They love people. They play. Juice is so pure. He loves people; he loves dogs. He’s really a soul floating around. When I first got him, he was really sick with mange. He was such a trooper. He just was like, “Mom, this really sucks.” He had a crazy 104 fever. Then, he recently had kennel cough because he was at boarding. In the middle of the night, he put his little face on my shoulder. “Mom, help!” He’s such a lover boy. But he also doesn’t always come when you call. He’ll come when he wants to. I love his little trot. He has a trot where he moves from side to side.
And Aretha — I was really going through it at the beginning of this year, crying really hard. Aretha swung her head back and lay it on my chest. She’s very intuitive. If you’re upset, she’s looking at you in your eyes. If you’re happy, she’s looking at you in your eyes. She’s always with you. Maybe that’s been informed by her own trauma. She knows how to read a room. Juice is unaffected. It’s almost like he’s new and has no karma, or he’s ascended out of having none. Aretha’s completing her karma, but is so empathetic, I feel. Really, truly, after she’s done something bad — bad is relative, like, eaten a shoe — she’s really sorry.
What kind of things do you do only with them?
I always have to touch Aretha’s bottom lip. Over and over. It’s therapeutic to me. It lowers my blood pressure. It’s like a worm. I don’t touch worms, but it’s a soft, squishy thing. The fat rolls on their head. The fat rolls on Juice’s ankles. I play with it. Almost like your weenus, in the back of your elbow. I squish their lips over and over. “Like a squishy ball!” [Giving Aretha’s bottom lip a good squish]
Have they ever made you feel a way — scared or sad or angry?
I’ve definitely been angry and overwhelmed because I am doing this on my own. My ex-boyfriend and I had rescued Juice together. When we got Aretha, it was just supposed to be a foster situation. He didn’t want two dogs. I don’t blame him — it’s a lot of work. But I felt like, karmically, it was my duty to find her a home. I didn’t think it was fair that all of her babies got good homes and she was back in the pound. Kind of like women — women being pushed to the side. When we broke up, I took Aretha and he kept Juice. Then something happened at his house and he couldn’t keep him, but I also think Juice sabotaged so he could come be back with us, his moms.
But there have been times where I’m like, “You guys, I feel like you’re so ungrateful. I make my bed and you sit on my pillows. You guys eat my shoes.” So much of my life revolves around making sure that they have good ones — that they’re getting enough attention and love and walks and stimulation and healthy food...and that their lives are interesting. It’s overwhelming for one person. They’re not little dogs!
Do you find that your tolerance for it has gone up, or you’re setting aside your annoyance?
I just set it aside. The other day, they ate my Versace shoe, and I was like, “This is so shitty, but, you know? It is just a shoe.” Or, I’m never going to like dog hair, but I’ll be like, “I can get that cleaned.” There have been times when I don’t have work coming in and I think these dogs live better than I do!
But that’s where your heart is.
Yeah. Nothing’s ever lost. Every good deed we do, regardless of it being noticed or acknowledged or spoken of, it goes into the ether of goodness, which is only for the best.
What color is your love for them?
That’s cute. I just felt yellow. It’s warm and happy. We move on and we greet each day with warmth. Every day, they’re just like, “Good morning, Mom!” They greet each day with a happy heart, I feel. Both of them.
Is there anything else you wanted to share about rescue dogs?
Have it in your heart to be comfortable with being slightly uncomfortable, but knowing that you’re doing a good deed. It’s good to be echoing and vibrating goodness on our planet. Yes, you will be inconvenienced. Yes, you will be frustrated at times. But they’re going to love you, and I don’t think that love goes anywhere but out. It remains far after, when all is said and done. Pit Bulls deserve patience and understanding.
Don’t we all?
Don’t we all. Exactly.
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Helin Jung is a writer in Los Angeles.