"A breed of satin and steel. Pit bulls are a mixture of softness and strength, an uncanny canine combination of fun, foolishness, and serious business, all wrapped up in love."

-D. Caroline Coile

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

After a Rocky Past, Zeus is Living Like a King

Zeus is an American bulldog and pit bull mix. His story of life as a stray on the streets to adoption reads like a fairy tale; the one about the damsel in distress who winds up being rescued by a knight in shining armor atop a white horse.

While Zeus isn’t a damsel, he definitely was in distress. Reported wandering the street of Salt Lake City, Utah, Zeus was apprehended by an animal control officer for Salt Lake County Animal Services. Like so many other dogs listed as RAL (running at large), he had no identification and was brought to the shelter to await redemption by his person. He was alone and given identification number A340150.

Nobody came to claim Zeus and after waiting the requisite five business days, he began the evaluation process. The temperament test on Zeus (initially named McCloud by the staff) went very well. According to notes in his file, one by shelter operations manager April Harris read, “This dog passed assessment with A's and B's on the entire assessment. This is one sweet, mellow, affectionate, AMAZING dog!” (Remember the word amazing.)

Other evaluations were just as positive. Another person noted, “Took out for a walk; he is a sweetheart. He does not pull on the leash and is definitely housetrained. When he comes across other dogs, he does not bark. He just wags his tail and appears to be eager to meet them. He loves to play and will play with toys if they are available for a short time but he prefers to cuddle.”

The outlook for adoption looked good for Zeus even though he was a pit bull terrier mix. Since Salt Lake County Animal Services launched its Pit Crew program, adoption of pit bull terriers and large muscular mutts has more than doubled since 2007. Still, Zeus was just one of many abandoned pit bulls at the shelter.

To make matters worse, Zeus had a condition that was a deal breaker for the five or six potential adopters who showed interest. Zeus suffered from entropion, a condition where the eyelid rolls inward and which needed to be addressed surgically. Surgery to correct this condition could easily have tacked on $1,500 to his adoption fee and would need to be paid by the adopting party.

Enter our “knight in shining armor,” Phil Walker. Walker had been looking for a dog to adopt for a couple of years, but never lived where dogs were allowed — until now. Not only did his new apartment allow dogs, but Walker’s landlord accompanied him on his search for a dog to adopt.

The first stop was Salt Lake County Animal Services where Walker and his new landlord carefully scrutinized the dogs available for adoption.

“There were a couple dogs that I thought I might like to take home, but none really jumped out at me,” recalls Walker. “As we were about to leave, one of the shelter employees was bringing Zeus in from a meet and greet outside and I did a total double-take. I thought he just looked, for lack of a better word, amazing.” (There’s that word amazing again!)

Walker studied Zeus as he sat quietly in his kennel. “I went over to his kennel and he just sat there, calm as could be, leaning up against the door, just wanting to be petted. I know it's cheesy, but it was a complete movie moment. I fell in love with him immediately.”

Not wanting to make a snap decision, Walker decided to think about it and scouted another shelter for a canine companion. As he looked at other adoptable dogs, he couldn’t get the image of Zeus out of his mind. “I decided right then and there Zeus was the dog for me.”

The adoption coordinator told Walker about Zeus’s eye problem and the required surgery he would have to take on. Walker needed a couple of days to think things through. “It was very hard.” said Walker. “I make a decent living, but I'm not at the point where I can spend possibly $1,500 on a dog. However, on Monday morning I decided to go through with it.” After all, knights in shining armor don’t give up.

When Walker returned to adopt Zeus, he was shocked to find Zeus gone. He was already undergoing much-needed surgery thanks to a second knight in shining armor, Melissa Lipani, the campaign coordinator for Best Friends’ campaign Pit Bulls: Saving America’s Dog.

When Lipani first discovered Zeus’s eye problem and realized he needed surgery, she immediately thought of Dr. Amy Knollinger, one of her casual acquaintances and one of only a few veterinarian ophthalmologists in Utah. Dr. Knollinger is on staff at Eye Care for Animals, a leading national provider of eye care for animals with clinics in over a dozen states including Utah. More knights in shining armor were preparing to join the battle.

“When I contacted Amy to see if she could help, she was immediately willing to look at him.” said Lipani. “The amazing staff at the Eye Care Center was willing to provide what he needed at their cost and donate their time, which was instrumental in obtaining what he needed since the shelter doesn't have a lot of resources for specialty surgeries. Dr. Knollinger, Dr. McLaren, and the administrative staff were so supportive and willing to help. We appreciate their specialty skills and their willingness to help McCloud so that he could move into a permanent, loving home.”

Dr. Knollinger operated twice on Zeus. Once to place skin staples to stabilize the eyelid and allow his corneal ulceration to heal and again to perform permanent cosmetic surgery once the ulceration healed. Zeus’s outlook is good. “Zeus responded nicely to surgery.” said Dr. Knollinger. “His long-term prognosis is great. He was a great patient to work with.”

Zeus has now finished his follow-up appointments to remove his stitches and examine his eyelid. He can now focus on being a dog enjoying a loving home.

“When we're hanging out, we generally play with his rope toy.” says Walker, recounting some of Zeus’s antics. “I’ll throw it and if he feels like it he'll bring it back to my general area. The funny thing is, he knows what I’m asking him to do, but he gets this look in his eyes as if to say, ‘Yeah, I know what you want but, you know, I don't really feel like it.’ He loves giving that rope the beating of its life every time we play.”

“One of the funniest things he does, for whatever random reason, is just take off around the yard, running as fast as he possibly can. And he'll just do laps around the yard. I have no idea what makes him do that or why, but he's just happy to be running sometimes.”

Most all dog people recognize this behavior as their dog’s way of saying, “I’m so happy to be here, comfortable in my surroundings, and knowing that I am loved that I just want to let my hair down and run.” Don’t you just love happy endings?

How you can help:
There are always plenty of wonderful dogs at Salt Lake County Animal Services. Check out some of their adoptable pit bull terriers.

Learn more about the Pit Crew.

Best Friends Animal Society is working throughout the country to help pit bull terriers, who are battling everything from a media-driven bad reputation to ineffective and expensive legislation. Best Friends hopes to end discrimination against all dogs. Dogs are individuals and should be treated as individuals. Find out how you can help by visiting and becoming a fan of the Pit Bulls: Saving America's Dog campaign.

Join Voices for No More Homeless Pets and for updates on animal issues important to you!

Learn more about breed bans and dog bite facts at the National Canine Research Council.

Find more resources in our Tools To Use section.

"How to Prevent Breed Discrimination in Your Community"

Photos by Ken Passarella

By Ken Passarella, Best Friends Network volunteer

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