Each Sunday, Ashley Messoline, a third-year Texas Tech law student, drives north on I-27, past the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport. She arrives at her destination and spends the afternoon exercising with some friends.
There’s Calamity Jane, that crazy character. She’s the hyper one. Then, there’s Brittany. She started out shy, but these days she shows off a lot of personality. And who could forget Quasi? Her smooshed pug-like face is unforgettable.
The pack Messoline spends her Sundays with is comprised of a few volunteers and roughly 30 pit bulls. Every weekend, Messoline, usually joined by her fiance Joe Keegan, spends about three hours running or walking with the pups at the Saving Grace Pit Bull Rescue at Lollipop Kennels.
She makes sure every single dog goes on a walk or run.
Every single dog.
“I can’t leave without knowing they’ve all been out or been walked,” Messoline said.
Lauren Cline, a rescue center volunteer, said most dog walkers come and go, but not Messoline.
“It’s always Ashley,” Cline said. “No matter what.”
To say Messoline is a dog lover is to make a massive understatement. The 26-year-old has three rambunctious beasts who she admits to talking about like they’re her children. And she’s always rescuing more.
That person chasing a stray puppy running across the Loop? That’s probably Messoline.
But it’s not just the animal lover in Messoline that forces her to drag herself out to the rescue center week after week. Walking and running with the dogs helps Messoline stay in shape, a necessity for the Marine and triathlete.
As an undergraduate student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Messoline was a member of the track team, but she competed in pole vault, long jump and triple jump.
It was just a few years ago that Messoline signed up for Tech’s Broadway Bikes Rec Triathlon. It was a decision she made on a whim; something she thought would be fun.
She placed in the top five. She signed up for the race the next year.
This time, she came in first.
The president of the Tech triathete team recognized her talent and asked her to join the club team.
Since then, Messoline has won scores of medals. A simple Google search of her name reveals more than 10 pages of accomplishments.
Most recently she beat nearly 700 other competitors and took first place in the Amica Mid-Summer Triathlon in her home state of Oregon.
She completed the half-mile swim, 16.1 mile bike and 3.1 mile run in 1 hour and 9 minutes. Prior to that, she took second in both the Armed Forces Triathlon Championships in May and the Collegiate National Championship at Buffalo Springs Lake in Lubbock this past April.
Messoline trains every day, and she often counts her workouts with the dogs as a part of that training. Her Sunday schedule often calls for long runs, so Messoline takes three half-hour runs with three different dogs, totaling one 90-minute run.
They race along a dirt road, passing the cotton fields that border the kennels.
“It’s perfect for running,” Messoline said.
Not all the dogs are the best behaved on their leashes. Some jump or become easily distracted. Messoline said they tend to behave better if she runs with them instead of walks.
But not all the dogs can run. Some are older, and many were injured or abused before they came to the shelter.
Messoline said she finds the problems among Lubbock’s high pit bull population heartbreaking. The rescue center is always at capacity and some of the dogs stay there for years before being adopted.
Cline said she attributes the problem to overbreeding.
“There’s a huge population of backyard breeding,” she said.
Both Cline and Messoline said there is a stigma against pit bulls that hasn’t held true in their experiences.
“There extremely misunderstood,” Cline said. “They’re extremely loyal, people-loving dogs.”
The most recent data available showed that in 2007, Lubbock Animal Services recorded 247 dog bites. Of those, 75 where attributed to pit bulls. Lubbock Animal Services also picked up 2,330 pit bulls, more than any other breed.
Messoline hopes to continue helping pit bulls as she furthers her career. After she completes her law degree she’ll dedicate the next four years to the Marines. If she doesn’t continue with the military beyond that, she said she’d like to run an animal shelter and use her law degree to help dogs by focusing on laws regarding breeding or abuse.
In the meantime, she continues to make an impact by volunteering at the rescue shelter each weekend.
“It really helps the dogs’ quality of life,” Cline said.
Since she started volunteering one year ago, Messoline said, she’s seen many of the dogs’ personalities develop .Originally, the dogs cowered as Messoline walked through the kennels. But now they jump and wag their tails, excited to see her.
Messoline loves to see they way they’ve changed.
“That’s the best part,” she said.
By Kellie Bramlet
Photo by: John A. Bowersmith
The plight of homeless, abandoned pets is overwhelming when we look at the raw numbers, but we can make a difference, one person at a time, each doing a little bit. Take the step. Get involved. Volunteer. Foster. Adopt. And above all, Spay and Neuter!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Do something positive for the breed! Educate. Advocate.