"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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Once Abused, Now Adored

Dolly went from being the object of one man’s cruelty to being the object of another man’s adoration. And in between, the pit bull terrier experienced the power of welfare networking in the Chicago area and beyond. The past year could not have been a more eventful or meaningful one for her.
After police rescued her from the home of a man who had been charged with assault and animal cruelty, Chicago Animal Care and Control (ACC) took custody of her. When Dolly arrived at ACC, she was emaciated. Moreover, she had just given birth to a litter of puppies, all of whom were emaciated as well. (All of the puppies eventually were adopted out through local rescues.)

At ACC Dolly became one of the first dogs to be enrolled in the Court Case Dog program, spearheaded by Best Friends and Safe Humane Chicago in collaboration with ACC and D.A.W.G. Court Advocates. The program involves assessing, training and finding homes for dogs who have been the victims of cruelty, abuse or neglect and who have been impounded at ACC as evidence in the former persons’ court cases.

Until last year, most dogs residing at ACC as evidence in animal cruelty cases were euthanized once the cases were decided. Not any more, thanks to the Court Case Dog program.

Dolly spent six months at ACC before Janice Triptow, president of Chicago Canine Rescue Foundation (CCRF) and trainer with Best Friends’ Community Training Partners program, transferred Dolly to the CCRF, one of Best Friends’ Network Charities, which has signed on to the Best Friends’ goal of achieving No More Homeless Pets.

Because of her sweet and goofy disposition, Dolly became a poster-dog for the Court Case Dog program, appearing with Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buerhle and his wife Jamie in a public service announcement promoting the program. The PSA, in which Dolly sits with the couple in the U.S. Cellular Field, appeared during one of the White Sox games last season.

While at CCRF, Dolly was attending basic obedience classes. She also became part of Safe Humane Chicago’s Lifetime Bonds program, in which select boys at the Illinois Youth Center, a detention facility for boys, work with shelter dogs.

But even with her appearance in the PSA and the training she was getting, Dolly was still not attracting potential adopters. Dolly sometimes got aggressive with other dogs and could be overly mouthy with people and her possessions. Janice realized she didn’t have the resources to help Dolly alter that behavior, so she and the rest of the team at the Court Case Dog program started looking around for a solution.

They found it in Mixed-Up Mutts (MUM), a rescue and training center in northwest Indiana. MUM places difficult dogs in the award-winning Prison Tails program at the Westville Correctional Facility. Through MUM, Dolly got one-on-one training from an inmate at Westville and became the first dog in the Court Case Dog program to pass the Canine Good Citizenship test, certifying that she exhibits basic good manners around people and other dogs.

Once finished with her training, Dolly returned to CCRF, where a volunteer named Tim Davoren was waiting to foster Dolly and help her maintain her good behavior. Tim works in Chicago as a project manager for a power company.

Tim’s previous dog had, just the month before, passed away, and he wasn’t planning on adopting anytime soon.

About eight hours after he brought Dolly home, after she had sniffed out his apartment and acclimated herself to her new surroundings, Dolly got on his couch. Tim sat next to her, and before long she was leaning against him.

“I thought, ‘no way am I giving this dog back,’” he says. “The fact that she could be so sweet with an absolute stranger, after all she’d been through, was just so endearing to me.”

Tim’s first experience fostering a dog turned into a “failure.” He, of course, adopted Dolly. They’ve now been together for about a month.

“Every day I’m all that much happier about getting her,” he says.

What you can do:

Learn more about Safe Humane Chicago and how you can support life-saving efforts like the Court Case Dog and Lifetime Bonds programs.

Your support of Chicago Canine Rescue Foundation (CCRF) and Mixed-Up Mutts (MUM), allows them to continue to help find loving homes for dogs like Dolly.

By Ted Brewer
Photos by Molly Wald and courtesy of Cynthia Bathurst

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

American Bar Association Supports Justice for Victims of Animal Cruelty

Yes, lawyers really do have a heart. On Valentine's Day, the American Bar Association House of Delegates met and passed Resolution 108B, aimed at protecting animal victims of cruelty. The resolution urges all legislative bodies and governmental agencies to enact laws and implement policies ensuring the humane treatment and disposition of seized animals, including those from dogfighting busts, hoarding situations and other cruelty cases.

The Resolution was proposed by the ABA's Tort, Trial, and Insurance Section Animal Law Committee after being drafted by Professor Rebecca Huss (who was the guardian/special master in the Vick case), Michelle Welch of the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, and me.

It can be incredibly frustrating to citizens and prosecutors when judges refuse to respond to animal cruelty and neglect, like in the case of Alice, the dog who was found living in a box. The Change.org community is rightly outraged by this and over 13,000 animal advocates have signed a petition calling for justice for Alice.

Equally frustrating is when animals are saved from cruelty, only to face judges who summarily order their death. For example, the "Mississippi 8" was a group of dogs who were victims of dogfighting. Even though behavioral evaluations indicated that at least three of the dogs could have been rehabilitated, the judge ordered they all be killed.

The new ABA resolution will give animal advocates another tool to convince prosecutors and judges to give victims of cruelty a second chance.

It's fitting that the ABA resolution was passed in Atlanta, where Michael Vick rose to fame before he was convicted of participating in the blood sport of dog fighting. Let's face it: Not all victims of cruelty are psychologically damaged; some are extremely resilient, like Jonny Justice. Jonny was a Vick dog who was easily retrained and is now a therapy dog. Of the 22 dogs Best Friends Animal Society took in — the most damaged by Michael Vick's abuse — six have been adopted into loving homes and the rest are doing well at the Sanctuary.

Indeed, the Vick case was cited extensively in the ABA report as a reason to change the automatic death sentence for dogs seized in fight yards.

Yet there are still 13 states that automatically deem dogs seized in fighting yards as dangerous or require them to be killed. I recently blogged about Best Friends Animal Society spearheading bills to change Florida's law that condemns victims of cruelty. Over 1,200 Change.org community members have signed the petition supporting the bill that would repeal Florida's arbitrary designation of all dogs seized in fighting cases as "dangerous."

My little fight bust dog, Karma Korn, never would have had a chance in Florida, so she's ecstatic that the ABA recognizes that victims of cruelty deserve a chance to live. It's time for the Florida legislature to follow the ABA's lead and stop arbitrarily condemning the victims of dog fighting.

Let there be justice for all.

By Ledy VanKavage

Monday, February 21, 2011

Video du Jour

Jen McNamara gave a great talk at the Ignite South Dakota conference about Pit Bull stereotyping and the difference between a companion dog and a resident dog. Check it out below and also check out Jen and her family in Dog Files Episode 12: Pit Proud: The History Of The Pit Bull.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Letter From Senator Bob Duff

Regardless of which political party you vote for, this is something for all pit bull lovers to be happy about. Politicians are the lawmakers and it is important that they are on our side. Congratulations to Senator Duff on the newest addition to their family!
Click image to zoom

To find out more about the StubbyDog Project and the GREAT work they do, visit their website or check out their Facebook page.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fourth-Grader Raising Money, Supplies For Rescued Pit Bulls

       Tori Allender, a fourth-grader, has been raising money and
            collecting donations for a Maryland based pit bull rescue organization
called Jasmine's  House.

For some kids, watching television can be productive.

Tori Allender is one of those kids.

The 10-year-old Park Hills Elementary School student loves watching shows about rescuing animals.

And one of her favorite shows, Animal Planet's "Pit Bulls and Parolees," recently led Tori to start a fundraising project for a Maryland organization that rescues abused and neglected pit bulls.

The show "Pit Bulls and Parolees" gives ex-convicts a chance to mainstream back into society through work at a pit bull rescue center in California. And as she watched episode after episode - marathons at times - Tori saw not only the abuse and neglect that the pit bulls suffered but also the turnaround that came from rehabilitation and adoption.

Even after she turned the television off, the dogs stayed on her mind.

"I knew they were abused," she said. "And it's just sad that people abuse dogs."

So she started looking for ways to help the organizations taking in dogs and giving them better homes.

Her school guidance counselor, Erin Hanson, eventually came across an organization called Jasmine's House, which rescues and rehabilitates pit bulls and keeps the dogs in foster homes as they await adoption.

The organization was started by Catalina Stirling in memory of Jasmine - one of NFL player Michael Vick's former fighting pit bulls that was placed in Stirling's care after Vick's arrest.

Tori recently went around to every fourth-grade classroom at her school to talk about Jasmine's House and see if kids would be willing to provide some of the items that the organization needs. Hanson traveled to the fifth-grade classrooms to gather additional donations.

As Tori talked about the dog food, treats and dog beds and other supplies piled up in the school's hallway on Thursday, she said the response was great.

"I feel good about it because they're not going to need those items now," she said.

The project also raised about $160 for the organization.

But the best part came later on Thursday, when Tori got to meet - and pet - one of the dogs that she is helping.

Representatives from Jasmine's House stopped by Park Hills Elementary on Thursday to talk with fourth- and fifth-graders about their organization. And they brought along two furry companions, an adopted pit bull named Minnie and another pit bull named Marvin, who is in need of a permanent home.

Both dogs instantly took to Tori as she dropped to her knees to play with them. With tails wagging back and forth, they licked her face and turned around to give her more back to scratch.

Though Tori does not have dogs of her own, she's spent time with her uncle's pit bull and boxer mix. Despite his name, Diesel is "the sweetest dog," she said.

Dogs like Diesel, Marvin and Minnie may seem like exceptions to their breed, but Tori doesn't think so. People tend to think of pit bulls as aggressive and dangerous, "since they hear scary stories about them being bad and attacking people," she said.

But from what she's learned through her fundraising project and her own experience, Tori believes that with the right training and handling, any pit bull can turn out like Diesel, Marvin and Minnie.

She hopes to be a part of the process someday and says she would like to rescue pit bulls once she is older.

It would be a step up from watching it happen on television, she said.

But in the meantime, there is still work for her.

"I want to keep helping the rescue group," Tori said, "and keep raising money for pit bull rescues."

For more information about Jasmine's House, visit www.jasmineshouse.org/ or their Facebook page.

By Heather Faulhefer
Photos by Brett Berwager

Friday, February 4, 2011

How To Be A Pit Bull Ambassador

By Michaela Myers (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

“Is that a pit bull?”

“Is he mean?”

      “Will he bite?”

With two adopted dogs that many people think look like pit bull mixes, these are questions I hear frequently. More often, people just cross the street or snatch up their children to avoid us.

As a result, I try to be a pit bull ambassador whenever I step out the door with my dogs. I want to show people what amazing companions they can be, even if it’s just one person at a time.

If you have a pit bull in your family, here are five things you can do to help change people’s perceptions:

1. Cultivate a well-behaved dog

It’s been said a thousand times, but actions really do speak louder than words. The most important thing you can do if you have a pit bull is to train and socialize your companion.

When your dog is young, take him or her places, let him see new things and meet people and pets of all types and ages. Teach your dog basic obedience.

Better yet, work to get him certified as a Canine Good Citizen through the AKC’s CGC program.

2. Choose your training style and collar carefully

Using harsh methods of correction can result in a fearful dog and further negative perceptions about the behavior of bully breeds. Positive reinforcement training is a better bet. Positive reinforcement rewards good behavior with treats and praise, cultivating confidence and good manners (click here to learn more).

Also, remember that what your dog wears can also influence how people view pit bulls. So avoid “tough-looking” collars, such as those with spikes and metal.

3. Be open to starting a conversation

While some people may cross the street when they see a pit bull-type dog, having a pit bull in the family also provides countless opportunities to talk about misconceptions, whether it’s with a coworker, a mother in the park or someone chatting with you in the grocery store line.

Hearing the same stereotype comments every time you say your dog is a pit bull can get old, but don’t get defensive. Remember that many people are just repeating things they have heard elsewhere. Educate yourself, and use these opportunities to help others understand the pit bull’s plight and true nature.

4. Take your responsibility seriously

Because we are under additional scrutiny, those of us with pit bull family members must take on an extra sense of responsibility. This is especially true in off-leash areas, such as dog parks. Dog parks can be chaotic, and spats between dogs are common. Even if a pit bull doesn’t start the tiff, he may get blamed. Know your dog, and make off-leash decisions carefully.

When it comes to pets, good fences definitely make good neighbors. At home, make sure your yard is properly fenced or keep your dog inside. And even if you’re just going to get the mail or take a stroll down the block with your dog, be sure to clip on that leash.

Responsibility also means spaying and neutering. Most dogs involved in severe bites and attacks are not spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering also helps reduce overpopulation and has important health benefits.

5. Let the world see your love

If your dog has some special talent, get out there and celebrate your partnership as you show the world the wonderful things pit bulls can do.

Sporty types may want to consider flyball, Frisbee or agility. If your dog loves to strut his manners, there are various types of obedience trials and competitions.

Snuggly types may prefer therapy work. Therapy dogs visit places such as schools, nursing homes, hospitals and hospice centers. There are various organizations that certify therapy dogs. Most require the dog pass a CGC test or similar evaluation.

You have the opportunity to help people rediscover the pit bull. Together we can change the world, one waggy tail and slurpy kiss at a time!

Photos Courtesy of Pit Bull Rescue San Diego