Two pit bulls inspire their guardians to make a lifelong commitment to bullies everywhere.
My husband and I have both had medium and large dogs most of our lives, and their breeds ran the gamut, but it wasn’t until our previous dogs both passed away in late 2009 that the idea of having a pit bull ever entered our minds.
Quite frankly, we were opposed to the idea.
Although we knew a few lovely pit bulls, we did not want the stigma, the liability, or the stereotypes that went along with owning a pit bull. But, as we searched our local shelters, we found that, for the most part, we had two choices: pit bulls and Chihuahuas.
It became obvious that if we wanted to adopt a dog who needed a chance at a good life, it had to be one labeled as a pit bull. At that point we adopted Duke, a 2-year-old owner surrender, mislabeled by the shelter as an American Staffordshire Terrier, who tested our patience, will, and changed the direction of our lives forever.
In the beginning of 2010, I left a career in real estate to pursue my passion, working with dogs, and developed an affinity for the bully breeds. I worked with our dog Duke and volunteered the rest of my time to local animal welfare groups.
As summer approached, we were ready to adopt a second dog. We chose Louis, a sick, skinny, nervous “pit bull mix” with a large, newly formed scar on the top of his head. Louis was a stray, so little is known about his past.
The first few weeks we had him were spent keeping him in quarantine and nursing him back to health from a nasty giardia infection. As we got to know him, it became apparent that although he was probably close to a year old, he had little life experience. Everyday situations would make him jumpy. Sometimes he would just sit and tremble. When we would walk him outside, the stimuli, from the swaying trees to the barking of neighborhood dogs, was overwhelming for him at times.
We knew that making Louis more comfortable with the world and himself would be a challenge, but we committed to making him the best dog he can be. We wanted to be part of the movement of responsible and educated dog owners working to show people the truth about dogs labeled as pit bulls. So, soon as Louis was free of parasites, we began working with him on everything from basic obedience to basic life skills.
Despite whatever experiences he has had in the past, Louis has not lost his affinity for people or the desire to please them. This trait has been extremely helpful in teaching him how to live the life of a well-adjusted dog. Aside from obedience skills, we have worked tirelessly to expose Louis to as many people, places and things as possible. Louis has learned to swim, walk on a treadmill and dock dive. He enjoys traveling in the car, play dates with dogs of all sizes, hiking with his backpack, visiting people of all ages and most of all, showing people that he is just a dog. He’s a dog that wants to crawl in your lap and give you a few kisses.
He is still uncertain about the outside world at times, but he has made great progress in his time with us. We recognize and honor the idea that our journey with Louis is continually evolving and are committed doing whatever it takes to make him his best. Louis does not have any fancy designations or certificates, at least not yet, but he takes pride in his job as a breed ambassador.
Most recently, Louis visited Ms. Jane, a 90-year-old woman who has been home and bed bound for several years due to a variety of health issues. Aside from her two around-the-clock caregivers and an occasional family member, Ms. Jane rarely has visitors. Since she doesn’t see or hear well, life is pretty uneventful for Ms. Jane, but she maintains a positive attitude. Louis greeted her gently, sitting at her bedside waiting to be acknowledged. Eventually he ended up standing with his front feet on Ms. Jane’s bed so she could more easily reach him. Louis patiently stood there, enjoying the attention and listening to Ms. Jane reminisce about the days of her childhood when she ran about the family farm with her dog Jack.
Although she does not remember what kind of dog Jack was, Ms. Jane does remember a time when pit bull type dogs were respected, valued and revered as America’s sweethearts. Ms. Jane recognizes that Louis is just a great dog, and he is always welcome to spread a little joy in her home.
My experiences with Louis, Duke, a couple of bully foster dogs and all of the wonderful pit bull type dogs in rescue that I have worked with have taught me invaluable lessons both about myself and the dogs. My eyes have been opened to the challenges that these dogs face, and that has inspired me to devote all of my time and resources to work toward making my community and beyond a better place for all dogs, especially those labeled as pit bulls.
I founded a canine education and advocacy group known as Incred-A-Bull earlier this year. Our 501(c)(3) nonprofit status is currently pending, and we are working on raising funds to initiate some of our programs. Our initial goals involve offering free education and spay/neuter services at a drastically reduced cost. It is our ultimate goal to be part of creating a community that values and responsibly cares for all dogs, no matter the breed, like Duke and Louis.
By Jesica Clemens, founder of Incred-A-Bull