I was not looking for a new foster dog when I visited Chicago Animal Care and Control three weeks ago. We had come to evaluate Mr. Marbles to see if we could place him with CBBR. Visiting the hundreds of sad dogs at CACC always makes me cry, but I get a little tougher each time. We walked up and down the aisles of one of the "back wards" at CACC, where the dogs can only be saved by a rescue--they are not "on the adoption floor" where the public can even meet them. The overwhelming majority of these dogs are pit bulls or bully mixes. Not surprising, since pitties are more likely than other kinds of dogs to be owned by neglectful, abusive, or irresponsible people.
Day 1 in a proper home.
Anyway, we were looking for Marbles, but in the process I saw a little red brindle pittie curled up on her kennel bed. She looked at me as I walked by handing out treats to the inmates. She got up slowly and quietly and checked me out. There was just something about her--she was so unassuming and mellow. I took her for a walk in the yard, where she behaved like a true lady even among lots of other rowdy dogs. She was fearless and calm. My kinda girl. Too bad I was about to leave town for a week for a conference. After asking at the desk whether the puppy could be held for me until I got back, I learned that this little puppy was "on the list." She had been treated for pneumonia and still had a cold, and had very crooked front legs. It was now or never. We made some phone calls, and a great CBBR volunteered to "babysit" the puppy until I got back to town. I marched back to Mae's kennel and scooped her up.
As it turns out, Mae's crooked legs were caused by hypertrophic osteodystrophy--a painful growth defect in her ankle bones. This was compounded by a total lack of exercise after literally growing up in a cage at the pound for two months. After three weeks of running around like a normal dog, Mae's legs are almost completely straight. The pain in her ankles has decreased, and she's finally growing. (We thought she was about 14 weeks old until we looked at her teeth. She's at least seven months old, just very small.) Mae is a delightful little dog. She loves children, dogs, and cats, and walks on her leash like she's been doing it for years. She knows sit and down, is crate trained, and is doing great with her housetraining. She is going to make someone very happy.
Mae feeling great at home with foster sis.
Lesson: Most dogs end up at the pound because their humans are shitty. Everyday, thousands of OUTSTANDING dogs like Mae sit in cages, staring at nothing, just hoping someone will see their potential and make room in their lives for another life. It's true that the problem is overwhelming. But you can do nothing, or you can do SOMETHING. It's up to you. If you want to understand the depth of need, contact us and we'll tour you around a local pound. If you or someone you know would like to adopt Mae, or you'd like to become a foster parent for another desperate and worthy death row dog, contact email@example.com.
Going to the pound to pull dogs into rescue is one of the most emotional experiences ever. The misery you see in the eyes of cold, bored, suffering, caged dogs is almost more that I can bear. You cry for the ones you can't save that day. And you cry all over the few you do. When CBBR volunteers went to the pound last week we intended to evaluate and maybe pull just one dog--a male pit bull who had been caged for--get this--nine months.
As we waited to be let into the back wards of the pound, we watched an emotionless man relinquish one of the sweetest, most beautiful dogs we'd ever seen. She was a white English Setter or Brittany mix with long, well-groomed fur, and a pink stain around her neck from a bright pink collar. As her owner signed the papers to dump her, she looked around at us all wagging and smiling. We could see she had a small growth on her lip.
A few minutes later, as we walked through the endless back wards of unwanted dogs (crying, as usual), we encountered this little white dog. Her kennel card told us her name was Belle. The dog beside her was trying to break out of its kennel to eat her. We looked at each other and scooped her up. We're a pit bull rescue, our director said, but this dog is not staying here. We made frantic calls until we found a temporary home for Belle--and two other dogs, including a crippled pittie puppy and the big male pittie we had come to see.
Since then, vets have determined that Belle has a cancerous tumor on her lip. It is being removed, along with a bit of her jaw bone. The vet anticipates that she will have many more years to live and her quality of life will be good. What Belle needs now is a long term foster home where she can recover at her own pace. She has a lovely, calm, outgoing temperament, and is gentle with people and dogs alike. She is a true joy, and she is just one more reason why we keep venturing into the pound even though the experience usually reduces us to blubbering misery. Welcome, Belle. You've got good people now.
If you think you might like to foster or adopt Belle, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and fill out an application at http://www.cbbr.org/. If you can't care for Belle but you'd like to help us pay her $1200 surgical bills, we'd be grateful for donations of any amount. They are tax deductible.
Nothing ruins my day like waking up to a news story like the one that appeared in the Tribune today of two loose pit bulls attacking a 62 year old jogger. It's horrible, first and foremost, because an innocent person was terribly hurt. But it's also horrible, because every bite incident involving a pittie invites a new whirlwind of anti-pittie hysteria in the media. In some places, this hysteria has led to breed-discriminatory legislation and outright bans of pit bull type dogs--including thousands of beloved family pets.
I noticed something interesting this afternoon: There has been a little run on my blog today, and I suspect it's because so many of you came here looking for a response to these news stories. So, one more time, here's my response:
The best predictor of a dangerous dog is a dangerous owner. People in the dog business know that breed stereotyping is rarely predictive of an individual dog's behavior.
Pit bulls and pittie mutts are by far the most common type of dog in Chicago and are disproportionately likely to be owned by dangerous, neglectful, abusive, or criminal owners. (Though rescue groups are working diligently to change that trend.)
Unaltered dogs (like those involved in this attack) are more likely to be aggressive and more likely to roam away from their homes. Part of being a responsible owner is altering your pet. Period. No one cares that your dog's big balls make you feel like the man that you aren't.
Dogs who have been abused or neglected--e.g., fought, trained to be aggressive, isolated from human or animal contact, starved, ignored, abandoned, or actively harmed--are more likely to be aggressive toward the species who caused them such suffering.
Big, strong dogs, and dogs with high prey drive (that is, the natural canine drive to chase things that move fast) should ALL be handled by EDUCATED, RESPONSIBLE HUMANS. Any dog is capable of serious aggression toward people or other animals. So drivey, strong dogs need to be handled accordingly. This means abiding by leash laws, properly socializing your dog with all shapes and sizes of humans and other animals, and keeping your dog safely confined when you cannot monitor it.
Some dogs--regardless of their apparent breed--have real aggression problems. Responsible ownership means, when training and socialization have failed to prevent serious aggression in your dog, you should euthanize it. Not dump it on the street. You are legally responsible for your dog's actions.
So, there you have my opinion on this terrible incident. For those people who will inevitably want to form some sort of pitchfork-toting posse over this, I suggest the following: If you want to make this city safe, go after irresponsible dog owners, not their dogs. Demand that all Chicago's pets be spayed or neutered. License only reputable breeders and outlaw basement breeders. When we make our city safe for dogs, we will finally have a shot at making it safe from dogs.
If you would like to share more hysteria-free pit bull info with people you know, please direct them to Pit Bull Rescue Central. It's an excellent resource created by people who actually know the breed. And to the humans who are responsible for what happened to the jogger in South Shore today, may you pay for the suffering you have caused--to the human victim, to your dogs, and to all of the well-loved, well-behaved and still-hated GOOD pit bulls who struggle for respect because of irresponsible people like you.