It's very apparent that I was bred to nurture. And I’ll give all the credit to my mother for that. She grew up without her parents and, as a result, developed a primal need to “parent” everything and anything she could.
This desire was undoubtedly instilled in me, with animals in need being the greatest beneficiaries. Further, growing up in a neighborhood where large dogs like pit bulls running loose on the streets was commonplace, my affinity for nurturing these breeds was inevitable.
My first dog, Shadow, was a pit bull mix that I found in an alley with wire wrapped around her neck; with my mother’s obvious blessing, I rescued Shadow and gave her a home and the unconditional love she deserved. And so it began.
Given this story, it’s not surprising that I make a concerted effort to seek out those dogs in the most dire of circumstances; the dogs to whom second chances don’t seem like a reality: the pit bulls, the Rottweilers, the large mixed-breeds that people quickly judge and often fear.
Last week, I met several pit bulls at Rockdale County Animal Control, a shelter I frequent in Conyers, GA, and I knew that without my help, their death sentence would soon take its toll. One, a little female blue pit, had a debilitating case of mange. Two adult male pits, had little to no hope of knowing a life beyond those shelter walls.
These were the sweetest of dogs with the slimmest chances for survival. That hopelessness in their eyes, that knowingness that they’re doomed, it always lights a fire of determination inside me. Because I know that with a little attention and affection, that hopelessness starts to look like joy and if rescued, that joy becomes the most unparalleled and unending expression of gratitude.
These dogs have the capacity to understand when they’ve been saved, and once they’re given that second chance, all they want to do is continually show you how much they love you for it. It is that reciprocation of unconditional love that drives me to show up, again and again, meet these dogs and call on the cavalry to help get them out.
These three dogs I just mentioned are no longer in the shelter. They are now being loved and cared for in ways they’ve never known. And I promise they are returning that love tenfold.
I want to be clear; I fully understand that there are dogs that are predisposed to volatile behavior, that must be vetted and handled carefully. For example, it's true that pit bulls in recent years have been bred to fight, however, that doesn’t mean they're all aggressive, it means we need to educate ourselves so we understand what the signs are early on.
These animals are all deserving of a chance at life, at love and the majority will never have either of those things because of misinformation which leads us to believe and ultimately perpetuate these stereotypes.
The reality is this breed is no more aggressive than chihuahuas, but chihuahuas don't make the news every time they bite someone. And if we make it our mission to address what’s wrong, we can begin to make things right.
I truly believe with appropriate training programs in place, with properly-educated shelter employees and potential adoptive parents, we can create a harmonious system for saving as many canine lives as possible.
Rather than assume the worst about these breeds and watch them live their last days alone in a concrete cell, let’s figure out a way to combat the stereotypes by dealing with the issues that create them.
Let’s give shelter employees the resources (and the raises) to begin assessing and training these dogs while they’re waiting to find their forever homes so they’re more attractive to, primed for, and well-matched to potential owners. If we make their jobs more important and more rewarding, the dogs will be rewarded in turn.
Let’s setup a voucher system for additional resources (i.e. training, supplies, etc.) for those people who choose to rescue these dogs, so they aren’t simply sent away with a dog and a prayer, but rather with education, tools, and incentives for proper care.
I’m sure there are professionals and businesses who would donate their time and materials to help adopters transition smoothly into parenthood; to help them fully understand their new pet, flaws and all, and to aid them in managing the financial stress and societal stereotypes that accompany their new baby.
I realize this is a tall order and that it requires a great deal of effort in addition to financial resources, but I have hope that if we just start somewhere, anywhere, and prove with incremental change will come incremental progress, we can galvanize a movement that will forever alter the realities of these big, beautiful babies who are so desperate for love...and even more desperate to give it back.