By Pam Cyran
He was a puppy when he was continuously left outside, chained to a 3-foot lead in the middle of winter.
“The people that had him would use him for pig hunting,” said Noreen Ford of Sudbury.
The next time Ford saw the puppy she found him in a parking lot. She brought him to Animal Control. Ford said one of the owners came and “he picked him up by his collar, and he threw him back of his truck… So I couldn’t sleep that night.” Ford recalled, “I went back the next day over there, and that’s when I saw him curled up, and it was freezing cold, raining…” Ford went to talk to one of the owners. “You don’t bring him in the house? And she said ‘no, he’s a pit bull I’m not going to bring him in the house.’”
He was 9 months old then, but that was 11 years ago. He has a name now, Poncho, and has become a member of Ford’s family. Poncho is an American Pit Bull Terrier, and the first pit bull Ford rescued.
“I tried to find him a place, a shelter, no shelter would take him,” said Ford. “They said, ‘if he’s got pit bull in him, we’re not going to take him.’ So that’s when I decided, I got to do something.”
Ford did some research on the breed and started volunteering for Pit Bull Rescue Central, an online adoption center for pit bulls similar to the website “Pet finder”. She was also working closely with the pit bulls from Baypath Humane Society in Hopkinton, where she frequently volunteered.
It wasn’t long before Ford stared her own rescue, specifically for Massachusetts’ pit bulls. PittieLove Rescue was founded in 2000 and became non-profit in 2006.
PittieLove Rescue, as described on its Facebook group, consists of “volunteers dedicated to the care, understanding, and adoption of American Pit Bull Terriers, one of the most abused and misunderstood dogs of all time.”
PittieLove Rescue works with shelters and Animal Control officers throughout the state to take urgent dogs (i.e., dogs about to be euthanized) from shelters. Volunteers act as foster parents for these dogs and care for them until they get adopted.
PittieLove Rescue helps give pit bulls a second chance at life and what many rescues and shelters call a “furrever home.”
For example, Meatball. He came from Attleboro Animal Shelter, and was originally named Meathead. Meatball was in the shelter for more than nine months, but his shelter friends had nothing but good things to say about him.
“He lit up the room and loved to snuggle,” said 42-year-old Kim Penque, 42, from Attleboro. “His cleft lip and crooked tail added so much character to him. I miss him!” Penque, who is also the president of the organization Friends of Attleboro Animal Shelter, calls “Meathead” her “main squeeze.”
Meatball came from a rough beginning, but with the help of the shelter and foster parents Rich and Liz DeSousa, he found his happy ending in West Acton. Learn about Meatball, his foster parents, and new family members.
(Video: Full PKG – Meatball)
So how do potential adopters find these pit bulls to take home with them? PittieLove Rescue lists all their adoptable dogs on its web page and Facebook group. Interested adopters can meet the dogs at special events the rescue hosts.
One example is a meet and greet. Foster parents bring the adoptable dogs to a pet store in Acton. There at “Especially for Pets” on Great Road, pit bulls of all sizes smile at the people who might one day take them to their “furrever home.” Ellie Ward from Needham is one of them. Ward’s family is looking for a rescue dog, not necessarily a pit bull, to adopt.
Interested adopters are required to fill out an application. If the application looks good, potential adopters have to meet the dog at the foster parent’s home. Alexis Bywater, a pit bull foster parent from Dedham, is on her eighth foster puppy that is named Colin. She explains what happens next in the adoption process.
The 8-week-old puppy was found in the streets of Methuen. Animal Control picked him up and PLR rescued him in on March 3. On March 23, Colin went to his “furrever home.” His new family members are Gerri and Lon Balducci. The Balduccis’ grandkids renamed the puppy Brody.
“He is a wonderful addition to our household,” said Gerri Balducci, from Milford, Mass.
Before Brody, the Balduccis owned a pit bull named Tyson, whom they treated with nothing but love. “He was our best friend and protector,” said Balducci. “We gave him love like most parents give to their children. He in return gave us loyalty and respect.”
The decision to adopt another pit bull was a no-brainer. “We believe there are very few bad dogs, only bad owners of dogs – just like children.
However, Balducci said owning a pit bull, in order to reduce their stigma, requires responsible dog ownership and is a lifelong commitment that should not be taken lightly. “I do not believe that this breed of dog should be raised in a confined area, like an urban city, they need to run. I also believe that they need to socialize with other dogs and children – from puppyhood.”
The happy endings for Meatball and Brody come with a high price. PittieLove Rescue faces many financial struggles, despite its many fundraising attempts. On average, it costs $250 for the rescue to foster a healthy pit bull, but that still doesn’t include food and monthly needs such as Heartgard and Frontline medicines. The rescue pays for everything a foster parent needs while the dog is in foster care.
However, PLR does not turn away dogs for medical issues. Over the last year, PLR has eight dogs with major health issues, resulting in thousands of dollars in veterinary bills. Currently, PLR has spent thousands during the last few months on Kyra, who has a stomach problem that’s not yet fully diagnosed.
Adult pit bulls are $325 to adopt, seniors are $275, and puppies are $400. A dog 1 year and under is considered a puppy, seniors are 7 years old and above. All dogs are up-to-date on vaccinations, given temperament tests, spayed or neutered, and micro-chipped prior to the adoption.
The fees cover those costs and help with rising vet bills. The organization Animal People, average vet costs have doubled, even taking into account the change in dollar worth.
“Animal People” is an independent newspaper providing investigative coverage of animal protection and welfare, according to the publication’s website.
Fundraising keeps the rescue alive.
“All the money goes to the dogs,” said Ford, who added the group is usually in the red.
Rescue member Liliya Brenner, who goes by Lilly, from Springfield talks about the difficulties of running a non-profit rescue.
Brenner says “the dogs pay for it,” and Ford says it’s a heartbreaking truth.
Merrit Clifton, editor of “Animal People,” said 60 percent of the dogs euthanized by U.S. animal shelters are pit bulls, up from 50 percent in 2003.
About one million pit bulls per year enter animal shelters, about two-thirds surrendered by their keepers, said Clifton. Most of the pit bulls brought to shelters have already been through three homes: their birth home, the home that bought them, and a subsequent pass-along home, said Clifton. Animal People found that only 25 percent of pit bulls brought to shelters find another home.
Ford says that the high rate of pit bull euthanasia is attributed to the media, who spreads propaganda against pit bulls.
“If a pit bull bites somebody in Acton, it’s going to be in the news all over the country. If a poodle bites somebody in Acton it’s going to be in their local newspaper only,” said Ford. The pit bull documentary “Beyond the Myth” reported that in a 2010 search for articles referencing Nicholas Faibish on NewsLibrary resulted in 292 hits. Faibish, an 8-year-old boy, was killed by the family’s pit two pit bulls in California. A search for Kate-Lynn Logel resulted in just 18 hits. Logel was killed by a pair of Malamutes in Colorado.
Furthermore, 68 percent of articles referring to a pit bull attack mentioned the breed in the headline. Only 8 percent of articles referring to attacks by other breeds included the type of dog. The word pit bull is nine times more likely to appear in the headline than other breeds.
Ford said the media contributes to people’s fears of pit bulls, and the media sensationalizes it, causing a vicious cycle. “The most frustrating part is the number of surrender requests we get on a daily basis,” said Ford.
The rescue receives 5-10 surrender requests each day, and 90 percent of those are due to families moving and cannot take their dog, or a landlord no longer allowing a pit bull in a rented home. The rescue group has a strict policy stating they will only adopt their dogs to homeowners.
“People don’t call us and say ‘my dog just bit the neighbor.’ We don’t get that. It’s ‘I’m moving,’” said Ford. “When they call, they’re not even sad – I got to get rid of – I hate those words!”
However, Ford is proud to say that her pit bulls are changing people’s minds every day. Her dogs Poncho and 10-year-old Rosie, have changed her family’s perception of pit bulls. Also, Rosie is a certified therapy dog through Dog B.O.N.E.S.. Ford’s newest pit bull family member is Cassidy, who is 9-months-old.
Last year, the rescue group adopted out 96 pit bulls.
“These wonderful, wonderful people are giving these dogs a chance, that’s a big reward in itself,” she said.