Author Archives: SaraN

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Over the weekend, we discovered an incident that left us feeling sucker punched: the trailer for our Get Your Fix! spay/neuter program was stolen.

ARLP's double-locked trailer contained all of our GYF materials: from tents and cones to microchips and vaccination supplies. Unfortunately, despite working together with local authorities and the property management company to reclaim it, there is little hope for its recovery.

This is a huge loss for a small nonprofit like ARLP, which runs on little more than the tireless work of our volunteers and the small group of big-hearted, generous supporters who toss spare dollars toward us whenever they can.

Our feelings of loss go beyond the physical 'stuff'. Not only have the individual(s) responsible caused great harm to an important community program, but worse: they have deeply violated a group of people who mean the world to us: YOU.

You see, when Get Your Fix! was just beginning, when it was small and not yet polished but every bit as full of heart as it is today -- and when local animal control facilities were forced to euthanize hundreds upon hundreds of homeless pit bulls each year due to shelter crowding and overpopulation -- you believed in us. You saw the work that needed to be done, and you helped us do it.

Because of the way you uplifted our program with your donations, encouragement, and help getting the word out, GYF has held 16 fairs and many more followup events, resulting in almost 1,000 pit bull spays/neuters plus twice as many vaccinations and microchips in only 4 years. All of this was provided at no/low cost to the local community. GYF has made a huge difference in overpopulation at our local shelters -- as the supervisor of St. Paul Animal Control said last year, GYF is preventing "friendly, healthy dogs [from being] euthanized without cause."

If there is a silver lining to be found within this week's setback, it's the fact ARLP's supporters have always been there for us with grace, generosity, and an outpouring of help for local animals in need.

If you've ever thought about donating to ARLP or Get Your Fix!, now is the time. We've leaned on you in the past to make GYF the stunning success it has been over the past 4 years; now, we come to you again with humility and gratitude, and the confidence that it is you who will help build us back up.
That's what this community is all about - lifting each other up. And you can bet we will pay it forward to the local community of pit bull and Rottweiler owners who have come to depend on and trust Get Your Fix to lift them up, too.

Our first 2015 GYF fair is right around the corner and we need your support now more than ever to ensure that Get Your Fix can continue to make a difference in our community.

You can contribute here.

Not in a position to donate? We would appreciate any help you could offer in spreading the word about ARLP and Get Your Fix. 

Additionally, if you are able to put us in contact with anyone from the media who might be interested in helping us spread the word about this incident (which could lead to information that could help recover our trailer), please email michelle@arottalove.org.

In the mean time, we are doing everything we can to minimize the effects of this event on the services we provide to the community. Follow us on Facebook, visit our website, and check out this GYF video to learn more about the ways in which we, together with your support, create a better world for pit bulls and Rottweilers.

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by Jen L.

Many of us celebrate our dog’s birthday these days. If we adopted an adult dog and don’t know their actual birthday, we celebrate their Gotcha Day, the day we signed their adoption papers and brought them home. We buy them a special treat or let them pick out a new toy at the store. Sometimes we throw an actual party, bake a cake, and invite our friends and family. At our house, we are celebrating an even more important day this year: Lloyd’s Freedom Day.

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Lloyd belongs to a special group of dogs. These dogs have been rescued from lives of abuse, neglect and exploitation; a previous life so appalling that we shake our heads and ask ‘How can someone treat another living creature that way?’ We will never know exactly what he went through the first year of his life, but in early April 2013 that life changed forever. While police were investigating a triple homicide in Oneida County, Idaho, they found over 60 pit bulls in what appeared to be a dog-fighting operation. Most were chained up and living out of barrels. They were underweight, malnourished, sick, and injured. The Idaho Humane Society took in the dogs and started the process of feeding, caring for, and evaluating them.

Our friends at BAD RAP helped IHS evaluate the dogs and decide which ones would benefit the most from going to a rescue group such as A Rotta Love Plus. ARLP rallied our troops and soon Lloyd (fka Dayton) and Crash (fka Tennessee) made their way to Minnesota and landed in two of our fabulous foster homes. The boys spent time learning about the world that was past the end of their chains, continued to put on more weight, and became healthy. I snatched up Lloyd for keeps soon after he was available for adoption, and Crash is still on the market.

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Life off the chain is great. Lloyd thinks food is by far the coolest thing in the world; playing with his friends at doggie daycare is probably a close second. He has two canine brothers to play and snuggle with at home. He runs errands, goes to training class, and even comes to work with me on a regular basis.

We have our bumps in the road to work through. Lloyd was terrified of the kennel for several months. If I even looked like I was maybe, possibly going to ask him to go in it, he would run as far as he could from the kennel and pancake in the corner. Thanks to our favorite thing in the world, FOOD, he now goes flying into that thing so fast that I usually have to push it back into place once he is in it. We are working through some general anxiety when outside or in new places. The world is a big place and many things are still new for him, but we are learning not to worry so much. He is doing great settling in to new environments when we are indoors, but the looong cooold winter didn’t help us work outside very much, so we are now playing a little catch up on our training program outdoors. Hopefully by the time the snow flies next season, he will be able to take a walk in our neighborhood and not think twice about it. We will get there together and enjoy the ride. We have the sun on our backs, food in our bellies, a roof over our heads, and each other. Life is good.

Today, we celebrate the day his life would never be the same. The day that a warm place to sleep, regular meals, companionship, and love would become the norm. The day that none of the dogs would ever again be forced to fight for somebody’s entertainment.

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This year is twice as special though – I get to celebrate Freedom Day with more than just Lloyd. A few weeks ago Crash needed a new place to, well, crash. I said he could bunk with us until we were able to find him a new foster. He has been a wonderful house guest. He is respectful of eight-year-old Monte with his bad hips and gentle when playing with 14-lb Jax. Crash is easy to take everywhere and is a great walking partner. He is a goofy, floppy clown of a dog and has brains to boot. He has loads of training under his belt, is crate trained and house trained, walks nicely on leash, is dog- and people social, and is very handsome. He will make a great buddy for someone; they just haven’t found each other yet (view Crash’s bio and adoption info here).

Even though we aren’t celebrating their actual birthdays, I thought it was best to keep with traditions and let the boys each make a wish on their Freedom Day.

Lloyd wishes that Crash will find a forever life as great as his.

Crash’s wish is for Lloyd’s wish to come true.

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HAPPY FREEDOM DAY to our fellow Oneida bust peeps across the country. Yuk it up today kids, you’re living the good life!

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Deviant Art: Dispelling Myths is a benefit art show put together by Sarah Thornton of Lintu Art to raise awareness and funds for ARLP and its programs. Our sixth (and final!) Deviant Art will take place at the Northrup King building in Minneapolis on Saturday April 5, 2014 from 3-9 pm. Deviant Art is a FREE event where you can experience Rottweiler- and pit bull-themed professional artwork, enjoy food and beverages, and meet some sweet therapy dogs. For more information on Deviant Art, visit the website or RSVP on Facebook.

Deviant Art is quickly approaching, and this year we are delighted to be featuring Sarah Ernhart of Sarah Beth Photography in this year’s show. In anticipation of the event, we asked Sarah to tell us a bit about herself and what “Deviant Art” means to her.

Sarah Ernhart

ARLP: What made you want to get involved with the Deviant Art: Dispelling Myths show?

Sarah: I'm a huge supporter of rescues in general, and I really love the people and mission behind A Rotta Love Plus. The Deviant Art: Dispelling Myths show is such a great way to bring people together and experience a wide variety of beautiful artwork, depicting often-misunderstood dogs in a positive light. I'm excited for the opportunity to join the other artists, and share my own experiences and images to help further this cause.

I think “Deviant Art” is a great name for this show, not only because of the subject matter, but for the type of work that's been showcased year after year, spanning so many different genres. It's a platform for deeper thought and discussion about ‘deviant’ breeds, and seeing them through the eyes of some very talented artists. From photographs and paintings to scratch art, sculpture, textiles, collage, found-object pieces, and more, there are as many different ways to make art as there are interpretations…. just like there are as many different dogs as there are perceptions of different breeds.

Bambino

ARLP: Who was your first pet growing up?

Sarah: Technically, my first pet was a house cat named Missy, but she passed away when I was 3. We had just moved to a farm at that time, and I do remember picking out Toby and Sheri, who would be our first two barn cats. That same summer, our neighbor down the road had a litter of black Lab/Springer Spaniel mix puppies, and we brought Sam home. We soon grew our little hobby farm to include sheep, horses, chickens, geese, rabbits, cows, and pigs.

ARLP: How would you describe the piece of art that was chosen as the featured piece for Deviant Art, ‘Frankie’?

Sarah: Frankie was a sweet, 11-year-old pit bull, whose best friend was a 13-year-old Basenji. We had a lovely summer evening for our session, and I think this image really sums up his personality…the bright eyes, inquisitive ears and slight smile on that earnest face… such a sweet boy! I love the contrast between Frankie and the grass, and the almost-abstract shape that his body is making against the background.

Frankie

ARLP: What are some of your personal experiences with real-life pit bulls and Rottweilers?

Sarah: I've had a number of clients with pits, pit mixes and Rottweilers from rescues, and I'm always so impressed with their capacity to love after experiencing abuse. Rottweilers in particular have been some of the most calm, sweet subjects; they are very connected with their owners, especially kids. (Unfortunately, many of those have been Joy Sessions, as Rotts seem to have such a high rate of cancer.) The pit bulls I've photographed are generally a little more active, and it's really fun capturing their HUGE smiles!

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2013 was another year of growth for ARLP’s PRIORITY Paws program, which brings therapy Rottweilers and pit bulls to youth in order to promote humane attitudes toward animals and people. Programs such as PP are what ARLP is all about: not just pulling dogs from shelters one at a time, but also working hard in our community to make sure the next generation of dog owners has the tools and knowledge to do things a little differently. A little better.

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The dogs bring smiles to [the kids’] faces, and it's so rewarding to be a part of that.” – Sarah L.

ARLP’s supporters and volunteers enabled PRIORITY Paws to serve roughly 340 youth in crisis this year. That’s 340 youth who will face their future with a new respect for dogs – especially our beautiful breeds – and for themselves, as custodians of animals they encounter in the future.

Being a part of PRIORITY Paws brings me happiness…[We’re] sharing our life book with one another, learning how to trust.” – Harmony G.

The past year saw new partnerships and new supporters. We began partnering with Ain Dah Yung in February in order to serve St. Paul youth ages 5-18, which led us to new and innovative teaching methods that were both fun and informative.

I also remember an older youth who was very tall and seemingly tough who was afraid to be near the dogs.  At the end of the session, he asked if he could give Mercedes a treat.  He gave her a treat and asked to give another for a trick.  I told him how brave he was to overcome his fear...Sometimes we can't reach the youth, but the dogs can!" - Laurel B.

In August, our other facility – the Bridge for Youth in Minneapolis – received a grant that provided funding for PRIORITY Paws and enabled us to boost our services to twice weekly instead of once. This funding is very exciting for ARLP as it also comes with formal evaluation of the success of the program, which we hope to share with our supporters next year.

Tally wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the compassionate action of many people...Serving as a therapy dog team for PRIORITY PAWS lets us pass on all that love and compassion to kids at the Bridge. I find it sweetly appropriate that Tally, who went so long without a safe home of her own, can bring a bit of comfort to kids [in a similar situation].” – Ruth P.

And in September, we were honored to be included in the ABCDOG golf event, which raised a large amount of money to ensure PRIORITY Paws’ continuation.

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At this time of year we also reflect on the outstanding new teams that have joined us this year, each of whom bring exciting new skills and stories to our groups. And of course, we remember the teams who have retired from PRIORITY Paws, whose gifts will be sorely missed.

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As we look forward to continuing our humane programming in 2014, we want to say – simply but sincerely – thank you to everyone who has supported PRIORITY Paws in 2013. Your support means the world to ARLP and those we serve!

These kids are amazing the way they process negative experiences and for a large part have gained insight and wisdom (at an early age) from those experiences. I suspect they have a good shot at being even more amazing than they already are. [Sometimes] I suspect I walk away with more than I brought.” – Seth W.

For more information on PRIORITY Paws, contact Kellie at education@arottalove.org.

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At ARLP, we know it takes a village to not only match the right dog with the right forever home, but to provide ample support after the adoption takes place to ensure that each 'match made in heaven' lasts a lifetime. The hard work of our volunteers that goes into our adoption process is SO worth it when we receive emails like this one from Tom and Kerry:

Dear ARLP,

Today is the 1-year anniversary of us adopting Lucy from ARLP (her gotcha-versary?). We wanted to send a thank you for matching us with such a great dog. Rachel, who generously spent time with us to determine if another available dog was the right fit and, months later, responded that they'd heard about a dog that might be The One (she was the one!).

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Susan and Amy, who took Lucy in as your first foster, gave lots of loving and care for her crooked hips, and still managed to let her go. And have continued to share the occasional play date with their own dog, Beau.

Laural, who coordinated us meeting Lucy, offered expertise and reassurance, and who we look forward to seeing on Pack Walks.

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Jen, who provided tons of guidance through multiple Rott n' Pit Ed classes, not to mention visits to our house to help us work with Lucy's challenges at home.

We are such better dog owners, breed ambassadors, and advocates for ARLP because of each of you.

Thank you! Keep being awesome:)

Tom and Kerry

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Deviant Art will take place at the Northrup King building in Minneapolis on Saturday April 6, 2013 from 3-9 pm. There will also be a preview show the evening of Thursday, April 4. Deviant Art is a FREE event where you can experience Rott- and pit-themed professional artwork, enjoy food and beverages, and bask in the attention of a number of therapy dogs. For more information on Deviant Art, visit the website or RSVP on Facebook.


A Rotta Love Plus
’s popular annual art show, Deviant Art: Dispelling Myths, is right around the corner. Started in 2009, Deviant Art is a benefit art show put together by Sarah Thornton of Lintu Art to raise awareness and funds for ARLP and its programs. Not only will the event feature talented local and national artists, but we also have some canine "star power" this year: Wallace (World Champion disc dog) and Hector (former Michael Vick dog turned therapy dog) will both be in attendance!

Given the pit bull "celebrities" joining us for Deviant Art, it's particularly fitting that the talented Featured Artist for the 2013 show is Clara Yori, a painter from Rochester, MN who also happens to be these famous pups' mom. Clara, who holds a degree in Studio Art from Saint Mary's University, uses rich layers of acrylic paint to bring out the life and love behind her favorite subject: dogs, of course! Check out Pet Portraits by Clara for more information on our featured artist.

In anticipation of the event, we asked Clara to tell us a bit about herself and her inspiration for Deviant Art’s featured piece, Dapper Hector.

 

Dapper Hector

Dapper Hector


ARLP:
What made you want to get involved with the Deviant Art show?
Clara: I have attended the show several times and was very impressed with the level of talent and the passion that went into the event and the pieces themselves. It never occurred to me to be a part of the show. I was merely an admirer.

ARLP: Tell us something about how you approach the topic of “deviant” breeds. What does “Deviant Art” mean to you?
Clara: My husband and I have a couple of pit bulls who are often in the spotlight. We have reached a lot of people by showing them that our dogs are both extraordinary but also very normal dogs. I think that's important: These "deviant" breeds are regular dogs with individual personalities and, if they're lucky, loving homes. "Deviant Art" to me means doing my best to show the goofy, fun, sweet, serious, and expressive side of each individual dog.

ARLP: Who was your first pet growing up?
Clara: My first pet was a guinea pig named Katie. I had two more guinea pigs and collected all kinds of amphibians, reptiles, and insects before I finally got my first dog, Heidi, a beagle/sheltie from our local shelter. I was in love with her and I remember doing a lot of drawings of her.

Wallace at the Pet Portraits by Clara studio

Wallace at the Pet Portraits by Clara studio

ARLP: How would you describe the piece of art that was chosen as the featured piece for Deviant Art, "Dapper Hector"? What feelings do you hope that it evokes in your audience?
Clara: The painting is of my dog, Hector. I love that it sums him up for me, dressed for the spotlight while remaining a big, happy dork. I hope it makes people smile.

ARLP: What are some of your personal experiences with real-life pit bulls, Rottweilers, or other “deviant” breeds? Overall, have these experiences led you to believe that these breeds are sinister, sweet, or somewhere in between?
Clara: My first real experiences with the "deviant" breeds was when I worked at a dog shelter after college. I was naive to the negative perceptions about certain dogs so I really had no fears going into it. What I met was a rotating group of dogs of all shapes and sizes who all had different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses, but they all wanted the same basic things: food and water, playtime, and someone who really cares about them.

ARLP: How do your current pets inspire your work?
Clara: I did a painting of each of my pets when I finally decided that I wanted to try painting. It was no pressure, just working at home, them watching me, while I pretended to be an artist. Those paintings gave me the confidence to continue and I'm so glad that I did.

Wallace and Roo Yori

 Wallace and Roo Yori, who will also be at Deviant Art
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Last week, we interviewed our own volunteer Education Director about ARLP's therapy dog program, PRIORITY PawsToday, we are thrilled to be able to share an interview with Lydia Zaidman of Love-A-Bull in Austin, Texas, about their all-pit therapy dog program known as The Pit Crew. We love reading about the similarities and differences between the programs -- there is so much to learn from the work being accomplished by the many excellent pit bull rescues around the country. If you would like your Rott- or pit-centric therapy dog program to be included in this series, please e-mail Sara Nick. Enjoy!

Photos courtesy of Love-A-Bull.


Tell us a bit about how The Pit Crew got started.

Love-A-Bull’s all-pit therapy program, The Pit Crew, launched on February 24, 2011. Love-A-Bull believes in educating and leading through example, as well as providing a wealth of community services through its programs. A major component of Love-A-Bull’s mission is to promote a positive public image of all dogs commonly labeled “pit bulls,” so by placing these dogs in a setting where they are providing therapeutic services to youth and those with special needs, it shows that pit bulls are deserving of love, praise, and respect. We hope that The Pit Crew program will open minds and replace negative stereotypes with more accurate and positive images. The dogs in this program are true “breed ambassadors.”

How many dog teams are currently participating with The Pit Crew? How often do you go on visits?

We currently have 14 dog teams and handlers in our program. We try to do between three and four site visits each month.

What are the requirements for a dog/handler team if they want to join your program?

Anyone with a dog labeled as a “pit bull” can register for the Pit Crew’s training classes if his or her dog has passed the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test and can provide proof. The dogs must be spayed/neutered, well-socialized, possess an appropriate temperament (not overly shy or overly excitable), and respond well to a variety of situations and stimuli. Generally, the temperament that will end up graduating must meet the following criteria: (1) friendly with people of all types and abilities; (2) controllable, predictable, reliable and calm, and (3) dog social.

Describe The Pit Crew's curriculum and who it serves.

The Pit Crew offers animal-assisted therapy to students at Gullet Elementary School, many of whom have special needs and are disabled. In addition, The Pit Crew offers reading assistance to students, many of whom also have special needs, such as dyslexia. The Pit Crew also visits The BeHive, an innovative after-school program for school-age children in a neighborhood known for high crime, high unemployment, and a lack of affordable, quality care for children. The Pit Crew also services Elder Haven, an adult day care program, as well as Regent Care Center, a nursing care facility. The Pit Crew also works at St. David’s with survivors of traumatic brain injuries. In addition, The Pit Crew has visited Perez Elementary School and KinderCare daycare to offer advice on how to properly treat animals, has helped educate the public on animal care at Town Lake Animal Center's Wellness Clinic, and has attended other public events, such as festivals, farmers’ markets and community-wide celebrations. New venues are always being added, but The Pit Crew intends to service only a small number of venues so that it can keep an appropriate ratio of volunteers to venues. The Pit Crew believes that customer service is of utmost importance.

Have you faced any breed discrimination in trying to get the programs set up? If so, how did you overcome it?

It is always a challenge to combat negative stereotypes of pit bulls that have taken hold through sensationalized media and inaccurate reporting, so The Pit Crew faces the same kind of mixed reaction that all pit bulls do. But we are making progress: there is already a ‘fan club’ at Gullett Elementary School called the “Pit Crew Peeps” made up of children who enjoy seeing the Pit Crew in their school and community, so we hope that others will become fans as well!

Why do you think pit bulls make good therapy dogs?

As natural “people-pleasers” pit bulls can be perfect therapy dogs. Their ability to learn quickly and adjust to various environments is a good fit for therapy work. By providing comfort and assistance to those with mental, emotional, or physical challenges, pit bulls can prove -- in one more important way -- that they are talented, versatile, and loving animal companions.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own pit bull therapy dog program?

Love-A-Bull operates with a basic attitude of “let’s be brave and try it!” with many of its initiatives because, frankly, pro-pittie programs in many communities are rare. We decided to fill a void in terms of positive education and outreach, and what it took was guts, energy, time, and commitment. With those in place, anyone can do anything they put their minds to!

We encourage others to plant a seed of an idea and give it some nutrients (time and effort); then, given some support (contributions or shared effort by others), that idea can grow. That’s how Love-A-Bull started and how we continue to thrive. With the Pit Crew, it just took willingness from a local trainer who had therapy dog experience, openness and cooperation from a local school principal, and the hearts, minds, and time of several dedicated pit bull owners – and of course, some fantastic dogs – these are the components to get it off the ground. We are anxious to see where it goes (and grows) from here!

For more information about The Pit Crew, check out their website!

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Several years ago A Rotta Love Plus (ARLP) began a formal therapy dog program, pairing pit bulls and Rottweilers with youth in crisis to not only help youth, but to improve the image of our breeds within the community. We didn't know it at the time, but it seems we were part of a growing movement to utilize therapy dogs to change the reputation of certain breeds – pit bulls, Rottweilers, etc. – and enhance local communities at the same time. Happily, there are now a handful of similar programs around the country, and we'll be highlighting them on our blog in the months to come. 

We're starting close to home today by interviewing our very own volunteer Education Director, Kellie French. Next week, we'll feature an interview with Lydia Zaidman of Love-A-Bull in Austin, Texas, about their all-pit therapy dog program. If you would like your Rott- or pit-centric therapy dog program to be included in this series, please e-mail Sara Nick. Enjoy!

Photos by Tara Engle Photography.

What was the inspiration for your program? Tell us how you got started.

As a social worker, I have seen a tremendous need for youth services, yet year after year so many great programs experience financial hardship and disappear. In 2008 after getting my first ARLP adopted pit bull registered as a therapy dog, I began to look for organizations that provided shelter and services to at-risk, traumatized youth to visit with my dogs. I had already been coordinating ARLP's Dog Safety Program (within schools, etc.) for a couple years and knew the healing power and positive energy dogs can bring into these environments, so I was anxious to get started with some of the most vulnerable kids. I  began by making twice-monthly visits to  a residential treatment center for youth.

Soon after, I started to connect with other Twin Cities community members who work with animals and children within a therapeutic setting. This  networking resulted in my being hired in 2009 to facilitate animal and art therapy groups to children residing within domestic violence shelters. I was amazed by the stories that the children would share about their experiences of violence, and it seemed like they were open to sharing these very difficult stories and feelings because the dogs created a safe environment. At this same time I teamed up with another dog handler to visit at a local youth shelter on an informal basis.

Kellie French and therapy dogs Cedric and Marri

Over time, I began to brainstorm a new program idea. Because I had access to other volunteers who had been part of ARLP’s Dog Safety Program for many years, I already had a pool of dog/handler teams. They were all excited about the possibility of this new program and, after many meetings and emails, we came up with a name, a mission, and a target audience. We knew we had a perfect fit, given the similarities between our marginalized dog breeds (pit bulls and Rottweilers) and marginalized youth, both groups commonly experiencing abuse, neglect, and judgment.

The program, now known as PRIORITY Paws – which stands for Pit bull and Rottweiler Interactive OutReach, Instruction, and Therapy for Youth – was officially underway in February 2010. We began our formal partnership with The Bridge for Youth in Minneapolis at that time. Later that same year, we began a formal partnership with St. Joseph's Home for Children,  also in Minneapolis.  This year, we formed a connection with Ain Dah Yung (a shelter providing services predominately to Native American youth) in St. Paul. Each of these locations provide housing and services to youth who are experiencing some type of family crisis.

Bettie, PRIORITY Paws dog

How many dog teams are currently participating with PRIORITY Paws? How often do you go on visits?

Currently, 16 pit bulls and Rottweilers and their humans volunteer with us. Each week we conduct three visits, with at least two dog/handler teams plus an extra person – a facilitator – attending each session.

What are the requirements for a dog/handler team if they want to join your program?

Pit bulls or Rottweilers who are registered therapy dogs are welcome to join our team. We very much encourage, but do not require, the dogs to be adopted from a shelter or rescue – as these dogs and their stories can make a powerful connection with the kids.

What human population(s) does your program serve?

PRIORITY Paws serves at-risk, traumatized youth who have experienced homelessness, abuse, and/or neglect.

Describe your program's curriculum.

PRIORITY Paws is an animal-assisted intervention program. We work with staff and therapists at our program locations to come up with weekly curricula that can best assist the youth in achieving overall wellness and help reunite families, which are the primary missions of all of our partner organizations. Each session deals with a topic of high relevance to youth (e.g., safety, support/trust, building positive relationships, and more); each topic is also discussed as it relates to dogs.


Rachel (ARLP President) with PRIORITY Paws dog Jana and the late great Jake

Have you faced any breed discrimination in trying to get the programs set up? If so, how did you overcome it?

Luckily, none of our partner organizations have turned us away based on the breeds that make our program possible. There has been some hesitation from certain individuals (e.g., a youth-org staff member here and there), but they often talk openly about their apprehension and make attempts to overcome their fears.

Share a memorable moment that has occurred during one of your therapy dog sessions.

I will never forget one 16-year old who, when talking about what he hoped for his future, summed up exactly what we are trying to accomplish with our programs: “I wish that I will find my own happy home. I relate to the dogs because everyone needs a place to belong.” I actually have this quote posted in my office!

How is your program changing minds about pit bulls and Rottweilers?

As an example, the new director of the Bridge for Youth met with the PRIORITY Paws team to learn more about our program. He admitted being a little timid around pit bulls, but he changed his mind when he saw our dogs rolling on their belly for the youth and showing off their tricks. He told us how much he loves the concept of how our dogs and youth share common life experiences, like being the target of prejudice and judgment.

Highlight a particular therapy dog from your program. What makes this dog special to PRIORITY Paws?

It would be impossible to share a story about just one dog; each and every dog who is part of PRIORITY Paws bring so much to the program and each dog has something different to offer the youth! We have at least two dog/handler teams present for each group, so I try to match a more excitable dog with one that is more laid back for each session. This allows a youth who is slightly fearful of dogs (or simply shy or introverted) to connect with the mellow dog, whereas the more outgoing and excitable dog is a great match for a youth with more energy. This means at any time, within any group, each dog can be a perfect match with a number of the youth present that day.

Why do you think pit bulls and Rottweilers make good therapy dogs?

I’ve been a part of a number of therapy dog groups with various breeds, and I convinced that pit bulls make the best therapy dogs for youth. (Yes, I am biased). Pit bulls seem to absolutely love interacting with youth! The high-energy nature of some of the dogs matches perfectly with that of the youth, their shorter hair leaves the spaces cleaner, and their medium size allows them to fit nicely in tighter spaces or rooms. Overall, a pit bull's temperament of being a complete people-pleaser and clown makes them a perfect match for youth who are experiencing tough time. As for Rottweilers, their size and gentle, regal presence always have a big effect on the kids. The kids love getting to witness the paradox of the large and tough-looking, but gentle and goofy Rotties!


Josie, PRIORITY Paws dog

What advice would you give to someone starting their own pit bull therapy dog program?

For the dogs: follow the rules of national therapy dog organizations. For the human volunteers: offer trainings or times to meet so everyone knows what is expected of them and what the organization, target population, and program are going to be like. For program development: after ‘selling’ your program to a facility, be sure that there is at least one person working there who is committed to championing your program and being your main contact.

Anything else we should know?

We are so excited to watch the partnerships between human-service and animal-welfare organizations grow and develop, bringing people who care about people and animals together in ways that they have not before. We are also happy to see the tremendous amount of joy from the youth, and look forward to developing ways to evaluate the positive outcomes that we experience every week. In gathering this information we hope to publish our results and show the world the important things that are achieved when dogs are conduits for change in struggling young people's lives. Not just any dogs, but pit bulls and Rottweilers, who – similar to the youth we serve – are often viewed as discarded, unwanted, forgotten, mean, or worthless. Ultimately, we are hoping to create a better future for pit bulls and Rottweilers and our community's youth.

Where can people get more info about PRIORITY Paws?

Shoot us an e-mail at education@arottalove.org (we are all volunteers so it may take a few days to get back to you!).

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Blog post by Kellie French.

Many people who work in animal rescue can relate to having to fight the thought, “there is no hope for humanity.” In addition to animal rescue, I have worked in the child welfare system for almost a decade, so there are plenty of days that I wonder about the human race.

However, there are also many days that remind me why I love doing what I do.

Days where I can see the full picture of the community who helped keep a family – human and animal alike – intact.

Days like the one that I witnessed a family’s struggle come full circle: from asking for help, to becoming the helper.

A Family Fights to Stay Together

As a representative of the MN Alliance for Family & Animal Safety (MNAFAS), I was contacted one afternoon by Minneapolis Animal Care and Control about two pit bulls in need of safe housing. Eva, the loving owner of Bubba and Pearl, had found herself in a scary domestic violence situation and entrusted her dogs to animal control to be held until foster homes could be located to keep the dogs safe until the woman could safely reclaim them.


Pearl

I met with Eva and her daughters to learn more about her situation, her dogs, and her safety plan. Eva shared with me her story, and her oldest daughter, Ashley, spoke about the behaviors, needs, and personalities of Bubba and Pearl. I was humbled to find out that Eva and her daughters were currently residing in a homeless shelter, kenneling their dogs in someone's garage overnight. They had to take their dogs from 5 am to 8 pm each day, but since they had no place to live, they would spend their days at parks with the dogs. This significantly affected Eva's ability to focus on other areas of her life, such as finding housing. Although the family had to make significant sacrifices to care for their dogs, they were happy and strong because they were together.

That was when MNAFAS stepped in to help. Eva, her daughters, and Bubba and Pearl were a perfect fit for the MNAFAS Pet Safe Housing Program and an example of the necessity of this service within our community: families are not only comprised of humans, but beloved animals as well, and some people will compromise their own safety and well-being in order to keep their pets.

It Takes a Community

Minnesota Pit Bull Rescue (MPBR), also a member of the MN Alliance for Family & Animal Safety, put out a request for foster homes for Bubba and Pearl. The dogs were subjected to a simple temperament test to ensure that they did not pose a danger to humans, and they were soon placed with foster homes. Bubba, a social butterfly, made quick friends with his foster family's dog. Pearl, who was much more mellow, was slowly introduced to her foster family's dog and cat.

Just like with any major change, adjusting to foster care was difficult for these two dogs. Bubba destroyed his kennel – he just wanted to hang out with his new foster family!

Pearl, on the other hand, was thought to have a bladder infection. But it soon became clear that it was something more serious. MPBR began to investigate why Pearl wasn't feeling well and, after countless tests, it was determined that she had an inoperable cancerous mass. MPBR volunteers were faced with the task of breaking this devastating news to Eva and her girls. Pearl was put on a medication that would keep her comfortable and pain free.

After a few months, Eva was able to bring her entire family back together, and Bubba and Pearl were reunited with their girls.

Bubba

The Giving Comes Full Circle

More than a year later, in September 2012, I again connected with this wonderful family – this time, at one of A Rotta Love Plus’ Get Your Fix! fairs, where they had come to get their dogs vaccinated and microchipped. Unfortunately Pearl had passed away, but Eva and the girls were elated to introduce me to their other dog, Golden, who they had just recently gotten away from their abuser. Bubba was with them too, exuberant as ever, and happily being wrangled by Ashley.

 Golden

That day, Ashley asked how she could volunteer with A Rotta Love Plus to help others, like those who helped her dogs. So in October, at our last Get Your Fix! fair of the season, Ashley joined the other ARLP volunteers in setting up tents. She listened to the precise directions necessary for recording microchip information. She spoke to people waiting in line, writing down their information and letting them know about the services being provided that day. Ashley also talked about her interest in keeping dogs safe and healthy, and her internship at a veterinary clinic.

Clearly, this teen and her family have not let life’s hardships affect their ability to show compassion.

With all of the terrible things that happen around us every day, I look at Eva, her daughters, and their dogs, and remember that what we do matters. It lasts.

The compassion we show others – animals and humans alike – sets an example that will be passed along to ensure a better place for all of us.

Fellow Get Your Fix! volunteers and me
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All of ARLP's foster dogs are, and will always be, near and dear to our hearts. But some -- due to their duration of stay in foster care, their particularly unique personalities, their resilience, or, as in Tally's case, a combination of all three -- leave a lasting impression on all they meet. We know that the many people who have followed Tally's journey over the last two years will be overjoyed to hear that Tally is home for good. Here, Tally's forever mama tells a story of what you want, what you get, and the unexpected bliss can result from a mismatch between the two.

Blog post by Ruth Patton.

It started with an email message from Jen L., ARLP's lead Rott n' Pit Ed trainer, in early January: “Hey Ruth, We just started another session of class and I was wondering if you would be interested in being a training buddy for Tally. Let me know what you think!”

The answer was yes, of course (more accurately, it was “Wheeeeeeeee! YES”), and Tally and I met for the first time on January 15. I picked her up at Chez Hotchkiss [home of ARLP volunteers Amy and Larry], and she was wearing a cute little pink collar and sweater set. I remember a lot of jumping and scrabbling and lunging and snorting...Tally was Distraction in Argyle. I got her into the car, got her to class, tried over and over to get her attention while she pulled and yodeled, and ran out of treats.

Ruth and Tally at Rott n' Pit Ed soon after they met. Photo by Lp Reyes

The next day, Amy emailed, “No pressure...but do you love her????? :)”

The truth? No. I mean, not in that way. Not in the 'adopt her' way. I grew up with dogs, and loved dogs, and knew I’d have one someday, which meant I’d thought about it a lot and had a fantasy dog in mind. Fantasy dog was male (so, not Tally), tall (strike two), laid back (three), and he’d run miles and miles with me (have you seen Tally’s wonky wrist?). And on the limited occasions I was willing to admit the depth of my psychosis, fantasy dog would also convince the cats to love him, he’d get along with all other dogs, and he’d protect me from muggers. (I know. I’m not proud of it.)

Not that the ARLP chicks didn’t try. “So-and-so was saying that Tally's totally your dog.” SIGH. I thought Tally was cute and had fun at Rott n' Pit Ed with her and cried just a tiny bit when I dropped her off at home for the last time in early March, but she totally wasn’t my dog.

Ruth and Tally consider each other. Photo by Lp Reyes

Aaaaand then I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I kept checking the list of available ARLPups to see if she was still there, and I’d make cheerful, promotional comments on her Facebook pics (e.g., “She’ll make a GREAT companion!”). And I kept hoping she’d get adopted so I could let it go.

In the meantime, Cory and I decided to give fostering a try. It seemed like a great way to have a dog in our lives without having to make any kind of permanent commitment. For me, the cats were a serious concern. No so much Jasper, the lazy male with three settings – sleep, make biscuits, cry for dinner. It was Poppy I was worried about. She’s seven pounds of fury. She’s the one who runs to the door whenever someone comes over...not to greet them, but to assess if they’re a threat that needs to be neutralized. She’s faced off with two dogs at once totaling over twelve times her mass. She backed the neighbor Labrador into a corner of the kitchen and kept him there, hysterically yelping, until I managed to get a towel over her.

Jasper in front, Poppy in back. Photo courtesy of Ruth Patton

I was afraid that if a dog showed any interest in her, or chased her, or heaven forbid, tried to attack her, she would scratch their eyes out. So having a dog in the house could turn out to be ultimately unworkable for the long-term.

We submitted the foster application in early April and heard back from Amy, who wanted to come over to see the house and yard and make sure we weren’t hoarders and were fit for fostering. I asked her to please bring Tally. We locked up the cats, the guests arrived, and Tally destroyed two toys, popped our kickball, and rolled in her own pee. I emailed a friend later, “DOGS ARE SO GREAT.”

Smitten much?

Tally works her charm on Cory. Photo by Ruth Patton

Soon after, Amy asked if we’d like to dog-sit Tally while she and Larry were on vacation in early May. I let Cory decide because I felt biased. He agreed, I did a secret celebration, and it was decided. On April 30, Amy dropped her off with all of her doggie accessories, gave feeding instructions and some sage advice, and went home. So there we were, with Tally in the house, wondering how we were going to handle the next couple of weeks.

Photo courtesy of Ruth Patton

You know how the story goes. She hasn’t left.

I remember Tally as a bit out-of-control back in January, and apparently when she first arrived in Minnesota her distractibility was legendary. But her many months with kind, caring foster families helped her settle down into a very easy dog. From the beginning, she was great in her bin – went in easily, didn’t complain once there. She’s great in the car. She doesn’t bark, doesn’t get in the garbage. Really, the only naughty thing she does is chew plastic things (water bottles, food containers, plant pots...with the plants still in them, but we know that, so if she gets one, it’s our fault). She’s very trainable – what started with “leave it” with treats became “drop” with toys, and she’s decided she likes to fetch.

I’m not sure I can explain how ridiculously delightful Tally is. She loves to play, and her capacity for fun is almost matched by her clumsiness. When she wants your attention, she’ll grab a toy – a ball of some sort – amble up with it in her mouth, and just bonk right into you, toy-first. BONK. Tug is super fun, and she’s surprisingly good at catching high fly balls, but sometimes she’ll leap up to catch one and throw herself completely off balance, landing hard on her side (but up the next second, chewing the ball as she toddles up, reluctantly but eventually dropping it for another go). She snorts and sneezes and makes funny noises. Her ears don’t match. She sleeps hard and is happiest on the couch next to or on top of someone. She seems particularly content while a beloved person holds a Nylabone for her as she gnaws on it, gazing deeply into her person’s eyes, gnaw gnaw gnaw.

Family photo by Lp Reyes

Perhaps my favorite Tally quality right now is her adoration of the neighbor kids. Especially Cora, who’s eight. When they visit, Tally won’t leave Cora’s side. She stares at Cora with unmitigated devotion. If Cora sits down, Tally lays in her lap. We showed Cora how to play fetch with Tally, and it’s heart-swelling to watch this little girl with her little girl’s voice say, “Tally, drop,” and see Tally, so intense, drop the ball, sit down, and look up into Cora’s face.

Yep - that's the adoring look. Photo by Lp Reyes

And the cats? We took it super slow, kept the species separate. They didn’t even see each other for the first month. Then we moved Tally’s crate into the dining room and covered it with a blanket when the cats were around. Then the blanket came off. We increased their exposure to each other over the course of weeks: we’d have Tally out and let the kitties into the room for five minutes. Then ten. Then fifteen. In general, and to my huge surprise, Tally is completely intimidated by them. Her usual reaction is to look away, as though trying to convince herself that if she doesn’t see them, they won’t see her. There have been two incidents of Poppy-on-Tally violence, both of which began with a great deal of cat menacing behavior (growling, stalking) and ended with Poppy swatting Tally on the butt, even though Tally was exhibiting the most pathetic expression of canine submission you can imagine. (And both of which happened when the human intervenor was on the toilet.) I’m pretty sure Pop didn’t even use her claws; she just wants everyone to admit that she’s in charge. As I’m writing this, Tally’s asleep next to me on the couch, and Poppy’s on my other side. Jasper’s next to us on the back of the couch. It’s better than I’d dared hope.

Even so, Tally’s not completely comfortable around them. When one saunters into the room, she’ll often lick her lips and look at me. It’s that looking-at-me part that melts my heart. She’s nervous, and she turns to me. Every time, I tell her, you’re okay. I’ll protect you. And her history is always in the back of my mind, with the fight ring and then the substandard shelter where so many of the other dogs died, so I feel like I’m making amends for the human race, you know? I mean it when I say to her, I will keep you safe for the rest of your life.

It's official! Photo by Lp Reyes

I still have a hard time believing she was in foster homes for so long – almost 18 months! I don’t think she was waiting for us. I don’t believe it was meant to be; I just don’t think the world works that way. But I do feel very, very lucky that it all happened the way it did, that Jen thought of me and that Amy brought her over and that Cory was here and that I’m finally ready to let go of my fantasy dog and cuddle up with a real one. That’s how it goes, right? There’s what you want, and there’s what you get, and the two don’t have to match up for life to be good. Tally is amazing. Loving her makes me a better person. I’m going to keep her safe and happy for the rest of her life. And I’m grateful for ARLP and the work it does bringing dogs like Tally into the lives of people like me.

Amy, Ruth, and a group of ARLP supporters at Tally's adoption party. Photo by Lp Reyes
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