Observations & Reflection

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This post contains some of the thoughts and sentiments expressed by several different ARLP volunteers, and represents a reflection on the impact Max had on us all. Thank you to everyone who assisted with this essay.

We named him Maximilian, a dignified name for a dog who deserved a little dignity in his life – Max for short. He had been found wandering in a local park. “Emaciated” was an understatement for Max; a dog that should have weighed between 50 and 60 pounds entered animal control weighing 30 pounds. It was clear that his condition was not a result of living for many months on the street. Instead he must have been left to starve in a basement or a crate, and then either broke his way out or was dumped. The black collar that at some point surely fit his neck nice and snug, now hung at least 4-5 inches loose, but it was still clean – definitely not the collar of a stray dog.

Six days after entering animal control, he had lost 5 pounds and now weighed only 25 pounds. His lymph nodes were swollen, he had trouble swallowing, and his body was shutting down. The animal control vet authorized his early release before his stray hold was up.

Max

Somehow, someway, when we opened his kennel run and put the leash around his neck, he found the energy and strength to pick himself up and walk out on his own. Once outside, he did all of his business. He was house trained. At one point, he must have lived as a pet.

Max went to the home of a very special foster. He was fed a small meal of chicken broth, canned food, and Nutri-Cal. He gladly ate up what he was given. He had fluids administered. A jacket was put on him to keep his little body warm. He was then gently set into a cushy bed.

Max

He leaned into his foster’s arms for love, and as if to show appreciation. After receiving scritches on his tiny forehead, he settled into the dog bed and buried his head under the blanket. He had food in his belly, his body was warm, and he had a soft place to lie; now he rested.

Max

This is the part of the story where you are waiting to read how he improved day by day, regained his strength and energy, and today lives with a wonderful adoptive home. And I wish that is what I could have written. But Max didn’t get that. Instead he passed away nine hours after leaving animal control. His poor little body had just had enough. He went peacefully and without suffering.

In cases like Max’s, we must adjust our definition of a happy ending. Humans may have failed Max, but in the end, kindness won. Max’s last memory was not that of a cold animal control kennel. He was safe and warm and delivered from this earth in the arms of someone who loved him.

Max is one of the precious, gem-like memories that we hold against our hearts when everything wrong with the world seems overwhelming. Loving acts are never wasted. Max will not be forgotten.

Max

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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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Foster homes - the first stop in our program dogs' journey to the good life - are an invaluable part of A Rotta Love Plus. When a foster home decides to keep its foster dog forever, you may overhear us joking, "another one bites the dust." But as you'll see in this post about the Williams' family experience with Sula, like many other "foster failures" before them, the match between dog and home was just too perfect to resist. Click here to learn more about fostering for ARLP.

Blog post by Seth Williams.

In early June, we were spending a typical Saturday out and about and had no idea that a new chapter in our lives was about to open. A phone call from ARLP foster coordinator Amy let us know that ARLP had visited Minneapolis Animal Care and Control (MACC) to evaluate a Rottweiler for foster care and, while there, they were alerted to a second female - of the 'Rottweiler mix' variety - that might be a good candidate as well. Seems the MACC staff arrived at work one morning and found her tied up in their front yard and saw some potential "amazing" in her. But she needed a home.  Could we take a dog? Sure! Today? No, but how's tomorrow work? Done. She had her temporary home.

Amy and Larry arrived the next day with a stunning little female on the other end of the leash.

That 60-pound, grey and tan Rottie mix walked into our patio that Sunday in June and, though we didn't realize it at the time, into our hearts as well.


Sula. Photo by Lp Reyes

We did the initial meet n' greet, got her settled, and rustled up a bag of food, some treats, and toys, and off went Amy and Larry.

We had decided on the name 'SULA' the night before her arrival based on a photograph Amy sent us. Sula's snout had a tan marking that looked like a mountain, and I was instantly reminded of a beautiful peak in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana named Sula Peak. She was as beautiful as that peak.

We began our Foster journey, intent on finding out what made this girl tick. Why was she abandoned? Was there something we weren't seeing? What could it be? A few weeks passed without learning any such information. What was happening, however, was Sula's subtle yet effective integration into our family.

Sula was brought into a home that already had two humans, a four-year old Lab named Hoolie, who has seniority,  and a four-year-old (or thereabouts) Rottweiler named Andy, who came to our home a little over a year ago from the State of Texas. Also in residence was a 13-year old feline with an attitude to match.


Andy, of TX200 fame. Photo by the Williams' family

Sula meshed into the daily routine and was readily accepted into the pack by the pack dudes. The cat tested this new arrival but soon decided she was worthy of feline companionship as well.

Training started with Rott n' Pit Ed, and attendance at Adoption Day events was planned and executed. All this time, we humans found we were constantly challenged by the idea of Sula one day leaving our family.


Sula and Seth. Photo by Lp Reyes

It was becoming evident that we were bonding and enjoying having her in our family. Besides, we were learning about the 'inner' Sula. Who else would understand her, know her likes and dislikes? But we found comfort in ARLP's ability to find the 'perfect' home and knew our job was to give her the best foundation as possible for success in her new home.

...but still...

Sula and Hoolie were fast becoming play companions and seemed to find great joy in eachothers' company. Andy, the cerebral Rottweiler, would engage Sula once in a while, but mostly seemed to watch in awe as Sula and Hoolie expended great energy in nothing more than play -- a concept that baffles Andy.


Hula and Soolie. Or is it the other way around? Photo by the Williams' family

When the applications for Sula started rolling in, our discussions of making Sula a permanent member of our family took on a sense of sincere purpose. Several days of discussing the pros and cons helped us discover that Sula had, in a bit under two months, in fact become a family member. If she were to be adopted into another home, we would miss her terribly, Lab Hoolie would lose a true play companion, and at the end of the day, our family would have an empty hole left behind.

Discussions conducted, evidence weighed, decision made. Sula was in her forever home.

Now we understood. Now we found, in the decision, joy, peace, and completion. It was, and is, the right thing.

We will continue to foster, albeit short-term, but anything we can do to help these critters successfully navigate waters they are thrust into, through no intent of their own, is time and effort well invested.


Home for good. Photo by Lp Reyes
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All winter we counted down the days to June 16th – the date of A Rotta Love Plus’ first 2012 Get Your Fix! Fair. And then, suddenly, it was June 16th and ARLP volunteers were at Powderhorn Park in South Minneapolis where we offered free spays/neuters, free vaccinations, and low-cost microchips to area pit bulls and Rottweilers.


It takes a group of ARLP volunteers to make the fairs a success!

Our Get Your Fix! Fairs target neighborhoods with an abundance of needs - where resources and financial means are not often available to spay/neuter and vaccinate pit bulls and Rottweilers. A Rotta Love Plus wants to be where the community needs us the most. We choose public parks that are familiar and easily accessible to residents of the targeted neighborhood. Because we hold the events right in the neighborhood we are able to reach dog owners who are unfamiliar with or cannot access existing spay/neuter services because of location, misconceptions, or lack of familiarity. Get Your Fix! fairs go TO the community in order for ARLP to become a trusted resource to dogs and dog owners in need.

This past spring some people had questions about the fairs. We thought we’d take a minute to share those questions and our answers to them in order to better inform the rescue community about what our Get Your Fix! Fairs do, how they operate, and why they operate in that manner.

1. ‘Why do Get Your Fix! Fairs only serve pit bulls and Rottweilers? Why such flat out discrimination? Why won’t you spay/neuter labs and poodles too?’

The ultimate goal of the Get Your Fix! program is to reduce pit bull (and Rottweiler) overpopulation and to prevent the euthanasia of pit bulls (and Rottweilers) in local animal controls.

Pit bulls are overpopulated throughout the country and right here in Minneapolis and St. Paul. At any local animal control pit bulls are likely to make up 50% or more of the population of the shelter dogs. And in most cases, only a few of the very many pit bulls who enter an animal control will make it ‘out.’

ARLP does NOT discriminate against any breeds, in fact our mission statement says...'advocating for the humane and equal treatment of all dogs without prejudice.' The simple truth of the matter is that this program is targeted to the breed(s) that need the most assistance, the breeds who are most unlikely to make it out of a local animal control alive, should they be unfortunate enough to enter one.

Proof of this can be seen by looking at the euthanasia statistics at any local animal control – the dogs not making it ‘out’ are the pit bulls, not the labs or the poodles. Labs and poodles and other breeds are not dying daily by the hundreds or thousands in animal controls throughout the country like pit bulls are.

The fairs are not just about altering pit bulls and Rottweilers, but about being a resource for a community in need of help and an advocate for dogs who face long odds of surviving.

2. ‘Why are you bringing so much attention to breeds already seen an aggressive by the media and the public?’


Lined up for the vaccination and microchipping fair!

The attention that our fairs may bring to pit bulls and Rottweilers is positive. The fairs create an environment of acceptance where pit bull and Rottweiler owners are able to do right by their dogs and all are able to celebrate the universal love between dog and owner. There is no judging, there is no stigmatizing. At each fair there are simply dogs and their owners receiving services that they might otherwise not receive.

It’s not an anomaly to have dogs lined up an hour before the fair starts. Dog owners come early because they want to be sure that their dog is vaccinated and chipped. Dog owners come to the fairs because they love their dogs and they want to do right by them. It really is as simple as that.

3. ‘Why are you providing services to dog breeders?’


No more puppies for Ellsworth & Gracie Lou.

We’re not: We are providing services to dogs in need. Our vaccination and microchipping fairs allow us to interact with a multitude of dog owners, some who have already fixed their dog and some who haven’t yet.

At a fair, we create a positive, mutually respectful interaction where our Get Your Fix! ambassadors are able to converse about the needs that the owner and dog may have. Training issues? A referral to ARLP’s Rott & Pit Ed is made. Spay/neuter services needed? Referrals are made for upcoming fairs. Other questions? We are there to answer them.

Not everyone is ready to spay/neuter the pet the day of the fair. We understand that. Our fairs are not one time stand-alone events. We go back to the community each year to offer our services. It is this familiarity that allows us to form a trust with dog owners. It is this trust that allows dog owners to converse with us candidly about spay/neuter. And it is this trust that will allow us to spay/neuter the most amount of pit bulls and Rottweilers.

And for those who are interested in spay/neuter, our Get Your Fix! ambassadors collect contact info and phone calls are made the day after the fair to set up appointments with our partner vets.

4. ‘Why do you spend money to vaccinate and microchip pit bulls and Rottweilers? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on spay/neuter resources only?’

The ultimate goal of the Get Your Fix! program is to reduce pit bull overpopulation and to prevent the euthanasia of pit bulls in local animal controls. Doing this requires providing spay/neuters AND vaccinations AND microchipping.

Spay/neuter efforts prevent needless litters of pit bull puppies from being born. Vaccinations are required by both Minneapolis and St. Paul - without proof of rabies an owner will be cited and could potentially have their dog impounded and if not reclaimed, euthanized. Microchips help to ensure that dogs that wander out of their yard or get off of their leash are able to make it back to their owner instead of being taken to animal control where they run the risk of being euthanized. It's a multi-faceted approach; there is no one simple answer to the pit bull overpopulation/euthanasia problem.

So how’d we do this past Saturday? ARLP volunteers rocked it at our first fair of the summer!

• 23 spay/neuter surgeries performed
• 64 rabies vaccinations administered
• 69 distemper vaccinations administered
• 41 microchips implanted

And we’re not done yet! We have a follow up Get Your Fix! spay/neuter event next Saturday back in South Minneapolis. We’ll be fixing MANY of the pit bulls and Rottweilers who came to Saturday’s fair.

We’ll be averaging 50 spay/neuter appointments a month between June and October. We will definitely be ‘Altering Our Community, One Pet at a Time.’

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There is one thing that new pit bull and Rottweiler owners have difficulty preparing for, and experienced owners find impossible to get used to: judgment, discrimination, and (often-willful) misunderstanding from those around us. However, we are far from being the only group that suffers from these hurts, and our annual participation in Pride is a powerful reminder that as we work to create a better world for pit bulls and Rottweilers, we are working toward creating a world where everyone is welcomed and embraced. 

For ARLP, being present at Pride is more than just another opportunity to increase community exposure to our breeds: It is a chance to show support for another group that has been “othered” by society – people in the LGBT community.

Some of the most salient similarities between our two communities are the egregious physical and legal barriers. We can’t take our dogs across certain state or national lines, board them at certain doggy daycare facilities, rent just any apartment, or purchase just any insurance. Likewise, “LGBT people face discriminatory insurance and tax measures as well as 500+ other legal inequalities,” ARLP volunteers Katie Louis and her partner Jada Hansen – pit bull owners who initiated ARLP’s participation in Pride seven years ago – point out. “Every year we go to the capital with our daughter to lobby for our equal rights. Right now we are working to stop a vote that will permit the majority to vote on the rights of the minority. The minority is our family.” In both the LGBT and the pit bull/Rottweiler community, “Misconceptions are working through the law to harm families… people must gather from the grassroots level and try to create change” and protect their families, Katie and Jada say.

Katie, Jada, and daughter Lili at her first Pride celebration

For many Rottweiler and pit bull owners, what can be even harder to accept than the rampant legal discrimination is the way we can be blissfully going about our lives, proudly talking about our dogs’ charming personalities or showing off their lovely manners, when suddenly we are stung by an ignorant comment about our dogs – and, by association, ourselves – that stems from misconceptions and closed minds. Every owner of a dog whose breed has a bad rap in the collective public mind has a story (and usually multiple stories) like these ones, gathered from ARLP volunteers:

  • Someone met Jazmin and said, But she’s so nice, are you sure she’s a pit bull?” - Jennifer K.
  • On a recent walk, I got permission for Tally to greet a small fuzzy white dog. Tally was waggy and jumpy and the white dog was fine, but the guy was kinda standing sideways, all uptight, and I said something about Tally being pushy with her friendliness. The guy replied, "Some people are uneasy because she's a ...." He seriously didn't finish his sentence. Like 'pit bull' is an expletive. - Ruth P.
  • Someone once told me that because Bettie was a pit bull, she should be put to sleep. - Lindsey W.
  • A lady at the dog park told me she saw a special on TV about the Rottweiler, and that they are “butchers of other dogs.” I explained that no, the documentary was explaining that Rotts were called The Butcher’s Dog, because they would help farmers get their herds to the butcher, and then escort the farmer home with his money...not because they were butchering other dogs! - Diane S.
  • Someone once quit a training class I was in because they didn't want to be in class with a pit bull. - Betsy C.

The hurt of these collective experiences weigh heavily on us, a feeling that many within the LGBT community can relate to. The LGBT community also faces the “belief that all individuals can be summed up in sweeping generalizations,” Katie and Jada point out.

Fortunately for us, the empathy that stems from LGBT individuals’ struggles can also make them outstanding pit bull and Rottweiler owners. As Katie and Jada put it, “the LGBT community (as a group) is more open to the possibility of adopting pit bulls, since we’re more sensitive to issues of discrimination. We know that popular negative opinion on a matter, especially when it comes to discrimination, generally needs to be confronted and fought against.”

So fight we do. Individually, we work hard every day to make sure we are ideal representatives of what pit bull and Rottweiler dog/handler teams should be.

Through education and advocacy, we endeavor to pave a path that will make it easier for future owners of misunderstood breeds.

In our daily lives, we strive to defend ALL Rottweilers and pit bulls, not just the ones asleep on our couches at home.

And, at Pride and elsewhere, we celebrate.

We celebrate the challenges that have made us resilient and the qualities that set us apart from the crowd.

We celebrate belonging to a community of open minds and hopeful hearts.

We stand up and celebrate ourselves and each other - not just pit bulls and Rottweilers and their owners, but all who have been made to feel that they do not belong.

Katie and Jada put it best when they said, “The LGBT community has gotten a long way by demonstrating that the most important thing you can do for yourself and your community is to be yourself. When you are confident and yourself, you are better able to give back to the community. We must teach people to embrace our unique differences.”

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Blog post by a “sad ex-mom of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier” who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns regarding the military. Foreword by ARLP Education Director Kellie French.

Stay up to date on ARLP’s happenings by visiting our Facebook page.

Foreword:

Reflecting on this past year I am thankful for so many things. One of the biggest is that another year has gone by and we continue to have a BSL-free (breed-specific legislation) Minnesota. We continue to live in a state where there is a law making it illegal for communities to enact-breed specific designations on dogs. I can rest assured that the two furry members of my family will not be judged, taken away from me, or euthanized simply due to their appearance.

Yet just four years ago, in winter 2008, this law was in serious jeopardy. Pit bull advocates, including members of A Rotta Love Plus and various other groups and community members, joined forces (enjoying strategy meetings at Summit Brewery - thanks Carey!) to educate legislators about the importance of judging a dog based on actions and not breed. Our efforts were successful and we got to keep our State Statute 347.51 Sub. 8:

Local ordinances. A statutory or home rule charter city, or a county, may not adopt an ordinance regulating dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs based solely on the specific breed of the dog. Ordinances inconsistent with this subdivision are void.

Although I am comforted by this law, I am not confident that this will be the last we hear of breed-specific bans and discriminatory laws in MN, so I am always ready to educate others to prevent a return occurrence. I recently was reminded of the fact that other states, cities, communities, and military bases are not as fortunate; I learned of a friend’s tragic experience and it solidified my conviction that anything that we can do about these types of injustices needs to be done. For all of those out there who have had similar experiences, I am so, so sorry. And for those of you who are fighting the injustices, thank you for everything you do.

________________________________________________

The time had come. It was time for me to prepare my young children for a painful loss, one that was too much for a five-year old or two-year old to process on their own. I knew when we welcomed our pup into our family, one year before our first was born, that I would someday have to mend broken hearts when she died. So why was I wiping tears from their chubby cheeks at bedtime when our dog was healthy, happy, and sleeping on the couch upstairs?

Our story starts in 2005. My husband and I had returned home from our separate deployments from the Army, and couldn’t wait to be under the same roof again and start a family. For us, the first step was to become “puppy parents” and get the cute dog that my husband and I had discussed over and over again while we would communicate over instant messaging while we were apart. We discussed different breeds thoroughly, reading books and researching online. Children were a must for us, so we made sure that the breed we chose would be great with kids. After extensive research, we decided on the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. We contacted a reputable breeder and welcomed our adorable red puppy, Willa, into our home.

Willa stole our hearts immediately. She loved to snuggle, and we would cradle her like a newborn baby at night while she fell asleep. We took her to swim in streams and laughed for hours at her antics of splashing the water with her paw and trying to catch the water in her mouth. She was full of personality and life.

One year after she came home with us, we had our first son. The memories we have of him giggling as a baby while throwing Willa’s rope and tennis balls to her will always make us smile. Willa tolerated the baby when he would climb into her bed, crawl on top of her, and pull her tail and ears. Never did she bite him or threaten him, which actually surprised me given how determined that baby could be! She was part of our family, no doubt about it. My husband and I often discussed what a great decision we made with this breed.

In early 2009, I was pregnant with our daughter. We were living on-post at what was my husband’s assigned installation in Kansas. Life was good. I was weeks away from giving birth, when one day I received an e-mail that concerned me. The e-mail informed me that the garrison commander had signed a breed ban for that post. Never, ever, had I thought that this was a possibility for the military. I had followed websites reporting on breed ban legislation because being military, we move. A lot. I wanted to be informed about the places that banned Willa and avoid them. To me, it was too easy. “I wouldn’t want to live in those cities anyway, obviously [if they support breed bans] they are full of ignorant people,” I often thought to myself. Since I enjoyed living on-post, it wasn’t an issue for us. But it quickly became an issue, and a big one: within weeks, the breed ban (which included something like 60 breeds) went from just being at that post to being Department of Defense policy at all military installations.

Willa was covered under a grandfather clause in Kansas, as she was already registered at that post. Once we left on-post housing, however, she would no longer be allowed on a military installation. I still cannot accept the unfairness of that policy. Military families move. A lot! My husband was transferred the next year to attend school in a civilian area. Willa continued to be the best dog in the world, with so much personality, and by this time putting up with three kids under the age of five. Ever since the day we found out about the breed ban, it was like a dark cloud hanging over our heads when we discussed our future and how Willa was going to fit into it. We knew that with my husband’s career – and with another 12 years before he can retire – the likelihood that we could avoid living on-post for all of that time was small.

And now that dreaded day has come. My husband received his next orders; he is set to deploy in a couple of months, after he moves us back to a different post in Kansas. This means that I will be moving to a new area, with no support, to take care of a house and raise three kids on my own for a year. There was no decision. We have to move on-post. After searching, we were lucky to find fantastic new owners for Willa in my hometown, which will allow us to visit her when we come to the area. This is little consolation to a 5-year old, a 2-year old…or their 30-something parents. Our hearts are broken.

As I was putting my kids to sleep the night before Willa was set to go to her new home, I was calm. Emotionally shut-down over the situation, made easier because it seemed like my kids were either oblivious to the situation (even though I tried to prepare them for months) or they just didn’t care. I was wrong. As soon as I mentioned dropping Willa off at her new house in the morning, the tears started pouring down their faces. My little girl started weeping “I don’t want to lose my dog!” over and over, tears drenching her blonde curls. I felt nauseous. I didn’t know what to say to a 2-year old who doesn’t understand what is going on in her life. She just moved from her familiar home, and now her dog is being taken from her? I then turned to talk to my son, to see if he was bothered by the conversation. His back was turned to me. I immediately knew that he too was crying, but didn’t want me to see his tears. Then my tears started.

I knew that I couldn’t explain this to my kids, but I tried. I started talking about breed bans (first having to explain breeds), and why some people agree with them. “Some people think that dogs that look like Willa can be mean and bite other people and dogs, so they ban them from living in Army cities,” I said. “But Willa isn’t mean and doesn’t bite,” my son replied. I was silent. He was right, and nothing I could say would make this fair. I then attempted to cheer him up and make his world feel a little more secure by saying “Just remember, no matter what, we have our family.” I knew mid-sentence that I shouldn’t have said it. He replied, sobbing, “but Willa is part of our family and we won’t have her.”

For the next hour, I held my kids as the three of us cried. They eventually fell asleep. I cried for a few more hours. The pain of losing Willa and seeing my adorable, sweet children with broken hearts at such young ages was more pain than I imagined. I am haunted by the faces of my distraught kids and their weeping voices.

My husband, my children, and I have made many sacrifices for the military, and have done so with pleasure; these sacrifices have been made for the love of our country. In the timespan of mere months, my children have moved across country, changed schools, and said goodbye to friends. But the loss of our friendly, playful, humorous, snuggling, PB&J snatching, constant companion is an unexpected, undeserved injustice – and is one sacrifice I will never forgive.

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Feb. 13, 2010, Pearla came to my home as my foster. And today, Feb. 14, 2011, she is still in my home! Has it really been a year?

Let’s review:

The first few weeks, Pearla hung out in my kitchen, while she acclimated to the household pulse, and the resident dogs acclimated to her presence. All fosters follow this schedule, called the Two Week Shutdown. It works wonders for all family members and I’d highly recommend it to anyone bringing a new pet into the home. Pearla learned our schedule of meals, playtime, work time, and quiet time. She learned how to potty outside. And I learned Pearla is highly interactive, very bright, and eager to please. All these attributes make training with Pearla a real joy. If anything, her attentiveness can be aggravating because if her reward does not arrive fast enough, she’ll run through her various tricks and learned behaviors in no particular order.

What a wonderful problem to have—a dog that wants to work with you, and may be faster in her repertoire than you’d expect!

Once the shutdown was over, and our household pattern adjusted to include her needs, we ventured into more rigorous, structured training. Pearla attended Rott N Pitt Ed, our ongoing introductory training available to all the program dogs, foster and adopted alike. She also took a few Canine Good Citizen classes, and passed both the CGC and therapy dog tests. She attended a tricks class, called Tricks for Pitties, just for fun! To keep her leash manners sharp and expand her doggy horizons, Pearla continues to attend RNP today, and what a great reason to adopt from A Rotta Love Plus! One of the many benefits of a relationship with ARLP is ongoing training support after you’ve taken your pooch home. I find this support a tremendous value, especially in the coldest months when training outside the home can be a real challenge in Minnesota. One of Pearla’s RNP Ed graduation days was televised as the backdrop for a local dog oriented cable show, while our Vice President, Lara Peterson, was the show’s special guest with her ARLP alum, Mo-Bits.

Over the next several months, Pearla attended many of our favorite ARLP events. Pearla attended the Deviant Art: Dispelling Myths Art show in the Northrup King building, as one of four special four legged guests. She went to three sessions of Get Set to be a Vet—one at the Edina High School and two others at the Science Museum. She danced her way through Minneapolis in the Gay Pride Parade, and her smile and constant wagging tail charmed everyone who met her at the Pedigree Adoption Event in Como Park. She also went to several summer school programs, where young kids were able to touch her scars, learn about Rottweilers and pit bulls, and improve their dog safety skills.

In the fall, Pearla was selected for the ARLP 2011 calendar (her calendar pose was featured in a short article in the Southwest Metro Community Magazine later in the year)! She attended her photo shoot in the west metro, where we learned Pearla does not like heights of any kind. Even a few inches off the floor makes her uncomfortable, which has provided a new training opportunity in the home. Heights are still challenging for our little pearl, but she has learned the soft comforts of the arm chair can be very nice, even at 18 inches off the ground.

This winter Pearla enjoyed special attention at Twice the Gift, a non-profit seasonal store where ARLP has twice been selected to sell handmade crafts to raise funds for the program dogs. Located in the Crystal Court, ground floor of the IDS Center, TTG is only open during the holiday season. Pearla charmed so many passersby on her Saturday appearance, that she was invited back for a second attendance later in December. What could be more indicative of how special this little dog is, for her to be invited to represent A Rotta Love Plus a second time, in the same shopping season, in downtown Minneapolis!

After the holiday season and the deep freeze in January set in, exercising Pearla proved a big challenge. While her health is stable, her allergies remain a challenge, so her food type remains the same, but I should’ve reduced her portions when weather forced us to cut back on our time outside. She remains a huge fan of fetch, retrieving all her toys every time you throw them, but the basement is not as long a retrieve as the back yard. With the limited exposure to daylight, the dark skin on her thinly furred scars has reverted back to healthy pink, as has her muzzle and the crown of her head.

Many times, I have thought about keeping Blondie Bombshell, and failing fostering for the second time in three years. There are so many positives about having Pearla in the home—she has that incredibly cute snaggle tooth smile, her tail is always wagging, and her desire to please is only slightly behind her desire to play. Since she has already passed all the required tests, she can represent her breed in all kinds of education, therapy, and dog-specific celebrations. All of these charming attributes make Pearla a wonderful breed ambassador, and a fantastic addition to the right home, including mine. But the cold hard truth, is there are many more warm hearted, smiling pit bulls out there, waiting for a place to relax, unwind, and learn how to become a fantastic breed ambassador, like Pearla. If I selfishly kept the Blond Bombshell, I would never have the chance to help those other dogs in need of a temporary home. In fact, had I kept the last foster, I’d never have experienced this wonderful year with Pearla.

So where are you, Forever Home? Pearla is looking forward to meeting you.

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People sometimes comment, "Why don't you have more dogs on your site?"...One of the reasons is because their foster families fall in love during the 30 day intro period and decide to adopt them and they never make it onto the website.

Here are our 2010 foster failures (winners):

Zoza

Albert

Jack the Cat

Jasper

Gabby

Bailee (Now Rubi)

Maverick

Dazee

Pete

Mabel

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A post from volunteer Paige


Pearla batted cleanup this afternoon, at Twice the Gift in the IDS Center, downtown Minneapolis, after Josie, Jazmin, and Madeline placed ARLP in scoring position. Pearla was the perfect hitter. She smacked the Therapy Dog ball out of the park in a major home run, winning the hearts and minds of strangers and friends of ARLP alike. With fewer shoppers/carolers/commuters around, each person that stopped by to say hello to her, received special attention.

One lady was special in her own right. Zipping around in a motorized wheelchair, this character maneuvered through the Crystal Court like a pro. Dressed in multiple layers, it appeared to me this lady had not been out of her wheelchair in quite some time. Her right foot was in a splint, the kind you can walk in, but her right arm and right side were covered with different layers of protection against our MN winter. A blue fleece hat covered her mop of gray hair. And holy cow did her lined and sad face light UP when she saw Pearla.

Pearla at Twice the Gift
Ms. Lady surged in our direction, stopping a discreet distance while Pearla treated a small group of admirers to her antics, licks, tricks, and happy dance. When the group moved on, Ms. Lady wheeled forward slowly. Pearla seemed a bit hesitant of the chair, but discovered the human inside it and soaked up the petting from Ms. Lady. Ms. Lady talked to Pearla in her own words, smiling and nodding at me while stroking the Bombshell. Ms. Lady spoke to me. I struggled to understand, so she backed up her chair, reversed and came towards me again with the other side facing me, speaking to me again.

“Service Dog.”

Of course! She is saying ‘Service Dog’ to me. She had the small red vest of a service dog as part of her belongings packed into the back of her chair. Darkened by age and grime from city life, the vest clearly showed the patch that at one time labeled its wearer as a service animal. I explained to her, speaking slowly, that Pearla is a Therapy Dog—not quite the same as a Service Dog. Ms. Lady explained to me that she had a dog (I believe her Service Dog) that died of old age. “Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Ashes,” she said. Cremated, I replied—yes, she said and nodded.

“Kind Hearted”

It took me a few tries, to understand this phrase too. Ms. Lady, who chattered away into Pearla’s smiling face, slowed her speech way down for me to understand. Frustration crossed her face more than once, as she tried to think of alternate words from the ones that would not roll out of her mouth. She communicated to me that she didn’t understand why people are afraid of these dogs. She was able to say ‘pit’ but the ‘bull would not come out—STROKE she explained, as she tried and tried to finish the phrase describing Pearla’s generic breed. “Why Afraid?” she asked? I took that to be, Why are people afraid of these dogs? I trotted out my standard answer—while there are a lot of bad people in the world, there are a lot of bad dogs, too, no matter how they became bad dogs. I blabbered on how we temperament test our dogs, how they used to have HA bred out of them, how cruel people treat their property cruelly…but she wasn’t listening. “Why Afraid?” she said again.

“Art” “Five Years of College”

She was gesturing inside TTG, at the canvases displayed on the wall behind the cash register. “I’m an artist. I have a gallery on Washington.” For the life of me, I could NOT understand the name of the gallery. I tried. She tried. She grew very frustrated, because her explanatory words would not come. Pearla helped her smile again—when Ms. Lady grew frustrated with her inability to communicate to me, Pearla calmed Ms. Lady. I understood that Ms. Lady went to college for at least 5 years, and the look of pride on her face was ALMOST as bright as her smile to Pearla. I did not understand the rest.

We went through more rounds of “Why Afraid” then Ms. Lady tried a new word on me. I didn’t get it. She tried again. Then again. Then she said, “Down.” AHA, you meant sit! So I waited til the next round of visitors were done petting Pearla, and just for Ms. Lady, I put Pearla through her tricks. Sit. Down. Wave. High Five. “Does she roll over?” No, I had to say, blushing. “WHY NOT?” Ms. Lady was indignant. Then we both laughed—I had no reason to explain why not! We learned how to last summer in our Tricks class, but I did not follow up with practice…maybe because Pearla is so awkward on her back.

More visitors came and went. Ms. Lady was pleased to share Pearla’s attention with others, but even more pleased when Pearla returned her attention to Ms. Lady’s one visible hand. “Kind Hearted.” “Kind Hearted.” Ms. Lady removed her hat. Her gray hair was short but neat, or as neat as any of us have neat hair, after removing a winter hat. She sighed in contentment, and petted Pearla for a few more minutes. She thanked me. I thanked her. She smiled the most amazing smile—a smile that highlighted all the lines of joy in her weathered face. Then she fumbled with her vest, deep in her covered lap. I thought she was looking for her hat, which she’d also placed in her lap. But no.

Ms. Lady, who did not appear to have a home of her own, or really anything other than the enshrouding layers in her motorized wheelchair, was digging into her secret stash in a waist pocket. She pulled out her money—several small bills, a $20, and a $5. Using her mouth to pull out the $5, she succeeded in extracting the bill. She looked at me expectantly.

“No,” I said. She nodded. The bill was stuck to her lips. She nodded again, and stuck out her chin in my direction, as she had no other hand to remove the bill and hand it to me. I took the proffered $5 from her, feeling completely overwhelmed at the kindness of complete strangers.

“Thank you,” she said. Thank you, I said, struggling in vain to fight back the tears welling up in my eyes. Michelle gave her one of our post cards. I gave the bill to Michelle, who placed it in our donations bin. “Thank you,” she said, and smiled. Ms. Lady reversed her wheelchair, and retreated from the entrance to TTG. She swung herself around, and ventured off to other areas of the Crystal Court.

I was too choked up to even say, Happy Holidays to this incredible stranger. A lady who appeared to be much in need, Ms. Lady donated some of her valuable dollars to A Rotta Love Plus, to help us help these wonderful dogs, when clearly the dollars were very precious to her.

Jana & Madeline at Twice the Gift
If anyone in the Minneapolis area has any idea how to identify this remarkable woman, or the gallery on Washington Ave where she may have displayed artwork, please contact us. Paige would like to return her very generous donation, with a contribution to her.

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