Monday, July 27, 2015

The mechanics of pulling a dog

When rescue groups take dogs from public shelters, it’s called “pulling.”  There are many factors that determine when we pull a dog and which dog to pull.  It’s an art rather than a science, but there are some rational considerations that shape these decisions.  We are working on developing a fuller set of guidelines, to make the process as clear and transparent as possible.

To that end, we’d like to let our volunteers and friends know what the current guiding factors are and also ask for your suggestions, questions, and wishes to help us develop a fuller and clearer plan.

Before we get to specific guidelines for pulling that we might develop, here are some things to remember about our organization:

- We are an all-volunteer group.  No one does this full time.

- Each dog we add generates work and costs far beyond the obvious.  Each dog needs vet visits, food and supplies, rides to events, training and socialization, Petfinder listings, Facebook posts, and much more, and all of those needs make work for lots of different people.  Every dog requires a lot of volunteer time not just from the foster but from the folks doing fundraising, replying to emails, updating Petfinder, staffing events, and so forth.

- One of our goals is to save as many lives as possible, but we have additional goals that take up volunteer time as well, including education and advocacy work, training, shelter support, and other projects that, in the long run, contribute to better lives for dogs – but that, in the short run, place some limits on the number of dogs we pull. 

- Who decides?  Decisions about adding dogs are made by our five-member board of directors (required as part of our 501c3 status), but we are a fairly decentralized group and other volunteers have lots of input into every aspect of what we do.  We try especially to make sure we check with the people who will be most affected when a dog is added.  Thus we might say "no" if the foster coordinator or event coordinators are feeling overwhelmed, even if there is a spot available.  Or we might say "yes" when a long-time foster wants to us to pull a dog and offers to foster the dog as an "extra."  It's an art, not a science.

With that in mind, what are the factors that enter into the decision to pull a dog?

- Total number of dogs in the program currently.  We’ve found that once we approach 30 dogs, the logistics of events, supplies, etc. get difficult.  20-25 seems to be a good number.

- Mix of dogs in the program currently.  We usually have some dogs in treatment for heartworm or another condition who aren’t quite ready for adoption.  Among adoptables, we like to have a mix of puppies and adults and males and females, as well as a range of ages, sizes, and personalities.   This is important for adopters, who often have a particular kind of dog in mind.  If we’re especially heavy on boys at a given time, we may prefer to pull a female, or if we currently have a lot of dogs in treatment, we may want to pull one who’s ready to be adopted. 

- Shelter of origin.  As a breed rescue, we pull from a number of local shelters, including Alachua, Bradford, Clay, Gilchrist, Levy, Orange, and Putnam counties.  We try to support them all, and we try to have dogs from a range of those shelters in our program.  There are different reasons to pull from one or the other.  Alachua is by far the easiest to work with – it’s local, they vaccinate and heartworm test on intake, and they do good temperament tests and answer all our questions.  However, they have a much lower kill rate than any other shelter we work with, partly because there are more rescues working in Gainesville than other places.

- Available foster homes.  Very few fosters can take just any old dog.  Most have restrictions, based on their own pets and human household, their schedules, the size of their home, their location, whether or not they have a yard, etc.  Thus we may have a foster available who can only take a dog- and cat-friendly adult male dog, for example. 

- Foster juggling.  Often we have to move dogs around, because a foster is moving, or their home situation changes, or the placement isn’t working out, or the dog has finished treatment, etc. Juggling foster homes is really hard, because few fosters want to give up one who’s settled into their home, and we hate to move dogs around more than necessary.  Sometimes we have a dog who needs a new foster home, and an available foster home that can’t take that particular kind of dog (e.g., maybe the one in need isn’t good with cats). In those circumstances, we may pull a new dog even if there’s one who needs a new foster.  We prioritize the needs of our current dogs, but we don’t want to refuse to add an appropriate new dog when there’s a spot available that wouldn’t work for another one.

- Finances.  Dogs from rural shelters are more expensive than ones from Alachua County, because they need more testing and vetting.  Dogs with health conditions are more expensive than healthy ones – not just because of the vet care, but also because they end up staying longer.  And there are always surprises, such as medical emergencies.  Our budget is extremely limited and we can’t take in too many expensive dogs at a time.

- Special circumstances.  We love all dogs, but we love underdogs in particular.  We try to give a chance to dogs who otherwise wouldn’t have one.  That means we prioritize victims of cruelty and neglect, dogs with heartworm and other treatable health conditions, and dogs at high-kill shelters.

 So how do we decide when to add a dog?

We can add a dog when our numbers are not too high, when our finances look solid, and when we have an open foster spot.  Sometimes this happens because we get a new foster.  Sometimes it happens because a dog is adopted and the foster says “I”m ready for another!” 

When that happens, we look for a dog at risk of euthanasia who is a good fit for that foster.  Several different volunteers get lists of dogs at risk at many shelters on a daily basis, and we try to keep likely dogs in mind.  We have several volunteers who visit shelters to temperament test for us, and they go knowing exactly what kind of dog is going to work in the space available.  They give us as much information as possible, we consult with the foster, and if it all looks good, we pull the dog.

In addition, there are a couple of other scenarios that sometimes lead to us pulling a dog, when someone brings a particular dog to our attention.  The board still approves the decision to add the dog.

Sometimes we get a request from a shelter volunteer or staff person who has fallen in love with a special dog.  When that happens, we try to meet the dog to see if she or he is a good fit for POPB.  If so, we try to recruit a new foster home. 

Sometimes a foster asks us to pull a particular dog to be placed in her/his home.  We will do that if the dog has a great temperament, our numbers aren’t too high, our budget isn’t too stretched, AND the foster promises to commit to the dog until adoption.

We hope this helps clear up some questions you might have had, and that you’ll tell us what you think we should prioritize, factors we haven’t mentioned here, and anything else that will help us help more dogs!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How to fail at fostering, part 2

Our next installment begins with our Director of Puppies, Chrissy, who explains why one special puppy stayed put.

I foster failed because of this face.  I fostered Pebbles and BamBam when they were 10 weeks old. They were adopted together, both returned, adopted out separately, and Pebbles was returned again. Everything I love about her; her shyness, the fact that she's scared to death of trash cans, bicycles, cars, & her own shadow, her weird hairless skin is why everyone else returned her. After her coming back to us a 2nd time, I just couldn't let her go again.  (Chrissy Trivette)

We'd been talking about keeping Rosey because she was amazing with our kids and the ultimate "nanny dog" (super protective and always needed to have eyes on them) then we took her to her first adoption event a few days later and she panicked when we left her to run to Publix and I knew we couldn't let her go unless that perfect family found her, a few days shy of Halloween 2013 we decided that was us and she's been howling and wiggling at home ever since. Clover (right) was born in our house, he's the son of Honey and when he was born she didn't clean him enough (he was 9 of 10, so she was very occupied) and he wasn't breathing so I saved him thanks Roger from 101 Dalmatians and we fell in love with that cute face and wanted to keep a pup from the first litter that was born in our home. Both of these dogs are my "tester" dogs because they are absolutely amazing and I could not imagine our family without them. I cannot thank POPB enough, without them I wouldn't have either!

To be honest, my first dog Chance was the one that adopted Cricket. She was with us for a total of 7 months with minimal interest from the public (SHOCKING, she's friggin' adorable!). Chance is extremely selective about other dogs, and with Cricket it was almost instantaneous adoration. It was not both ways, she tried to bite him twice in the first week. Eventually, he broke her down and they've been inseparable since. They've never fought. They share toys. Every morning Chance walks over to her bed and licks her in the face until she wakes up (and then nibbles her legs until she gets up and wrestles with him  ). They've become so attached to each other that when they board at work (I'm a vet), they have to be kenneled together or they destroy their runs! The instant love wasn't the same with me. To be honest, I wished every single day that the perfect person would come along and snatch Cricket up and OUT of my apartment, but week after week passed and no one came along. She was obnoxious, needy, disobedient, refused to pee outside some days, and absolutely DESTROYED some very sentimental items of mine. Then, the day came that I had been waiting for right after Thanksgiving of 2013. Someone was really interested in meeting Cricket and wanted to set up a time to meet. I was in the middle of typing out my schedule into an email, and became suddenly very sad. I looked at her, looked at Chance, and just couldn't bring myself to finish the email. Not only could I not bear the thought of separating the gruesome twosome, but I couldn't imagine my life without my naughty little blue devil. Instead of sending Anna my schedule, I sent her my official notice of failure. She's been a permanent fixture since. (And she's still a little blue devil)  (Rachel Norris)

I was fostering every other 2 weeks for ACHS. Then I walked little Buster Brown to the park and stumbled upon a POPB training session. Anna called to ask if I could help the pup coming from Green Cove Springs. Sure bring him to me. HE NEVER LEFT. Apollo, with in minutes of meeting my dad displayed therapy behavior. When dad said "I think he's a keeper" then it had to be & we needed him. Everyday he shows his love and loyalty to the safety of my dad. Then along came the Christmas pups and yep little diva Sophia. Oh how she needs us. Oh how she makes us laugh everyday, and we need that. One happy family over here.  (Teri Aguiar)

Where to start? One of the greatest decisions of my life was an utter failure. I failed at fostering Teddy (aka Sir Theodore, Tedman) when I realized he provided perfect balance to my chaotic life. Since Teddy became a permanent member of my small family he has brought nothing but joy, comfort and love to not only my life but all those that are lucky enough to come in contact with him. His abusive and neglected past does not cloud his beautiful attitude toward life. Aside from being my personal therapist after a long day, Teddy happily volunteers to help me practice acupuncture so I can aid animals who are in need of this specialized therapy (including a fellow POPB foster who has a seizure disorder). Teddy also is a blood donor where he happy donates blood every two months to save lives. However, Teddy's most pivotal role is unconditionally loving each and every person and animal he meets. Teddy is in training to earn his therapy dog certification so he can continue to instill joy, hope, and self-confidence in the hearts of many.  (Jen Kunisch)

When Matt and I moved to Gainesville, we were enthusiastic about volunteering with Plenty of Pit Bulls. However, having previously fostered in Tallahassee for several years and having already fostered failed once, we had decided it was probably unwise to continue fostering. That well-reasoned decision all but vanished when we were shown a picture of Marlowe, an emaciated cruelty confiscation who was in need of a foster while he underwent medical care. Over the next six months-- with significant contributions from POPB and the UF Shelter Med Program--Marlowe was transformed from a limping, malnourished, heart worm positive pup to a healthy, rambunctious dog. When Marlowe become available for adoption, it was already pretty evident that he had become an established member of our family. We're so grateful that POPB, the ACAS, and the UF vet school rallied around this goofball and provided him with a much-deserved opportunity to have a quality life.  (Erin Carr)

We moved to Gainesville in 2013 and wanted to start fostering to help socialize our first dog Arya and to become a part of our new ommunity. Wifi was our first foster dog, and he completely stole our hearts from day one. I knew I had to keep him. He's such a playful, handsome, and funny dog who never fails to bring a smile to everyone's faces. He's become a part of our family. It's like he knows when we need a laugh or a hug, or when we need a snuggle because it's been a rough day. He's such a lovebug and we couldn't imagine life any other way now!  (Iris Strzyzewski)

I promised Brady that I would not foster for while, after Shortcake the demon dachshund. I met some POPB dogs courtesy of my friend, Michala Schaye, and thought they were wonderful. I wasn't quite ready to volunteer, but Petfinder stalked Olivia for months. I felt compelled to meet her, just from her sweet little description, and her relaxed, smiling face. When I emailed to volunteer as an adoption ambassador, I asked specifically for Olivia - and she was in boarding and needed to get out and about for more exposure. I knew as soon as I met her that she was my girl. We brought her home and never looked back!  (Caroline Dimmer)

"I don't even like puppies, they are too much work."! I said on a Friday evening to POPB board member Erin Carr. Then that night, a plea for puppies that were at risk of being put down broke my heart. I showed JT the pic and he said yes. "Such a cute puppy, he'll get adopted quick", I thought. The next afternoon Caroline put him in my arms and it felt different than any of my other fosters. The minute I handed him to JT I knew he was in love. Still I vowed to be strong. The timing is awful, finances are tight, etc. It was how sad we felt when he had real interest that told us we could not let our Charlie go. He was meant to be part of our family.  (Kim Taylor)

I have always rescued small dogs. But the Vet's office I work at had several people fostering (and failing) for POPB. All the time Pit Bull this, Pit Bull that. Somehow, I was on my way to pick up a dog from the #367 fight bust. Her name was Anita, but I changed it to Athena before I ever saw her. Saying she was terrified of everything except other dogs doesn't begin to describe her. But she was so gentle and sweet. I had to teach her how to play and act goofy. We went to class just for her to be around other people. I'll never forget the day Anna Peterson told me she was ready to go to an adoption event. Of course, I agreed with her while crying my eyes out. Made the she lives here phone call that night. I love all my dogs, all the ones I've ever had or ever will have. But this brave girl has a special place in my soul.  (Dorothy Hague)

This picture speaks for itself. Mutual admiration. Sterling never left my Mom's side after she got home following a 5 hr neurosurgery and 4 day ICU visit in Dec. 2012. She told him he wasn't going anywhere and she told me thanks for her Christmas present. Case closed.  (Tina Bassi)

When I picked up Ronny from the shelter as my foster, I had no idea how much of an impact that big pit bull would have on me. Due to his history of neglect, he was very fearful and timid around people. After fostering him for 2 months, he finally came out of his shell and I saw his true, sweet personality. I put so much time and love into behaviorally rehabilitating Ronny that when the time came for him to go to adoption events, I just couldn't let him go. I believe that we were meant to find each other and that we are both the luckiest pair smile emoticon He has sparked a passion for veterinary behavior in me and I love to talk about how a dog who comes from a terrible background can overcome so much. He helps teach our foster puppies how to be normal dogs and they all love him! I thank POPB every day for bringing us together!  (Hagar Hauser)

How to fail at fostering, part 1

The first time I decided to foster a rescue dog was, what I thought, a well-planned and calculated decision. I have always wanted to be in a position where I was able to help a rescue by fostering an animal temporarily. It was ultimately one of the main deciding factors in buying my house over continuing to rent an apartment. I truly feel fosters are at the core of rescue work, and the rewards of taking an animal out of a concrete holding pen in a shelter and introducing them to being safe and loved are immense. After months of volunteering and prepping my new home for a dog, I finally got my chance! One of the dogs with Plenty of Pit Bulls I was already familiar with, Bella, was in need of somewhere to stay for a short weekend until her new foster could take her. I figured this would be a great test run at fostering since I'd already spent time with Bella and it would only be for a few days until her new permanent foster was able to take her. Little did I know I was immediately about to fail at being a foster!

The moment we brought Bella to our home I went into professional foster mode and began my mental checklist (I was determined to ace this!):

Step 1: Introduce Bella to resident dog on neutral ground.
Step 2: Show Bella her quiet "safe space" to get away and adjust as needed.
Step 3: Show her around the house and to the important areas, such as her water bowl.
Step 4: Provide a calm and loving environment (the most important one).

This was turning out to be a piece of cake! The animals had proven they could get along without issue, Bella seemed unbothered by being in a new environment and she had already found a comfy spot to lay. With the first two nights smoothly out of the way, it was time to prep her for the upcoming adoption event that weekend. Bath time proved to be somewhat of a traumatic experience. I realize most dogs aren't fond of baths, but Bella was just down right terrified. That's one of the things to remember when you take in a new animal, whether fostering or adopting, you never know what they may have gone through in life or how it has affected them. It's your responsibility to take their fears in your hands and show them that everything will be alright. Slow steps are key to learning what trust and love are for an animal who may have never received those essential gifts. We worked through it together, and Bella was ready to make her appearance the next day and find her forever home!

The adoption event proved to be a turning point on our views of sweet Bella. This hadn’t been her first time attending an adoption event, but for some reason nobody had shown that much interest in her at prior events. We knew how much of a sweetheart Bella was, but why hasn’t anyone else seen the potential that she could bring to their family? As she lay in her crate looking up at us, her back side turned to the view of the public, something in our hearts decided this wasn’t the life she deserved any longer. Like it usually does, a conversation started with a debate to whether this should be a permanent decision or not. Thankfully we got the push we needed that day. Bella started to get some attention at the adoption event, and two different families seemed to fall in love with her. They each vowed to rush home and submit their applications online at a chance to make Bella their newest family member. In any other circumstance this would have been the best news ever, but for two people who had just fallen head over heels for the sweetest little girl, it was decision time.

As she looked into my eyes that day, it seemed she was telling me she was tired of being passed around from house to house. She was ready to stay put and look forward to spending countless hours on her special couch, or curled up in a bed with her humans. She liked her new brother who would get excited whenever she would get excited, and participate in the wild spider monkey antics she enjoyed. She was also getting to know the furry creature who would dart through the room with a puffed tail, taunting her to follow. Bella had everything she wanted and needed right where she was, and she was loving every minute of it!

With Bella fitting perfectly into our family at such a fast pace, we made the decision to keep her. As we quickly learned, this automatically entered us into a group of people who had done the same thing as we had: Failed. We joined the countless thousands of people who had made the commitment to take in a homeless animal temporarily, in hopes that someone would adopt them, and instead fell in love themselves. The term is commonly referred to as “foster failed”, and unlike its negative connotation, is a wonderful thing. I now get to wake up every day to a dog who is full of life, love and most importantly happiness because the intentionally selfless decision I made turned into a selfish one. Bella now lives in a home that will never abandon her or turn her over to a new environment for the rest of her life. Our family may have spontaneously grown over the course of a few days, but the decision was nothing but genuine and heartfelt. This is how you fail at fostering!

                                                                                              - Jude Macera


Here's the first in a series of posts about fostering and adopting some special dogs, beginning with the story of Stella, as told by her mom JoAnna.

I got very very lucky. I knew I wanted to foster as SOON as I was in an apartment of my own (my entire family did their best to dissuade me, stating that there was no way I could foster without trying to adopt my dogs. I was determined to prove them wrong - after all, I was in no position to adopt a dog at this point in my life! But I still needed to help somehow so I would foster and foster only).

I had always liked pit bulls (even though I never had much personal experience with them...although I made a mask in elementary school that was supposed to represent my interests and it had a feather, a Friesian horse, and an APBT on it) and since POPB seemed to be the only large-dog only rescue in the area I wanted to go with that, since I wanted to avoid small dogs at all costs. But I had seen a lot of nice seeming posts by Phoenix and someone I knew fostered for them, so I decided to go with them since I really wanted to get involved with a nice community comprised of sane people and that is what they appeared to be on the outside. As I was about to fill out the app for them, I got a very nice email from Rachel, encouraging me to submit a foster application. It was this email that saved me from falling into a horrible horrible situation, and I think almost weekly about how lucky I was that I was sucked into the wonderfulness that is POPB instead of another, less desirable rescue.

First, I was assigned to Annie. As luck would have it, dogs needed to be moved around and Pat didn't want Annie going anywhere until it was to her forever home so I got reassigned to Stella. I cracked up because I'd stalked Petfinder hard and I was aware that I went from the least pit bull-y looking dog possible to the most pit bull-y looking of our lineup. I found a cat that week that I was supposed to get her and I tried to delay getting Stella because she was not cat friendly. Luckily, Katie offered to house the cat for me until her people could be located (no such luck) or a home found. After much difficulty arranging a time to get Stella from Lacey (this was during my pre-car days), Lynne dropped her off with me. I brought the little wild thing up to my room and tried to decide if I should allow her on the bed. Stella solved that problem for me by making it the very first thing she did. (Since then, I can't sleep comfortably in that bed without Stella as my pillow/foot rest/space heater.) Stella sat up on my bed, offered me her paw, and smiled reaaaaally big. That was when I knew it was going to go well.

5 months later, her holiday foster wanted to adopt her. I was an anxious wreck for WEEKS trying to decide if this would be a good situation for her and trying to decipher how much of my hesitation was due to me being an overprotective first time foster mom and how much was legitimate concern. The wonderful team at POPB took my concerns into consideration and we eventually came to the conclusion that Stella would not be staying with her. As time passed, more and more evidence came to light that we absolutely made the correct decision. Not many rescues would take so much care to see if a home was worth it, especially for a difficult to place dog, and not many would listen to the foster home as carefully as POPB does. One night (while Stella was still with her temp foster/at that point possible adopter) I found out a little black pit that I had saved from traffic had been euthanized at ACAS (I tried to house the dog here but Stella was not having it and at that point I did not know how to manage her nearly as well as I do now). I sobbed and sobbed and did not have Stella with me to comfort me. That felt so wrong. Months later I would think back on a horse, Honey, that I had loved (and lost) in a similar situation to my current one with Stella (she was in no way mine and I couldn't make her mine and her future was uncertain because decisions about her were not mine to make) and Stella came over and gingerly climbed up on my lap and licked my tears and between my sobs I told her that I couldn't let her go. But I was lost because I knew that my future held extended trips out of the country to countries that would not allow pit bulls. I didn't know what to do. Lots of stress and fruitless begging of family members and periodic bouts of panic ensued. Sometime in this time period I would start to slip up and call her "my dog" instead of "my foster dog" and friends were shocked that she wasn't actually mine and my family members called her "JoAnna's dog."

Fast forward 11 months from the day that I started fostering her, and I got a phone call from my mom that I needed to go home, get Stella, and call her. She wouldn't tell me the news until I was with Stella. When I found out my dad had died, Stella was the only one there to comfort me. In the next few hours, she was as attentive and gentle with me as any human could have ever been. When I met up with the rest of my family, Stella not only comforted me but also did her best to show everyone some much needed unconditional love.

 At one point my brother pointed out that Stella was shaking because I was, and everyone noticed that she would sit outside of the bathroom door, staring at it, as I showered, and that she invariably slept with as much of her body touching me as possible. The night before the funeral, my mom told me that she could not watch me go through what I went through with Honey again and that Stella was a "forever friend" to our family from that point on; I immiately wrote the board. My mom called up her landlord and told him that she was moving out because he didn't allow pets and she would have a granddog living with her soon (he told her he was going to make an exception for her until she told him the breed....knew I always hated him for a reason), since her daughter was going to Australia. She told all her siblings that they could expect to live with a pit bull when she/they go to take care of my Grandma, even though they have terrible close-minded opinions of pit bulls typical of the Detroit area. You'd think after 11 months of Stella not killing me in my sleep (as they predicted) they would be less judgmental, but nope. They need some immersion therapy with the real thing for that! She has already converted my uncle...the rest will follow suit.

I LOVE how my entire immediate family likes Stella and considers this a gain not just for me but for all of them as well. Chris constantly would cuddle her and must have told her what a good dog she was 20x in 5 days. As soon as Karl read about the murdered ACAS puppy he came right over to Stella and scooped her up and professed his love for her and the breed over and over and over, and then told Stella a bed time story about the time he carried a 45 lb pit bull named Tiny 5 miles out of the Hawaiian jungles on his shoulders after she was injured by a boar. Mary let Stella in her car and come over to her apartment without a crate and even let her onto her couch (a big deal for her). Steffi is overjoyed at having a new sister and can't wait to play more music to her and be silly with her. And my mom babies Stella more than anyone, even though the prey drive/reactivity is something completely foreign and intimidating to her. She is taking every opportunity to learn about management and actually listens to my explanation of behaviors (most people do not) and before anything else makes sure Stella is comfortable and happy and knows how much of a good baby she is. I love more than anything when those I love appreciate each other, and this is one of those cases. While Stella is in many ways the opposite of the black lab we had for 15 years growing up, she is becoming just as accepted by my family and that makes me almost as happy as Stella herself does. Stella is not without her challenges, which also means that I get to grow in my understanding of behavior and training and dogs in general as we work together on these things. I am very excited for a future with her.

Plus, I justify to myself, what kind of photographer can grow without a beautiful muse with soulful eyes for inspiration (who may or may not work for hot dogs).

                                                                                           - JoAnna Platzer

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Story of Wilson

Who's Wilson?  Our icon, muse, and favorite eye-patchy smiler.  You see his face everywhere, but you might not know how he came to be the charismatic face of Plenty of Pit Bulls.

We asked Wilson's mom, Julie, to share the story.

One day back in January 2012, as we driving through our neighborhood, we saw a white dog skulking along the side of the road. He had a funny 'swingy' gait (sort of s-shaped, like a snake). We didn't stop as we just assumed he was 'attached' to his owner who was down the road somewhere. Then the next day we saw him again as we were out walking our two dogs - he was way ahead of us, turning a corner. We stopped to chat to a neighbor who said they had also seen the dog as it had camped out in their back yard the night before (they are not dog people, so they didn't go out to see him). So now we knew he was a stray.

Wilson, the night Julie and Craig found him
Another day went by without another sighting and we think he must have been found by his owner. But then on the third day, my husband saw him again while he was out running and when he got home, we decided we had to go get this dog off the street. So we set out, my husband driving, me in the passenger seat with the treat bag. It took an hour before we finally got the dog to stop when we got out of the car, rather than run away. It took another 15 minutes before we managed to get close enough to slip a lead around his neck (he would not go in the car). No collar, no tag, our only hope a microchip.

We finally get him into our back yard by throwing treats ahead of him and keeping hold of that lead. By this time it's 7.30pm on Saturday night. The vet is closed until Monday, ACAS is closed until Tuesday - he is clearly staying the night.

We decided to leave him outside in the yard so we didn't have to deal with him 'meeting' our two dogs. That didn't work. I was so worried he'd get out, I kept popping up every half and hour to see if he was still there - he was, in the same place every time, curled up in the dirt by the back gate. We decided that in the interests of sleep we should get him in the kitchen. Another 30 mins later we finally persuade him inside (my how the tables have turned, these days he will always choose the comfort of the AC over hanging out in the yard).

I can't totally remember the sequence of events from here but we took him to the vet and established he had no microchip, then posted pictures of him all over the place.


So we call ACAS on Tuesday and they come and get him. We watch them put him in the van, a bit teary eyed, and make sure to get his ID number so we can keep track of him over the next few days.


It's now Valentine's Day. As 'luck' would have it, his is 3-day hold is up, he's passed his temperament test but failed his health test (heartworm), which means he's going to be euthanized. Urgh.

Wilson in his Valentine's Day ribbon

My husband is away so I call him to discuss the situation. We agree we cannot let him die.
I send a message to the rescue from whom we had adopted our last dog.  No reply, but someone called Anna jumps in and tells me that they have no spare fosters but if we would be willing to foster ourselves, she can arrange for him to be 'pulled' (lots of strange lingo in those early days).

Well. I absolutely did not want a third dog - even temporarily - but I couldn't see any alternative.
So on Wednesday February 14th 2012 I go to ACAS to rescue a dog. He is wild looking, filthy dirty and hyper. I felt like I'd bitten off more than I could chew (not a concern he shared, naturally).

That night, with this strange animal in a crate in the kitchen and my other two dogs sniffing furiously under the kitchen door, I sit down to watch Bridesmaids. I'm at the bit where the maid of honor is on her sofa watching 'Castaway'. Tom Hanks is drifting out to sea on a raft - and he wakes to realize that his only friend, Wilson the football, has come loose from the raft and is bobbing further and further away. 'Wilssssooooooon'.

And so he was named - Wilson - the castaway.

First week was a nightmare....

- Rotating dogs between house and yard, so we could introduce them the slow way (thank god that worked - he LOVES the two girls, though they wouldn't notice if he left tomorrow LOL).

- Trying to walk a wild animal who had clearly never had a lead put on, let alone been taken on a walk (he leapt and bound like a deer, dragging me behind him for a block before I decided enough was enough).

Right away we started doing adoption days (we were more than keen to revert to a two dog household) - only that was even more of a nightmare. He lunged and snarled at the other dogs from the moment he got out of the car at 11am until the moment he was put back in at 5pm. I spent hours standing by his crate, ready with the water spray, but after several such Saturdays we decided this wasn't the best place for him to be - too stressful for all concerned.

And so he became a social media dog.

He got lots of fans and lots of likes on his posts - but for some reason an entire year went by and nobody filled out an adoption form (I have come to believe he was writing spells during this time to conjure up a foster failure).

Then Anna got a spot at Petco for adoption events and we decided to try him again because he'd been doing so well at the Sunday training classes (courtesy of his amazing advocate, Kristy Schmidt). It took one weekend of being in Petco -- with Wilson being an angel in his crate and giving me the big eyes, as if to say "Mum - are we really having to do all this all over again?" -- for us to decide we'd rather spend our Saturdays hanging out with him on the patio than hanging out with him in Petco.

And so it came to pass that Wilson was officially adopted on April 1st 2014 - and is now living happily ever after in an air conditioned house in the Duckpond with his two sisters - what one might call a successful foster failure conjuring.

Happy Days from here on in

And fame to boot.

                                                                                                 - Julie Knox

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why pit bulls?

All kinds of dogs has many people who love the particularities that make them special.  What makes us want to help pit bulls in particular?

It’s really not that they are better than other dogs, though certainly we are all pretty sure that our particular pit bulls might be the best ever.

But just loving your family members doesn’t make you an advocate.  What is it about pit bulls that turns so many people who know and love them into activists?

First, they are the most in need.  Anyone who volunteers with – or just visits – public shelters in our area quickly realize that a large proportion, often a sizable majority, of the dogs in need of rescue are pit bull types.

But need alone isn’t enough to make anyone commit.  There has to be something positive as well.  And pit bulls have lots going for them: their huge smiles, their goofy senses of humor, their constant need to be THISCLOSE to the people they love, their eagerness to figure things out, and their optimism about the future.

Granted, lots of dogs have those qualities.  Possibly the most important thing about pit bulls is the gap between the lovable, ordinary dogs that we know and the fear, hatred, and discrimination that they often face. 

Lots of people love Golden Retrievers, or Cocker Spaniels, or St. Bernards.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  And no one ever tells you that you’re brave, or foolish, or even thuggish because you love your dog.

It’s different with a pit bull. 

Your activism might start the first time an apartment complex prohibits your family member, or someone crosses the street to avoid your happy, outgoing dog, or a relative tells you to keep your pit bull away from your new baby, or you discover that you can’t take a road trip through Denver because your dog could be taken away from you.

You start out telling your mom not to worry about the baby, or telling your neighbor “he’s friendly,” and before you know it you’re a full-fledged pit bull activist.

The best part about pit bull advocacy is the dogs, of course.  But after that, it’s surely the people.  And that’s because what holds us together is not anger or fear, but love. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Short History of Plenty of Pit Bulls

How we started....

Plenty of Pit Bulls got its start in 2010 with a small group of volunteers connected with our local public shelter, Alachua County Animal Services (ACAS) and private rescue organizations. We started looking for ways to increase the number of pit bulls rescued and adopted in our area.  We were very loosely organized, but we looked for ways to help by initiating pit bull specific events and programs at the shelter and elsewhere, providing information about pit bulls, and making it possible for rescues to pull pit bulls from the shelter euthanasia lists by recruiting foster homes and providing sponsorship.  We often paid the pull fee – back in those days, ACAS charged rescue groups the same as adopters to pull an adoptable dog – and back in those days, ACAS euthanized far, far more adoptable dogs than it does now. 

And where did that name come from?

“Plenty of Pit Bulls” is a riff on the term “plentiful pit bulls,” which was a program offering reduced adoption fees for pit bulls at the shelter.  The author of that immortal phrase is Hilary Hynes, the shelter’s education coordinator and one of our favorite people in the animal welfare and rescue world.

                 Hilary Hynes, standing with ACAS alum (and cruelty and heartworm survivor)
                  Teddy and his proud family after Teddy passed the Canine Good Citizen Test.

POPB resisted getting very organized for a couple of years.  With so many outstanding rescue groups in Gainesville already, we didn’t see a need to create a separate rescue group.  We figured our energies were best used in strengthening and expanding the capacity of the existing rescues. 

In early 2012, we decided to take the momentous (had we only known) step of registering as a Florida nonprofit corporation, to have legal status as a community organization.  The Florida incorporation made it possible for us to take the next step: pulling dogs directly from the shelter ourselves, rather than collaborating with other rescues. 

Our first pull was, ironically, not a pit bull at all, but a retriever-y looking black mutt whom we named Tucker.  He was placed on the ACAS euthanasia list in spring 2012 and when no other rescue took him, we decided to plunge in.  Beginner’s luck meant that he was adopted almost immediately by a fabulous young couple.  They changed his name to Gatsby, because he is so great.

Still, most of what we did was provide support for other rescues in the area, to make it possible for them to save dogs whom they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to take.  We collaborated with many groups, including the Alachua County Humane Society, Second Chance, Helping Hands, Puppy Hill Farm, and more.  And we continued to have strong ties to ACAS and the staff and volunteers there. 

That collaborative experience stood us well, and we continue to team up with other rescues and shelters whenever possible.  We think this is one of the things that makes POPB special.  We know it takes many pieces to save a dog, and sometimes the missing piece is something that we don’t have, but someone else does – or vice-versa.  Our collaborative radius has expanded, but our commitment to having a big tent remains the same.

While most of our dogs were still placed for adoption by other rescues, bit by bit we added dogs of “our own.”  Some of the early ones included the Ella the Pit Bull Princess and our first cruelty case dogs, Roxie and Opie (Opie was adopted through HHR).  We also started working with volunteers at other shelters.  Our first non-Alachua pulls were from Levy County, including one of everyone’s all-time favorites, Harper.

Because we grew into being a full-fledged rescue group slowly, we learned a lot by trial and error along the way.  We ended up doing a lot of things that we didn’t really intend to do when we started – like pull dogs on our own, work outside Alachua county, and apply for 501(c)(3) status.  We grew organically, expanding our scope because we saw gaps that we could fill and because we had volunteers who could make it happen. 

We were and still are all-volunteer.  Our early volunteers were all people who had been working with other shelters and rescues but had a special love for big-headed dogs.  As we solidified, we started to draw new volunteers who were attracted to working for a pit bull specific rescue. 

This growing corp of volunteers made it possible for us to help dogs from a growing number of shelters.  In January 2013, we pulled our first dog from Putnam County Animal Services, a severely emaciated, scarred, and heartworm positive red girl named Nova

 This was a very meaningful pull for us because Putnam County has a long history of discrimination against pit bulls.  They used to euthanize all dogs that their staff identified as pit bulls automatically, and then they changed their policy to allow “pit bulls” to be pulled by rescues.  They still do not permit them to be adopted directly by the public.  This is the kind of discrimination that kills dogs – not only by reducing their chances, but also by placing them in a separate category that makes them seem different from other dogs. 

We have a soft spot not only for pit bulls, but for dogs from cruelty cases.  Since Roxie and Opie, we have taken probably dozens of dogs from ACAS cruelty confiscations, including two of our favorites, Ronny and Izzy.   Ronny was adopted by his foster mom Hagar, a vet student, and Izzy found a fabulous home with a law student.

We could help dogs like Ronny and Izzy because of the relationship we have with the Veterinary Community Outreach Program (formerly Shelter Medicine) at the University of Florida.  There is no way that we (or most of the rescue groups in our area) could function without this program.  They spay and neuter our dogs and also provide care for a number of common health issues, including demodex and heartworm.  They also visit other area shelters, and sometimes they identify wonderful dogs that they would like to help.  We’ve gotten some of our favorite dogs this way – we call them “Isaza specials,” in honor of VCOP vet Dr Natalie Isaza.

As we grew, we realized that our lack of 503(c)(3) status was limiting our options in terms of adoption venues, grant opportunities, donations, and more.   In May 2013 we applied for 501(c)(3) status, and about 13 months later we got the approval letter from the IRS.  It felt like Plenty of Pit Bulls was finally all grown up.

Soon after we received the 501(c)(3) status, we began to work on our first national cruelty case.  367 dogs were seized from dog fighting rings in August 2013, in the second largest fight bust in US history.  The dogs were divided up between the ASPCA and HSUS to be cared for while the legal case.  POPB volunteers worked closely with the ASPCA to place as many dogs as possible from this case.  Our first #367 dog was Arabelle, who was released early (in October 2013) due to health problems.  She was adopted by her foster mom Sharon Nataline, a POPB founding board member, and lives the good life with a home full of geriatric chihuahuas and other big personalities.

We ultimately were able to take in and place 17 of the #367 dogs, more than any other rescue in the country.  Most of those were adopted locally, but two crossed state lines to find very special homes – Finn in New Jersey and Ruby in Illinois. 

In May 2014, Orange County Animal Services took in several dozen several dogs from a fight bust in Apopka.  When the dogs were legally released in August of that year, we were able to take in several, including rock star Olivia, who is now an official Canine Good Citizen and a registered therapy dog.  

                    Olivia's mom Caroline is one of our many adopters who have gone from falling
                        in love with one particular pit bull to becoming whole-hearted and creative
                                             advocates for big-headed dogs everywhere.

One of the reasons we initially shied away from becoming a full-fledged rescue organization was that we were worried about not having time to do other activities, such as education, advocacy, and shelter support.  While there is never enough time or money to do all we would like, we’ve found that rescuing individual dogs can reinforce and strengthen those other activities, and vice-versa.  Dogs like Arabelle, Olivia, Ronny, and Ella are the best possible educators and marketing geniuses.  They change minds and open hearts just by being who they are –  affectionate, smart, outgoing, resilient, and somewhat goofy blockheads. 

And some of the volunteers who are first attracted to the opportunity of working with individual dogs in a hands-on way often become interested in helping spread the word about how wonderful these dogs are, how cruel breed discrimination is, and how fun and rewarding it is to work in a community of like-minded dog-lovers.