Superdogs

Police accuse a New Jersey woman of suffocating to death four five-week-old American Bulldogs by stuffing them in a cooler.

Puppy Doe Photo from the Animal Rescue Leage

Puppy Doe
Photo from the Animal Rescue Leage

A Massachusetts resident finds a lifeless young Pit Bull near a Quincy park. “Puppy Doe,” as she is called, has so many broken bones and stab wounds, is so malnourished and weak, that veterinarians can’t save her.

A night-time break-in at a Georgia shelter leaves three dogs dead and fifteen injured. Police say it’s possible that the shelter’s dogs were attacked by dogs brought in by people involved in dog fighting, who wanted to prep their dogs for future fights.

I read about each of the above heartrending cases in the past several weeks. The stories are hard to stomach. I’d love to write that they are unique, aberrations. But they are not. Dogs are the victims of abuse and cruelty more often than any other animal, according to Pet-Abuse.com.

They deserve so much better.

These stories got me thinking about a foundation started in September by Leigh Ann Errico, a friend of a friend. The kidkind foundation and its companion website, www.wearthecapekids.com, are committed to making our communities better places to live, by “restoring the power of kindness and good character.” Errico, the mother of four, writes she’s been disheartened by “the seemingly never-ending string of jaw-dropping news stories,” of incivility, of cyber-bullying, of people treating others in ways they would never want to be treated themselves.

The idea behind “Wear the Cape” is that “we are all everyday heroes, or at least capable of being heroes by doing the right thing, the kind thing, the helping and inclusive thing.” Dogs wear the cape every day: They love us, protect us, are our most loyal friends and trusted teachers. And they do all of this unconditionally.

Perhaps one of their greatest gifts is that dogs help parents raise children in ways that benefit all of society. Here’s how: Researchers investigating the human-animal bond routinely find that children who grow up with a dog have greater compassion, tolerance, and empathy for others.

sisters

sisters

Like so many parents, my husband and I are trying to instill empathy in our daughters. We are fortunate to have Galen to help us in this endeavor. She is there every morning to wake our girls with a cold wet nose to the face. She is there every afternoon, the first to greet them when they get off the school bus. (I remain in the house and watch from the window as their backpacks fall to the ground, smiles brighten their faces, and they drop to their knees to say hello to their tail-wagging sister who’s as thrilled to see them as they are to see her.) I see their love for Galen grow every time they pet her, kiss her, talk to her. And she never fails to return the affection.

Just as dogs are our heroes, we need to be theirs. And that leads me to one other story I read this past week: A two-year-old Pit Bull riddled with bullets was left to die on an Arizona mountain trail. A female hiker found the dog and carried its limp, 47-pound body down the mountain, saving its life. She named the dog Elijah, and her family is now fostering him.

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Give Pits a Chance

Say, “pit bull,” and you find most people have strong opinions about the breed, and more often than not – at least among the people I know – their opinion isn’t favorable. In fact, it’s downright hostile. Mostly, it’s because pits get bad press. They’re in the news for attacking someone or for being the canine of choice in dog fighting rings.

Some people would like to outlaw the breed and are working at different levels of government to make that happen. I’m not at all sure that’s realistic. Are we going to round up every pit bull for mass euthanization? (It’s kind of like the immigration debate. Can we round up and deport all undocumented immigrants? The undocumented are here; the pit bulls are here. We’ve got to work with the facts as they exist.)

This past weekend I met several members of the Luzerne County Pit Bull Owners Group (LCPO), a nonprofit out of northeastern Pennsylvania committed to educating people to be responsible pit bull owners, and to rescuing and re-homing homeless pit bulls. The work LCPO does on behalf of these misunderstood and often mistreated dogs is truly inspiring.

I arrived at Alana Rickard’s Wilkes-Barre-area home a little before one on Saturday afternoon, so I could be on hand for the arrival of ten Tennessee pits – a mom and her nine ten-week-old pups. A shelter in Blount County, Tennessee, had reached out to the group’s founder, asking her to help them help the dogs.

Momma looking at her pups

Momma looking at her pups

Waiting with me was a team of volunteers ready to care for – and to socialize – the puppies until permanent homes can be found for them. Alana planned to foster the mom, who was thought to be one, maybe two years old – practically a puppy, herself.

Adopting any dog is a major responsibility, but the responsibilities that come with adopting a pit bull are magnified a hundred-fold because of the burdens these dogs carry. Responsible owners can make the difference between a pit that thrives and a pit that ends up on the evening news.  And that’s why LCPO offers anyone who adopts a pit bull, or owns a pit bull, assistance, training, and education.

Such sweet faces!

Such sweet faces!

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LCPO is an all-volunteer organization that runs on donations and a network of about fifty foster families in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. Despite being only two-and-a-half years old, they’ve helped several hundred pit bulls. You can read all about LCPO at their website; you can like them on facebook. Also check out Leroy and Company, a blog written by Casey Heyen, the group’s Director of Volunteers. Casey took home a pup on Saturday, named it Marshmallow, and is already recounting Marshmallow’s adventures.