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2011-11-23 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Our first annual Bully Breed Brigade was a huge success! Pit participants converged in Wantagh from all four corners of the universe, the Long Island universe, that is. The Pit Pilgrimage began early Sunday November 13 when approximately 100 Pit Bulls traveling from shelters and rescues stretching from Brooklyn to Mattituck descended upon the Last Hope parking lot.

They came to join the festivities organized by Hempstead Shelter and Last Hope, while awaiting the arrival of Tia Torres from Animal Planet. The Bully Breed Brigade began as a concept- a Pit Bull adoption, awareness and wellness gathering to showcase Pit potential and to demonstrate shelter solidarity, a united commitment to remedy the problem of far too many Pits overlooked in local shelters. We could invite the other shelters but would they come?

They did, in droves. The response was a Pitapalooza. Seven municipal shelters (Babylon, Brookhaven, Hempstead, Huntington, Islip, N. Hempstead, and Oyster Bay) showed up; most using their shelter truck as a backdrop. Several had help from well-organized volunteer groups like Islip’s Shelter Link; N. Hempstead’s Shelter Connection and Brookhaven’s Guardians of Rescue. Reps from Riverhead and Southold (NFAWL) came too.

Tia Torres meets her fans at the Bully Breed Brigade. Tia Torres meets her fans at the Bully Breed Brigade. The private groups in attendance either advocate for Pits, like the NY Bully Crew, The Truth about Pit Bulls and Canine Counsel; or perform community outreach such as Almost Home and Mixed Breeds in Need. Almost Home operates a Training Wheels program in Wyandanch, visiting clients’ homes monthly with offers of food, veterinary care, doghouses, proper tie-outs and free spay/neuter of dogs and cats with pick up and delivery.

Because of concerns about crowd control, we had designated dog bouncers, but never needed their services. We worried that one irresponsible owner or unleashed dog could ruin the whole event. Each shelter brought the cream of the crop; their Pit model citizens acted as ambassadors for this often misunderstood and mistreated breed. Turns out the public visiting the Bully Breed Brigade brought well-behaved Pits too. Several were therapy dogs.

The Town of Hempstead event stage became the starting and ending point for the Pit Parade meandering down Beltagh Avenue past Hempstead Shelter and back to Last Hope. The dogs, many sporting “Adopt Me” vests, marched joyfully behind banners. Our MCs made a perfect team. James Cortale, our kind DJ, brought his dog Chico, a Last Hope Pit alumnus who just so happened to be featured on our Bully Breed Brigade tee shirt. The plan had been for each adoptable dog to strut across the stage with his handler announcing his name and where he was from, but we didn’t know that the stage would have only one staircase, so the microphone was lowered to the ground.

Special thanks go to several amazing experts. Holistic trainer Roman Gottfried came from Connecticut to work with difficult dogs. His canine students “beamed” while in his hands. Roman even adopted Goliath a temperamental Pit amputee from Hempstead and plans to rehab him. M. Demarco a NYC spokesperson for Best Friends Animal Society in Utah held a Pit seminar, detailing progress of the Michael Vick dogs. She also gave the pre-documentary talk at the Cradle of Aviation about mobilizing against breed-specific legislation. Mary Bruce of Tavi & Friends demonstrated the healing powers of Touch. Meanwhile Jeff Siegel of J. Michaels Photography in Rockville Centre captured fabulous photos throughout the day.

As promised, Tia Torres, star of Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls & Parolees” drove here from her Villalobos Rescue Center in California to rescue the six Pits from a horrendous Elmont abuse case. Hempstead shelter director Cindy Iacopella had reached out to her. Tia talked to the Bully Breed Brigade crowd, and then stayed until each person, including a Newsday Kidsday reporter, had the chance to meet her, pose for photos and garner an autograph.

Some of us watched Tia being filmed next door at Hempstead Shelter. She met each Elmont Pit, all temperament tested and altered now, including one who had been in foster care. Relinquishing the dog was a bittersweet moment for her foster mom. Tia loaded her Pit pupils into her trademark van, CA license plate: “Tuff Mut,” and then headed for her new sanctuary in New Orleans.

Hopefully Tia’s pep talk to the shelter staff will make the final edit of her Hempstead “webisode” to be posted soon. Tia is aware that critics attack every move at Hempstead Shelter. She encouraged the staff to continue their dedication on behalf of the many Pits in their care. She stressed that “she got it” and understands how hard their job is, and that so often, despite blood, sweat and tears, there aren’t happy endings. To paraphrase her emotional message, minus the profanities: “Outsiders haven’t a clue about how heartbreaking or difficult a municipal shelter worker’s job is until they have walked a mile in the staff’s shoes.”

Epilogue: Why would a long time Afghan Hound owner be asked to help plan a Pit Bull extravaganza? The canine cosmos answered my question. When in the Hempstead garage meeting one Elmont dog, I spied a stray Afghan picked up an hour before. She turns out to be #11 in an ongoing saga Afghan Rescue has been handling the last two years. I never would have seen her ASAP if it weren’t for the Bully Breed Brigade.

Babylon Town Shelter Adoptables (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Iggy” #20925 is looking for a home to convalesce in. This endearing tabby came into the shelter last month with a fractured pelvis. After seeing the specialist for x-rays and pain meds, Iggy has been mending with cage rest but really needs to get into a home with someone who will encourage him to walk more. “Emma” #94106 is one of the many Pits at the shelter. She loves people but would do best in a one dog home.

Cats: “Baby”-Maine Coon mix; “Ashley”- gray & white semi-longhaired.

Pit Picks: “Otis;” “Buddy;” “Mae;” “Mona Lisa.”

Other Dogs: “Marty”- brindle Chihuahua mix, caught in a humane trap, scared, needs TLC; Yorkie; Pom mixes; black Labs.

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