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2012-09-26 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

Our Bully Breed Brigade last Saturday was all about changing the public perception of Pit Bulls and putting them in a more positive light. The fact that many “scaredy cat” Pits in the parade had to be carried up the steps and cradled in the arms of their handlers so they would pose on stage while their adoption plea was announced actually helped our efforts. These big galoots, viewed as monsters by so many, are for the most part, big, mushy babies.

On Sat., Sept. 22, Hempstead Town Shelter and Last Hope Animal Rescue co-hosted the second annual Bully Breed Brigade as a daylong event to promote Pit Bull awareness, adoption and welfare, and to show solidarity among metropolitan area shelters on behalf of these often misunderstood dogs. We were there to work together to remedy the problem of far too many Pits languishing in municipal shelters, competing for far too few responsible homes and, as a more lasting solution, to brainstorm ways to stop the rampant breeding of these poor dogs in low-income areas for profit via dog fighting and other unscrupulous reasons.

Pit parade at the Bully Breed Brigade Pit parade at the Bully Breed Brigade More than 30 rescues, shelters and vendors from as far away as Southampton and Connecticut descended on the Hempstead Shelter parking lot, bringing their “ambassadogs” to march in the Pit Parade on Beltagh Avenue, which is the street that connects our shelters. Dogs and handlers looped around Last Hope’s parking lot and back to Hempstead Shelter where many dogs then walked across the stage, one at a time, while Brooke and David from Bruised Not Broken, a NYC-based Pit advocacy initiative, read each dog’s bio.

Since the dogs couldn’t write, their handlers provided the PR. “Bryant is a snuggler and a couch potato. He’s been at our shelter over two years,” says League for Animal Protection about this Huntington Shelter boy. “Almost ready to pass his Canine Good Citizen test. Very affectionate. Loves dogs and belly rubs,” describes Jiggs from N. Hempstead Shelter; whereas “Bishop” from Canine Counsel was “rescued from a fighting ring. He was heartworm positive and is now ready to be someone’s new best friend.” Another favorite- “Trevor’s head is so big because he is all brains,” boasts Heart and Soul Rescue.

Tia Torres from “Pit Bulls & Parolees” at Bully Breed Brigade Tia Torres from “Pit Bulls & Parolees” at Bully Breed Brigade Among the adoptables were some lucky Pits, now cherished pets. “Ernie” adopted from Hempstead Shelter a year ago “loves all animals. He helps foster orphaned kittens by licking them to clean them.” “Popeye,” from Manhattan Animal Care & Control, “loves to watch TV, especially football.” He was at the event looking for a little sister to love. The owner of Zeus adopted from Ruff House Rescue described him as “our three-yearold daughter’s best friend.” The little girl accompanied Zeus on stage.

Last Hope volunteers were thrilled to see “Weebles” move across the stage. Eight months ago, Weebles came to Last Hope as a tiny Brookhaven Shelter Pit pup with a neurological disorder. He was adopted by a loving family who soon discovered he was also deaf. He is now learning hand signals. Weebles returned for the Bully Breed Brigade festivities with his big Pit brother “Diesel,” an excellent canine role model, Hempstead Shelter alumnus and an ace when catching fast balls.

Earlier in the day, some Pits got to test their muscle power in LugNuts™, the informal weight-pulling competition which, besides offering the kenneled dogs mental and physical stimulation, serves as an antidote to dog fighting in urban areas. Jane Kopelman, a specialist in this component of the Training Wheels® program, came from Upstate NY to introduce this exercise to the various shelters. Each dog, wearing a padded harness, is hooked to a plastic sled by a dogsled line. The sled is loaded with bags of dog food, while the dog is lured with hot dogs.

Dogs must pull the sled at least 16 feet in less than two minutes to complete the pull. The dog that pulls the most weight in relation to his own weight is the winner. In this way, smaller dogs can compete against larger dogs. During inner city meets, cash prizes are given, with more money if the dog is altered. The dogs win a toy or treat. The winner of the Bully Breed Brigade Lug- Nuts™ contest was “Rialto,” a resident Pit at Hempstead Shelter. The load he pulled represented 38% of his body weight. He was so proud of himself on stage! Now if he only had a home. Perhaps he could move tree stumps or do other useful, brawny jobs. (Only kidding.)

As promised, Tia Torres and her twin sons from “Pit Bulls & Parolees” on Animal Planet arrived in the afternoon to give the crowd a Pit pep talk, sign autographs and pose for photos. Tia and the whole Animal Planet crew had been at “Yappy Hour,” our Bully Breed Brigade benefit on Friday night where they quietly filmed a dog adoption in the courtyard of Mulcahy’s in Wantagh, unbeknownst to most guests. (We weren’t allowed to spill the beans.) On her drive here from her Villalobos Rescue facility in New Orleans, Tia brought “Jolie,” a once-emaciated and heartworm positive stray, now nursed back to fine health to meet her new family. Jolie will be living on 12 acres in New Hampshire alongside several other Pits that she met during the weekend meet and greet.

Filming continued on Saturday during the Bully Breed Brigade. After the crowd left, Tia spoke to the Hempstead staff and Last Hope volunteers, detailing how much worse the Pit problem is - really all dog problems are - in New Orleans as compared to Los Angeles, her former sanctuary location. She said she wasn’t prepared for her intake of discarded dogs when she moved to New Orleans.

As we hear over and over, the Pit plethora is a whole culture, whole mindset that we need to change. Tia explained that in New Orleans stray dogs are regarded as property and allowed to roam. Rather than being grateful, owners resent those who try to rescue a dog in distress or bring a lost dog home, even dogs that almost drowned after Hurricane Isaac. They insist the dog would have come home on its own.

This is a new battle for Tia. It’s hard to combat such a callous attitude- no matter how seasoned a rescuer you are, and even if you have your own show on Animal Planet. The fourth season of “Pit Bulls & Parolees” begins Oct. 6.

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