By Donna Velez
Some connect with their Higher Power through religion. Some connect through yoga, prayer, or meditation. Some connect through art forms, and still others through the help of a 12-step program. After a life long search for God, I found him through my journey rescuing pit bulls.
In 1989 I was given a 4-month-old brindle, female pit bull. I was terrified of her. For two days I would not turn my back for fear she would become aggressive and attack me. I was angry with my husband for bringing this “killer” home, and I wrestled with the decision of whether or not to keep this puppy. But I kept her, raised her in a loving home, socialized her well, and Josey grew up to be a jewel.
A year later I rescued my first pit bull from life at the end of tow chain. Rudy lived out the remainder of her life sleeping on a bed, eating popcorn and ice cream, and being surrounded by her human and canine family members. Rudy passed away in her home snuggled up in her daddy’s arms. She was loved.
In 1993 I formed a rescue group called Hearts of Gold and started, one pit bull at a time, to open my home to the true underdog, the most abused animal on earth. It has been an adventure, a spiritual journey, an ongoing lesson in psychology, and a personal encounter with courage, loyalty, and love. Yet it has also been a painful look at cruelty, neglect, and scars, both outside and in.
Looking back over the years I have memories of carrying dogs into my home because they were too weak to walk. I have memories of coaxing dogs into my vehicle because they were so afraid of everything that they froze and refused to move. And I have memories of dogs who jumped in, brimming with enthusiasm, ready to start a new life. Each and every rescue, both the dog and the experience, is unique.
I remember Isaiah. Today he is sleeping on his back, all four feet stretched up to heaven with a wide grin across his face. He has learned to bond with both dogs and humans. However, not long ago he was standing in mud attached to a 2-foot chain. He lived this way for 7 years.
I remember Chester who now lives with a vet and travels to work with him everyday. He serves as a blood donor and has a one-eyed beagle “sister” who is also a rescue. But Chester once lived on a tow chain tied to a house in the middle of a grassy field, covered in a thick fog of mosquitoes. When he was found he had a heavy load of heartworms, fighting scars, and lots of broken teeth. Nevertheless, his owner assures me that his wife loves Chester so much that he will have to bury her on the same day Chester passes.
Merci also comes to mind. She is a seasoned game dog (a dog that has seen a lot of action in the fight ring) from South Memphis and is intelligent beyond belief. While exhibiting dog aggressive behavior, she has an extraordinary love for humans, is gentle with children, and wants to kiss everyone she meets square on the lips. Merci was found stumbling down a sidewalk near collapse when a kind man took her in and called me for help. She now sleeps on my bed, fills my heart with her smiles, and helps me train and rehab other dogs.
Handsome was confiscated in a dog fighting bust in South Memphis. He was inside the pit when law enforcement arrived and had a heavy heartworm infection, but he was definitely not a fighter. He now has a home and is described as “perfect” by every person he meets. He is thrilled in the company of all dogs and all people. He is a wonderful example of why one should never judge a book by its cover.
Snowflake was found with a broken pelvis and scars from a wire that had grown into her neck. She was starving and lying on a porch in Frayser in below freezing temperatures. Today she lives in a Nashville mansion with a yogini/wildlife biologist and two cat buddies.
Trinity was clearly abused. She was found with wounds and an abscessed chest. She may have been someone’s pet that got loose and fell into the wrong hands. Today she lives in a home with three children in Connecticut and has her own website. She has changed many minds about pit bulls.
But most recently it is Wiggles who has captured my heart. She was a fighter that could not overcome her deep programming. The abuse she endured at the hand of humans could not be undone. Wiggles was euthanized on June 29, 2010 at the Animal Emergency Center on Summer Avenue wrapped tightly in the arms of a woman who loved her enough to set her free. I will miss the way she wiggled when she was happy. I will miss her walking on her hind legs with front paws crossed, reaching in the air for me with that wide, broken-toothed grin. Wiggles was a powerful girl with a powerful message. The healing of a soul is not always about change – it may simply be about acceptance.
Rescue work is physically, mentally, and financially draining. It is no easy task to take in pit bulls from the saddest of conditions and nurse them back to health, socialize them, train them, and evaluate them for adoption. They often need expensive medical care including vaccinations, spaying/neutering, heartworm treatments, treatment for skin conditions, and monthly preventative medicines. I want to quit on a regular basis. I get discouraged and depressed. But just as I think I am going to throw in the towel, I hear the words that God softly spoke to me many years ago, “You provide the heart and I will provide all the rest.”
I encourage you and your children to get involved in community volunteer work with a rescue group or shelter. You can help by volunteering, organizing fundraisers, updating websites, or sponsoring the medical needs of a rescue dog. There are so many ways that rescue groups can use your help. Those who get involved will learn responsibility, compassion, and service to others. And it always seems that what we give, we get back. You can go to petfinder.com to find a list of rescue groups and shelters in your area.
If you are considering adopting a rescued pit bull, please let the rescue group match you with the right dog for your lifestyle and experience level. Dogs are individuals and the perfect dog for one home may not work at all in another home. If you would like more information about Hearts of Gold, learn how to get involved, or how to adopt a pit bull you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at heartsofgoldpitrescue.com. Thank you for letting me share my journey with you.
By Donna Velez