Baltimore Resident, Renee Pyles, adopted her pit bull/labrador mix, Lola, from Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Center in 2012.
After owning Lola for six months, Pyles went through a breakup and her and Lola were forced to move from their townhome in downtown Baltimore to an apartment complex in the heart of the Inner Harbor after exhausting many other options.
“The apartment building said since she was a lab mix she would be allowed,” Pyles said. “But once the property manager saw her picture, he said ‘She has to be part pit’ and I couldn’t sign the lease because she wouldn’t be allowed to come with me.”
During what was already proving to be a difficult time in Pyles’ life, the idea of losing the animal she loved so much weighed on her tremendously.
“I felt helpless,” she remembers, “because bullying the breed is legal.”
Pyles felt backed into a corner since living in this apartment complex was the only option she had to keep a roof over her own head. She tried to work with the property manager to keep Lola under her care and looked to friends and her ex-boyfriend to adopt her permanently, with no luck.
Ultimately, Lola was returned to BARCS and put back up for adoption.
The road to adoption for shelter pets is hard, but no dog breed faces a more difficult and grueling battle than the pit bull. A study by the organization Animal People reports a 93 percent euthanasia rate for pit bulls and only 1 in 600 pits finding a forever home in the US. Studies estimate that up to one million are euthanized per year.
Since 2012, the court case of Tracey vs. Solesky had ruled that pit bulls and pit bull mixes were dangerous and that the owners of these dogs as well as their landlords were “strictly liable” for any attacks. Because of this ruling many landlords have banned the ownership of pit bulls, forcing many owners to get rid of their dog if they want to keep their housing.
However, the pit bulls of Baltimore aren’t out in the doghouse for long. In light of the recent backlash against the breed, rescue organizations have sprung up hoping to restore the pit bull’s good name. BARC’s Pit Crew is a non-profit organization. One of BARCS’ biggest tenants is making sure that pit bulls and their owners get proper training. They’re a community training partner with Pet-U-Cation Training and Rehabilitation Services, who aim to make shelter dogs more suitable for adoption through socialization exercises, play groups, Pack Walks, volunteer workshops and seminars for volunteers, staff, past or future adopters, and leash training. Both BARCS and Pet-U-Cation aim for the same goal: “changing the public’s mind about this amazing breed.”
Pyles does not know if Lola was adopted again after she was returned to the shelter.
Aware that euthanasia does occur in some cases, Pyles hesitantly said, “I didn’t have the heart to check. I knew I would probably just end up crying a ton if she hadn’t.”
Pyles was heartbroken about having to give up ownership of Lola due to a breed restriction when she considered her dog sweet, playful and loving. She feels as though it wasn’t fair to her or Lola after they had made such a strong connection.
“She never attacked another animal under my watch. I had hoped if I had her longer I could work with her,” Pyles said.
In Kurt Mueller’s case, BARCS required that he work with his pit bull on site before bringing him home. In the summer of 2012, Mueller took a trip to BARCS with no intention of adopting a dog.
Like Pyles, Mueller noticed most of the dogs up for adoptions were pit bulls. However, there were no puppies. He hung around the shelter for a few minutes feeling a little disappointed. As he turned to leave, a shelter worker was putting a pit bull mixed puppy into a cage.
“She set him down and when she walked away, she shook her head so I was wondering what that was all about,” Mueller said.
Mueller went over to the puppy who immediately took a liking to him.
“He came over right away and started licking my face so I knew I had to do it,” Mueller said with a smile. “I’m pretty sure it was love at first sight.”
As Mueller began to fill out the paperwork for adoption, the woman began to tell Kurt that the puppy had been adopted two weeks prior but the couple could not handle how rowdy he was.
“When I heard that, I put down my pen and didn’t say anything for a few minutes,” Mueller recalled. “I’m a college student living in an apartment. I didn’t know if I was making the right choice.”
As Mueller thought it over, he remembers thinking to himself, “I can do this. A dog is only as bad as his trainer is.”
Mueller continued with signing the paperwork and was told he could pick him up the following day granted that the background check went okay. He was given the puppy and told that he had to stick around for about an hour for a training class on how to train a pit bull.
“It was a pretty informative class. They taught me about the breed, their reputation which I already knew, and the best ways to train them.”
Mueller took advice from the class and trained his new furry best friend by biting his ear when he did something wrong.
“I don’t know how or why but that worked perfectly. Still to this day, if I even get close to his ear he immediately stops whatever he’s doing.”
“His name is Floyd for Floyd Mayweather, the professional fighter,” Mueller
said. “I knew it wasn’t the best idea for a pit bull but I knew any dog I was responsible for was going to be a lover.”
In fact, according to Global Animal, pit bulls are a loyal, good-natured, affectionate family pet. They tend to get along well with children and adults and are known to be protective of their owners in times of need.
“He literally does not stop licking my face. I hate to yell at him for it but after a while it get’s old being covered in dog slobber.”
Mueller said that nothing makes him angrier than going for walks because of the discrimination he faces. I was shocked after what I saw on the walk. Five out of the seven people we walked past either moved far off the sidewalk or completely switched to the other side of the street. Mueller’s mouth was in a grim line after the walk.
“I feel like we’re living in the ‘60s again. It’s like racial segregation except they just hate pit bulls,” Mueller said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Paige Duvall of Baltimore ended up with her 2-year-old Pit Luna after her previous owner was banned from having her in their house. Duvall calls Luna the love of her life, but she is not blind to the prejudice.
“I have friends and family who sometimes refuse to come in my house when she is out because they are so terrified of a potential attack,” she said.
“I hope that one day the reputation will change but I believe that it will take time. I believe more responsibility should be put upon the owners and not the breed.”
Mueller doesn’t care if it sounds cliché that adopting his dog was the best decision he ever made.
“Floyd is my best friend,” he said in between breaths as Floyd continues to lick his face.
“Because of him, I don’t think I’ll ever own anything that isn’t a pit bull,” Mueller said with a smile as he stared at Floyd who was keeping busy with an empty water bottle. “I love him like a son.”
Baltimore County recognizes the alarming euthanasia rate upwards of 63 percent in their animal shelter in Baldwin,Md. In October of 2013, Baltimore County officials announced their plan to replace the Baldwin facility with a $5 million animal shelter. The biggest issue with the current county shelter is the lack of space, resulting in a high number of animals destroyed. The new shelter aims to provide better care for the animals it houses by including more kennel space, a meet-and-greet room for adoptions, an outdoor exercise area for dogs, and a cat socialization room. The new shelter will also offer spaying and neutering services that aren’t currently offered at the Baldwin facility due to lack of space. The push for the new shelter comes at the heels of the state government reaching out to non-profits for help in housing their excess of animals, as they already have a heavy workload managing animal control in the county.
Baltimore City experienced success with a similar transition nine years ago when the Baltimore Animal and Care Shelter was created to take over the city shelter whose euthanasia rate at the time was 98 percent.
BARCS is granted $2 million annually from the city and with these funds they have made great changes to improve the lives of animals in shelters. Now, the city shelter’s euthanasia rate is down to 32 percent, although BARCS’ volunteers won’t be satisfied until that number is zero.
Kelly Sullivan founded her organization, Pitties and Purrs, after seeing the innate goodness and forgiveness within the pit bull breed. Pitties and Purrs rescues pit bulls and pit bull mixes from high-kill shelters where they have a very low chance at adoption. Through proper medical care and a whole bunch of love and socialization, they want to find these dogs homes while positively the changing the reputation of the breed state-wide.
“The thing that amazes me the most about these dogs is their ability to forgive and move on from the hardships they faced,” she said. “But it’s hard. And a lot of work And I do cry. It’s a little harder than having a poodle rescue.”
Sullivan is referring to the negative stigma attached to these dogs. She recounts stories of adoption event when mothers would pull their children away from the dogs who clearly just wanted love and attention.
“They’re so misunderstood. And in a way, I relate to that which is why I think I care about them so much. They’re really so smart, loving, and caring if you take the time to know them”.
Sullivan doesn’t let it bother her though. She knows there are some people who will never change their prejudices for the breed. The people she cares about are the ones who’s eyes light up when they see one of her pits. Sullivan said that those are the people that can be swayed.
Sullivan laughs over the phone and says that the rescue motto goes like this, “rescuing animals is like a gang, there’s no way out except for death.”
The majority of the dogs that Pitties and Purrs and BARCS Pit Crew take in are dogs that have been rescued from dog-fighting rings. With love and attention, they aim to make these dogs adoptable and find them their forever home.
“Some of them hold onto that fear of being abused and have really bad anxiety thereafter, but the beautiful thing about that breed is that they bounce back from horrible situations, tail wagging and all,” Duvall said.