For the Love of a Pit Bull

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I have always loved dogs (and cats, and rabbits, and horses, and goats – but those are other blogs).  My mother had a purebred doberman when I was born and that dog and I were inseparable throughout my early years.  When she left us, as dogs always do too soon, there was a mischievous black Labrador.  He came to us as a puppy when I was in third grade and died after a long, full life while I was away at college.

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Aimee and Doberman Heidi in the mid-1970′s

So you could safely say that I grew up knowing what it is to love a dog, or at least I thought I did.  If you’re an animal lover like me there will be many dogs in your life and you’ll love them all.  And then there will be THE DOG. You know, THE ONE.  I’ve heard them called “heart” dogs.  A best friend and soul mate in canine form.  The dog that changes things.  The dog you love in ways you didn’t know you could.

Rufus is my heart dog, and he is a pit bull.  And oh my has he changed things in my life!

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Aimee and Pit Bull Rufus in 2013

When I moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago, I’d never met a pit bull in the flesh.  All I knew about them is what you see on the news, and that is almost never flattering.  So when I started volunteering for a rescue group I was honest-to-gosh nervous to walk a pit bull in spite of a lifetime of handling big dogs.  It didn’t take long, though, for me to figure out that pit bulls are just dogs.  And they are typically exceptionally sweet, connected, and eager to please dogs at that.  Being the animal lover that I am, I naturally fell head over heels in love with pit bulls.  And then I learned how many of them die in our shelters every year.  Oof.  Heartbreak.

I needed to adopt a pit bull, stat.  To save at least one, to do my part.  There were some details to work out first, like moving out of my “no dogs allowed” apartment, convincing my then-boyfriend, now-husband that this was a good idea, and reading every single thing that BAD RAP has ever written.  But these really are small matters to a woman on a mission.  We looked at hundreds of dogs, drove to every shelter in Los Angeles, scoured Petfinder.  And then we found him.  He was a year old, sweet and spunky.  He had been waiting for a home for four months, and other potential adoptions had fallen through.

We brought him home and had a blast.  We did obedience training and agility classes. We had dog play dates with our friends and their pups.  Our roommate adopted a kitten and he and Rufus became the best of friends.  This dog became a part of our family and I could no longer imagine life without this silly, soulful being whose only mission in life was to love and be loved.

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Rufus playing with his feline roommate Romeo

Unfortunately it was not all wine and roses.  We got dirty looks on our walks.  People snatched up their kids and small dogs when they saw us coming.  They could not see past his bowling ball sized head and rippling muscles.  Once anyone meets Rufus they fall in love with him and we were converting parents, friends, neighbors and co-workers all the time.  But it was a slow process.  And while we had saved one pit bull there were so, so many more waiting in the shelters.  I couldn’t stand the thought of sweet amazing dogs like my boy being killed.

What to do, then?  Scare the crap out of your family by quitting your very good job to go to work in animal welfare!  When I met our founder, Dr. Gary Michelson, for an interview at his home I also met his two pit bulls and I knew that it was meant to be.  Pretty much everyone else thought I was crazy.  What can I say?  Those heart dogs will make you do strange things.

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Aimee and Rufus with Dr. Gary Michelson and adopted dogs Grace (whippet) and Honey (pit bull)

That was six and a half years ago.  Rufus is nine now and my whole life is about saving pets.  He comes to work with me almost every day and “supervises” things at the Found Animals offices.  Under his watchful eye we’ve done pit bull awards and adoption promotions, we’ve supported fight bust dogs and programs that keep pit bulls in their homes and out of the shelter.  Countless pit bulls have been spayed/neutered or microchipped because of our programs and grants, and Rufus and I have visited schools for career day.  Our Adopt & Shop dog daycare is pit bull friendly and you’ll always find pit bulls in our adoption centers in Lakewood and Culver City.  A pit bull changed my world and I’m doing my best to pay it forward and change the world for pit bulls (and cats, and kittens and all the shelter pets).

In our spare time, Rufus and I like to foster other pit bulls so that we never lose touch with the front lines.  My husband is a willing, if not entirely enthusiastic, participant in these shenanigans. Our specialty is teenage pups – gangly Monkey, blind Chunk, lovely Lola and many more.  Rufus has been a fantastic big brother and mentor to all of them, he’s paying it forward too.

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Rufus and Monkey

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Rufus snuggling close to blind foster puppy Chunk

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Sunbathers Rufus and Juno

October is Pit Bull Awareness Month, and we plan to celebrate here at Found Animals. Check back with us often to see stories about amazing pit bulls and their people.

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Aimee, Rufus and Lola enjoy a Saturday night “date”

Do you have a pit bull heart dog?  Share your stories and photos with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

6 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    Thank you for your story. Your statement that Pit Bulls “just a dog”. I have been a Pit Bull advocate, defender lover, owner and dog trainer for over 40 years and I have made that same statement to people thousands of times in those years. They are tough dogs on the outside, but they are mental mush with their human friends. I have learned to give a quiet Uh Uh when they are doing something they should not! They tend to melt.

    In that time I have been very lucky to have quite a few “Heart Dogs” They were all my best friends and all were engaged, interested and willing workers. I spent 5 (it took me that long to figure out how to do it!) years running in agility with a 20 1/4 inch 50 lb female called Sneakers. Practically every one knew her name, but not mine. She was ten when retired from agility Once in agility, I forgot where I was supposed to go. She pretty almost finished the course without me. If it hadn’t been for my friends screaming at me from outside the ring to FOLLOW MY DOG, we might have been disqualified. We started training Utility obedience. She was 4 months shy of her 13th birthday when she finished her UD, and there was such joy and a fair amount of air between her and the jumps! She lived to age 15, earning not only a UD in AKC obedience, but a top title in Rally at the time and was a Delta Pet Partner therapy dog until she was 14. I think she had over 20 titles in AKC and UKC. My last heart dog, Bess, was a smart, incredible high drive dog with bat ears and a great disposition. I got her from a breeder who apparently thought she was a “PEST”. She finished a CDX in UKC with a high in trial, a Rally title and we did pet therapy. She was not as comfortable with with hospital therapy as Sneakers (was uncomfortable being put on a bed with a patient), but she loved the library reading program where she was a favorite of the kids. She pretty much drug me from the car into the library, squeaking with joy. When she got sick, and could not do therapy, the kids asked the Children’s Librarian to when we might be back. Sadly, she had a back problem that kept us home.

    My wonderful companions changed a lot of minds about these dogs. Some were afraid, but realized quickly they want more friends. The two I mentioned above are both gone now, but will never be forgotten. I have a semi crazy two year old now, and am thinking I am really too old for a dog with this much drive — for the first 1 1/2 year I thought her goal was to be a ceiling ornament, but she is settling into a somewhat calmer dog! I think she will be a good one, too, if I ever figure out a good plan for positive training. They are without a doubt, just a dog, but each is special.

    Sorry this was so long, and thank you for your efforts with a very special breed. This is a very nice article. Thank YOU!

  2. Joann says:

    Oso, a sweet 8 month old brindle pit pup I was fostering probably saved my life. He had diarrhea and I was out of pumpkin so I put him in my fenced front yard and ran to the store. It was about 11 pm when I got home and parked in front of my house. I was looking for something in my trunk when Oso started going nuts, growling and barking and practically coming over the top of the 5 ft fence. I turned around to see a man less than 10 feet from me running away as fast as he could.

  3. Such a touching story. I have a heart cat, Larry, whose ashes look down from a shelf in my den. Larry inspired me to rescue an undisclosed number of cats, feed ferals, etc. I am in a Lifesaving-Centered Shelter Management certificate program, taught by Bonney Brown. I have a part-time job with Nutro and would like to work in adoption marketing. Recently, we rescued (from almost in front of our house) an abandoned Brittany senior with big separation anxiety. As a result, she spends almost 24/7 with me in her sight. That’s changed my life and turned an intentionally childless couple with too many cats into a family. My first dog in 40 years.

  4. Becky dew says:

    Hi I have loved all dogs my whole life but when baby girl came to us she took my heart this sweet pit bull . She has passed but I still have two amazing pits . Bonnie and Clyde . Bonnie lost a leg due to people how do not know pits r sweet . Broke my heart . I want to do more to bring light to how great pits are .

  5. Rebecca Eason says:

    While I was in college, I stumbled across a pit bull puppy that needed a home; thus, starting my love of pit bulls. He was so gentle and had the greatest temperament. I have owned pit bulls every since.
    About 3 years ago, I decided I wanted to take my love a little further and work with a deaf pit bull. There was a rescue in VA that needed a foster home for a deaf American Bulldog/Pit Bull mix named ICE. He had been in rescue for over a year.
    We bonded almost instantly and I ended up adopting him. I love all of my dogs but this one is my heart dog. He is my shadow at home. Everywhere I go, he goes. If I go outside, he waits patiently by the door until I return. He is also the best cuddler I have ever seen! He will curl up behind me on the couch and lay his big ol’ head in the curve of my neck. To me, he is one in a million.