Monday, September 14, 2009

The Pit Bull Blues

I've got the Pit Bull Blues, oh yeah.

For those of you who have been following this blog, you may recall previous posts about a Shelter dog named JoJo, an American Pit Bull Terrier (pictured as he looked on Saturday). JoJo is a fawn-colored 3-year-old male dog who I placed in an APBT-savvy foster home in mid-April. Late last week, Ms. A., the foster, called me to regretfully report that JoJo has become increasingly dog-on-dog aggressive.

Ms. A. explained that JoJo had instigated four separate attacks, including one that injured her own female pit bull (puncture bites on the dog’s neck, and half an ear tip torn off). In the first attack, JoJo charged an (alleged) Gotti line pit bull belonging to a neighbor, pinning the dog to the ground. Ms. A. did not witness this attack as it occurred while her high school age son had JoJo in the front yard. No one was hurt. The third attack came when JoJo harassed a mastiff by biting down on the dog’s snout. Both dogs suffered minor face punctures.

The forth attack came while Ms. A. was walking JoJo on leash on a path. Another dog of a similar size (but not a pit bull) approached (on leash with its owner), so Ms. A. pulled JoJo onto the grass median, and worked to keep his attention off of the approaching dog. Ms. A. isn’t sure if she tripped or if JoJo tripped her, but she lost hold of the leash and charged the a mix-breed dog on the walking path, pinning and clamping down on this dog by one hind leg. Ms. A. was able to pull JoJo off and neither animal was injured, but the other dog’s owner was badly frightened by the swiftness of the attack.

As JoJo has regained weight and strength (he was in bad shape when he left the Shelter in April), Ms. A. said he became increasingly dog-focused—straining toward and staring down dogs his size or bigger. When he launches an attack, JoJo does not growl, bark, or raise his hackles. He just fixes a hard stare, whines deeply in his throat, lowers his head and prepares to launch. Another dog need not even act in an agressive way to prompt this.

I witnessed this personally on Saturday morning, when I met JoJo and Ms. A. at the Shelter. We were waiting for the staff person to locate JoJo’s records, and were seated in two chairs, with JoJo sitting calmly beside us. Ms. A. had JoJo’s leash tight and I had one hand on JoJo’s collar. Someone walked another dog by, and I felt JoJo’s body tighten. His head dropped, neck extended and I felt the intensity building in his body. I’ve seen this intensituy before in a dog--in my 17-pound Miniature Pinscher, when he’s got a freshly killed rat. It’s a whole different thing to see it in a 70-pound, muscular, young dog. Ms. A. shook JoJo out of and got his attention to focus on her. I suddenly realized that JoJo is what the dog-fighters call “game.”

We went with the Shelter Director, Dr. Ryan, into one of the offices and Ms. A. outlined the nature of the attacks. Ms. A. did not feel that JoJo could be safely adopted. We were both in front of Dr. Ryan because we knew that the reality is that JoJo needed to be euthanized.

The Shelter does not have the time or resources to retrain one dog, especially a Pit Bull. I’m not knocking the breed, but it is challenging enough to find homes for the Pit Bulls and Pit mixes already in the Adoption Room. And JoJo had a bad track record.

Dr. Ryan explained that every dog deserves a fair evaluation and she wanted JoJo to be seen by Mr. G., our Shelter’s dog trainer. However, Mr. G. and I had already spoken about JoJo, and Mr. G. was already familiar with the dog from his time in the Shelter. Mr. G. has rehabbed several Pit Bulls in his private business, but the rehabilitation (regardless of what Cesar Milan might say) often means life at Spindletop, one the few APBT/Bully breed Sanctuaries in our part of Texas. And Spindletop is expensive and has a waiting list.

“If I had six or eight months to devote just to him, maybe I could change the behavior,” Mr. G. said, “but no matter what we could never fully trust him.”

Ms. A. and I had already taken JoJo on a good long walk. I had hugged him and let him kiss me—he seemed to remember me—and took a dozen photos. We turned the leash over to the Quarantine Room staff person, a man who also remembers when JoJo was in the Shelter. He led the dog away. I hate losing a dog this way.

I stopped by the Shelter today, but JoJo’s fate remains up in the air. He is being held in a Quarantine Kennel, awaiting an evaluation from Mr. G. But Mr. G. feels that the Shelter Director is trying to forestall the inevitable. He had a good life, as his foster said, for several months.

We don’t have the resources for a dog like JoJo. And now, he’s in limbo. I realize the Shelter Director has a veterinarian’s viewpoint—save the dog if it’s at all humanly possible. But I can’t hardly bear to think of JoJo in the Quarantine room. It is also the E.U. (Euthanization) Room, and it must reek of Death.

I will post an update on JoJo as soon as possible.


  1. So sorry to hear it. Whose bright idea was it to breed these animals for fighting, anyway? I hope something works out and he can be saved, but short of Cesar Milan taking on the case, it doesn't sound so good. (And I wonder how most of Mr. Milan's aggression cases are doing a year later. There's no way it's as simple or permanent as he makes it look.) If an experienced dog handler like the foster home can't keep him from attacking other dogs multiple times in a few months, what chance would an adoptive home have?

    Please let us know what decision the staff (and you) come to, good, bad, or otherwise.

  2. Your heart must be aching and breaking for Jo Jo. I know mine is. Pitbulls can be the most awesome dogs in the world. There are no words for the humans that make them into monsters, through ignorance and abuse. Kharma and "you reap what you sow," give me hope for the future. The dogs are blessed to have you working for them.

    I hope Jo Jo finds peace, no mattter the decision.

  3. It's hard to acknowledge but with that level you could not adopt him out. And with re-work he could never be trusted at 100%. It's awful. It's heartbreaking but it would take a very special person to take him on an have the time to work through all that and those special folks are hard to find.

  4. I'm sorry to hear this. I did read your original post about JoJo and I know how much hope you had for him.

  5. Sorry to hear, I feel your pain. I have been acquaintenced with a few pitbulls - two that could not be rehabbed and were put down. ALL were very friendly, sweet, cuddly, obdient dogs. The two put down were unable to get over their learned and trained aggression, much the same as Jo Jo.

    If people were better and actually gave animal behavior a try (or if we taught this in schools) there would be more homes for these dogs. But the average adopter is so la-tee-dah...or too busy with life. I don't see enough well trained dogs anywhere.

    Perhaps your post will locate a person.

    I'm actually dog sitting right now (6 dogs). But even the good hearted person I am sitting for could not take Jo Jo.

    If you need a picker upper...come see on my blog some saved ones that have a fantastic life.

    Take care

  6. My eyes are full of tears. I'm so sorry. I know it was the only thing that could be done but it makes it no less painful. :(


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