By Joya J. DiStefano
PAWS never ever intended to enter the adoption arena. When we formed our group, two very attractive new animal shelters had just opened in the City and the County, and Aiken appeared to be headed for membership in in the “Save Them All” movement sweeping the country. Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc. was organized in the spring of 2014 with a “root cause” focus on the problem of shelter over-crowding and high kill rate. PAWS would keep animals out of shelters through litter prevention and pet retention, and get animals at risk out of shelters by supporting existing rescue efforts.
Good plan, except for the one major obstacle: no one wanted to deal with the “pit bulls.” Transfer programs to Northern states would not transfer them. Fosters would not, or could not, foster them. Those that made it to the adoption floor often languished there. And so these dogs came into the shelters and most died there.
That was before Robin Mitchell and Toni King Smith joined PAWS.
For Robin, it began with trying to save Glacier. She went to the County Shelter last May to rescue him from imminent death and was told that she was too late. He was “in the back.” She had no access. No! Unacceptable, she thought. Robin had lobbied strenuously for a week to save this lovely eight-month-old, blue-eyed, heartworm positive “bully” dog that found her while she’d been on another mission. His looks had given him his death sentence. No one wants a bully dog, so why spend $700 to save one? The shelters are chock full of bully breeds, and in the south they have 1:2 chance of having heartworm. Robin managed to locate Glacier, already caged in the room with the county vet, waiting his turn to die. She got him out and ended up keeping him. Today, he wears a special vest to indicate that he is a therapy dog in training.
Summers are slow and the demand is low for any dog in need of a home. In September, PAWS got an urgent Facebook plea to save a dog called Sofie: black, very pregnant, and heartworm positive. She, too, was doomed. The local program that saves heartworm positive dogs does not handle puppies, and black dogs are hard to place. But Toni had just come to PAWS, and Toni loved to raise puppies. The miracle of Toni offered another unlikely rescue a chance – lucky Sofie and her nine puppies born the day before she was pulled!
Then came Sweetie Pie, who was wrapped in an inmate’s arms as Robin entered the shelter one day in late September. The man in prisoner’s garb began to plead as soon as he saw Robin. Please help save this one! Please! The pup’s gentle gaze looked out from under over-sized ears folded across the top of her head. Sweetie Pie has the distinction of being the dog that pushed Palmetto Animal Welfare Services officially into the adoption business. If none of the other organizations were ready to rescue, rehabilitate and find homes for pitbulls, PAWS would fill that gap. It was a big step . . would we be able to find homes for the dogs we saved? The answer was a resounding yes. In the very first month they operated the program, Robin and Toni placed 20 dogs in vetted and approved forever homes. Twenty.
How do we save the unlikeliest dogs from an unnecessary and untimely death in our public shelters? By placing them in good homes. How do we do it again and again? The answer begins with people like Robin Mitchell and Toni King Smith, two determined, dedicated and knowledgeable women with a passion for rescue, especially for saving those dogs that need them the most. PAWS named the new program Bully 4 You (& other PAWS too!). The Bully 4 You program has stepped up to help move “America’s dog” back into the mainstream for dog-loving, dog-desiring households.
Why do we say, “America’s dog?” If you are a “baby-boomer,” you might recall Petey from the Little Rascals, or the RCA Victor dog, or “Buster Brown” shoes – all bully dogs. Yet recently, much of our nation has jumped on the band wagon to vilify and discriminate against “pit bulls,” as a “breed,” one that is unpredictably aggressive and a dangerous liability. Legislation abounds that prevents these bully dogs from being shipped into some states. Locally, there are rules proscribing pit bull ownership for some households. There is no statistical evidence that “bully breeds:” bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, boxers, bulldogs, or any combination that produces the sleek, blocky-body-and-head-look known as “pits,” are any more aggressive, or even as aggressive as breeds such as German Shepherds, Dobermans or “Rotties.” The new term, “Pibbles,” more accurately connotes their personality: funny, affectionate, loyal, playful and very, very smart.
Robin and Toni are a team, and together they lead the PAWS adoption efforts through Bully 4 You, which was created for pit bulls, but will serve any dog in danger of slipping through the rescue cracks. They identify the lucky dogs for the program and make sure that the dogs get the care and training that will make them healthy and desirable pets. The dogs are spayed or neutered and up to date on all shots and vaccines. Adoptables are posted on a variety of adoption websites all accessible through the www.paws4nokill.org link. Applications are available online. Applicants are interviewed and meet-ups are arranged by the two women. In the first six weeks of the Bully 4 You program, 24 adoptions have been completed and two more are pending. This is a magical beginning – and your support is essential to sustain it. The success of the Bully 4 You program proves that, if we all work together, we CAN save them all. But we need everyone’s support to do it.
Here is the current Bully 4 You “Wish List:” insulated dog houses, collars, leashes, food bowls, crates, and toys. They need money for food, training treats, and to pay for both basic and critical veterinary services. They need foster homes and people who would like to help fund-raise. The program needs people to help staff community events where it can demonstrate to our local communities what it means to have a good healthy loving dog as a family member.
If you want to help Bully 4 You & Other PAWS too, you can go online to www.paws4nokill.org or the “Bully 4 You” Facebook page for all the program information. To contribute you can also mail a check to PAWS, P.O. Box 392, Aiken, SC 29802. Put B4Y in the “For” line. Or donate online here.
Please help. Lives, good lives, depend on it.