A reunion of adoptive families and pit bulls a culmination of happy endings at Humane Society event
Lorrie Shaw | Contributor
Adopting a dog is a pretty big deal. The anticipation of having a new life in the house, doing your best to get matched up with the right furry face for your famil, and getting through those first few weeks while everyone has a chance to settle in and get used to each other — it's a good guess that you've been there.
Many pets that make up the canine population in our area were adopted from the Humane Society of Huron Valley and have found happy, stable forever homes when, at one point in their lives, that might not have even been a foreseeable reality.
This past Sunday, a group of people — all adoptive families — gathered at HSHV for a special event to celebrate the common thread that binds them together: they all adopted pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
The event, 'Bubbly with the Bullies,' hosted roughly 50 families and their pooches to celebrate the success of bringing adoptable dogs together with forever homes. Several of the families shared their stories over brunch, graciously provided by Afternoon Delight.
Human laughter and joyous noise of playful puppies and adult dogs was abundant, as were wagging tails.
A common joke that day amongst attendees was how grateful everyone was to feel the enthusiastic sting of a happy tail whacking their leg.
Grateful, because pitbulls have a lot of unfortunate strikes against them: for one thing, they are the type of dog that is most commonly the target of neglect, starvation, abuse and torture in our community, incidents that are investigated by HSHV's Cruelty and Rescue Department.
Some don't make it out of those situations alive.
Others wander aimlessly due to being a stray, like 2 1/2-year-old Gretchen, who was picked up by HSHV as a skinny 6 month old. She attended Sunday's event with her humans, Nate Hayes and Milvi Mikkor of Ann Arbor, who couldn't be more thrilled having her in their lives.
After coming in from the outside area that had a welcome tent of sorts set up that included goodies and giveaways from Karnik Pet Lodge and Sweet P's, I met the trio as they and an especially buoyant Gretchen emerged from the outdoor entryway, the humans both wearing satisfied grins. As I learned, the pooch has just finished bobbing for edible treats at an outdoor game station.
Hayes, an ad operations specialist with AnnArbor.com notes, "Gretchen gets to accompany me at work sometimes — she loves it!"
Seth and Ayn Duimstra of Jackson are not first-time pit bull owners. They adopted their dog, 2-year-old Mak Diesel, a handsome fellow with a solid brown swoosh across the right side of his face, in February.
"I had another pit for nine years before losing him to leukemia," explained Duimstra, in a quieter tone as he tossed bits of blueberry muffin to the newest addition to the family, who looked dapper in a tie made just for him by his "grandma."
"Believe it or not, Mak plays with our ferrets, and they have a great rapport," adds Duimstra, who emphasizes that positive reinforcement in training any dog is a must.
Another dog at the event, Bell, had a fractured bone in her leg. The owners could not afford to get her leg repaired, so they did the compassionate thing and surrendered her to HSHV. She needed surgery, and after, she made a great recovery and was featured in the Diamonds in the Ruff campaign, and later adopted by Jamie Slagle.
With an obvious strong spirit and sweet disposition (she offered me several face licks), she has a good life now.
Laurie Toole was accompanied by 4-month-old Cinder, a dark ball of energy who was discovered by Toole when her neighbor was fostering the then weeks-old pup through HSHV's fostering program. Cinder was found wandering the streets before going through HSHV's intake. Toole and her playful pup have been inseperable since the adoption and have taken advantage of discounted puppy training classes facilitated by Jerry Koszednar, CPDT-KA and a member of the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club.
Koszednar quietly remarks, "Positive reinforcement in everyday situations, and especially in training is far more effective than anything in helping any dog be well-adjusted," adding that he is an advocate of clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods.
Canine training classes are offered at a discounted rate to those adopting from HSHV.
Toole said, as Cinder bounded around on the other end of the leash, that she is impressed to see the peripheral support from canine professionals being made available to dog owners and that the added discount is a boon.
"The training has been invaluable, and additionally, the socialization aspect is important. It's a fun time for Cinder, too."
Fellow dog trainer Michael Burkey, who is a former police K-9 officer and owner of Michigan Dog Trainer, concentrates on the training of older dogs when working with adopters from HSHV, echoed Koszednar's sentiments that is one of the biggest challenges that a person who shares life with a pit bull faces, is isolation.
"The stigma that families that adopt a pit bull can face can create a negative cycle," Burkey states.
For example, when out for a walk, seeing the scowls from other people as they walk by with their dog, and sometimes the comments can really dishearten a pit bull owner, causing them to tire of it and find it easier to stay home.
"Not only do the people become isolated, but in turn the dogs do, too. Isolation leads to lack of socialization — and that causes big problems." Burkey continues.
"We facilitate events where bullies and their people can get together, mingle and feel more connected: like bully-friendly outings, walks, things like that."
And events like "Bubbly With the Bullies", where it was clear that if given the chance to demonstrate it, each adoptable dog can be an asset in the community.
Here's some video footage of this past week's event: