Thankfully, animal rescue has become a popular theme and more and more people are getting involved in this life saving work. Being involved in rescue is an adventure. Pit bull terrier rescue takes it to an entirely different level.
Television portrays rescue as an Indiana Jones-type feature film, when typically it feels more like watching a filibuster on cable. Sure, there are plenty of days you can feel the thrill as if on a roller coaster ride, twisting and turning through the darkness of a stormy night, but more often than not, it is a slow steady process of trying to stay afloat while facing wave after wave of craziness.
Before you start scouring the web for a rescue to jump on board with, allow me to share the top five things I have learned along my journey in pit bull rescue.
1. Dogs are dogs and pit bull terriers are dogs.
Pit bull has become the modern day term for mutt, mixed breed, North American Tail Wagger, and every dog that enters a shelter. They are small, medium, large, and most recently a "pit bull" was in the news that was 175 pounds. Seriously? How can anyone expect a single breed label to cover 20 to 175 pounds?
Pit Bulls come in every color, blue, white, black, brown, fawn, chestnut, brindle, and every combination thereof. The descriptions in classified ads I especially love are those that include blue nose, red nose, reverse brindle, Gotti line and anything we can think of to sound like we have an inside scoop on something that we really should just call a mutt. We have to accept that we simply cannot define what a pit bull is and we need to move away from breed labeling.
2. Nothing draws more lines in the sand than a discussion about pit bull terriers.
People can be petting a pit bull terrier like dog in their lap, while telling you, that you are going to be devoured whole in the night by your dog because pit bulls do those sorts of things. Pit bull terrier discussions are like losing weight conversations. Everyone is an expert and they back up their viewpoint using some story about a neighbor's dog from 10 years ago, that they heard about from another neighbor, who was pretty sure it was true.
It doesn't matter what the AKC reports or the American Veterinary Medical Association, because John Doe said it and therefore it must be true. You have to walk away from these conversations and simply leave behind a well-referenced article that blows the myths right out of the water.
3. All dogs are individuals and deserve the right to be treated as such.
Marketing dogs for adoption is like trying to play matchmaker with your friends. Finding the right homes for the right dogs is a very real challenge and can lead to fits of hair pulling and head banging. Adopters are not always reasonable people and they want the blue dog because they want the blue dog, gosh darn it. Why are you standing in the way of them adopting the blue dog, when all the movie stars have blue dogs?
While pit bulls, like all dogs, are incredibly loving and social, they all have different personalities. Finding the right match is the key to keeping dogs in homes for life. Some will never sleep in your bed or clean your face when it's time to wake up. Some love running for 10 miles and others hate to leave the couch. Some want to always be part of a six kid, five dog and three cat crew and others would prefer to be only dogs all their lives.
Finding creative ways to help people identify the best fit for their lifestyle takes enormous patience, healthy amounts of sleep, and typically lots and lots of margaritas. Consider yourself warned and always enter the rescue world using the buddy system.
4. Prepare for a ride that never stops.
After every fantastic spay/neuter event, another ten pregnant dogs enter your local shelter. After every successful adoption event, twenty more dogs become URGENT at your local pound. After every great article in the media about a pit bull terrier like dog saving it's family from a catastrophe, another media frenzy erupts over a dog bite incident. After every successful movement to adopt a breed neutral dangerous dog law in a city, another city proposes a pit bull ban.
It is an endless cycle that can eat a person alive. Set realistic goals and celebrate success. Every single adoption is a success. Celebrate the life saved, share the joy, and invite others to join you. You can not control the craziness that others create, but you can control how you respond to it. Always take time to stop and get off the ride. It will be right there waiting for you when you are ready to come back. Trust me, the ticket for the crazy rescue train has no expiration date and you can enter and exit the ride as many times as you wish.
5. Rescue is a uniquely individual experience and dogs are the most fascinating and incredible teachers. Be open to the lessons.
It is often said that you do not find the dog you want, you find the dog you need. I truly believe this. Through fostering dogs, I have been blessed to cross paths with many amazing dogs, I can't imagine my life had I chosen a different path. Of course, I might still have carpeting in my house and woodwork without teeth marks, but that is an entirely different subject matter.
The greatest lessons I have learned about life, death, aging, devotion, sacrifice, perseverance, discrimination, you name it, I have been taught by fosters. Each and every dog that has shared my home has shared a message with me. Some lessons needed to be pounded in to my head and others I willingly accepted. Whether watching a young puppy experience bubbles for the first time or feeling a dog take his final breath upon your chest, I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared those moments.
There are times I have laughed so hard my stomach hurt and cried so deeply my chest wanted to explode. Just when I think surely I must have seen it all, in comes a new foster dog and another message uniquely theirs to deliver. Do not look for the perfect foster dog, open your heart and your home to the one who finds you.
So grab a buddy, open your heart, your mind, your home, and climb aboard the crazy ride we call pit bull rescue. The life you save first will be your own.
For the second year, The Huffington Post is holding a week-long, community-driven effort to bust the myths and raise awareness about pit bulls, a maligned "breed" that often bears the brunt of dated, discriminatory legislation that can make it near impossible for these dogs to find a forever home. You can follow along with HuffPost Pit Bull Week here, or on social media where we'll be using the hashtag #PitBullWeek.