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Sometimes I wonder why I dedicate the time I do into shelter dogs. Perhaps I should be spending more time decorating the house or playing video games or shopping. There are so many other commonly accepted pastimes but instead I go to the shelter. Is there something wrong with me? I sometimes seriously wonder if I'm exhibiting aberrant behaviour. I mean, what's the big draw with these dogs anyway?

I was thinking a lot about this while I was laid up in bed with the flu over Christmas watching Food Network. For some reason, the simple plotting of the shows on that channel was just about right for my groggy but bored, fever fueled frame of mind. As I watched, I became fascinated with the amount of effort put into food, finding food, preparing food, eating food, talking about food, yelling and crying and cheering over food and I thought to myself, Hey how come I'm not spending more time on food? Seriously, that's what I was thinking.

After I was well enough to crawl out of bed, I did indeed go to the grocery store and I bought a few items and made a few recipes I'd gleaned from Jamie Oliver and some other lesser known chefs (at least lesser known to me) but I knew the food thing wasn't going to last. I really appreciate food, especially good food, but I prefer eating over preparing. I'm a decent enough cook but that's only because I want to eat decent food especially if I have to go to the trouble of making it. If someone else made it for me, I'd be just as happy if not happier. And while I might occasionally have cravings for certain dishes, food doesn't make the type of impression on me where I feel I need to write or have long conversations about it.

Nevertheless, that little sidetrack into foodie land and other people's interests and obsessions did make me wonder about my own. I couldn't get rid of nagging little doubts about the worthiness of my preoccupations. There are so many problems in the world: birds falling from the sky, earthquakes and floods, Snooki. Or never mind all the external troubles that need looking after, what about the internal ones, like self-actualization and spiritual enlightenment? How can helping a bunch of dogs be more important than spiritual enlightenment? Perhaps I really need to start meditating or doing yoga. Or dancing. I hear you can get enlightened through dance.

A couple of days ago, I happened to come across the Animal Planet show "Pitbulls and Parolees". It's a reality TV show and the title tells it like it is. A woman in California, Tia Maria Torres, runs a sanctuary for Pit Bulls, the Villalobos Rescue Center, and hires parolees to help her look after the place. There are moments in the show when the dramatics are somewhat overdone in editing but for the most part, I find it's balanced and rather nuanced which for a show called "Pitbulls and Parolees" is surprising.

Here's Tia Torres, herself, talking about the sanctuary (click on image to play):

The ex-cons of "Pitbulls and Parolees" are hard asses no doubt and as I watched episodes of the show back to back, I saw how working with the dogs and forming bonds with the dogs slowly transformed them. They expressed their happiness when a dog was successfully adopted; they shed tears when a dog was euthanized. It's not like Villalobos was turning ex-cons into refined hipsters who could talk about their feelings with their girlfriends and make interesting art with their iPads but there was some manner of redemption going on there and it wouldn't have happened without the dogs.

Suddenly I felt better, snapped out of my self-doubting funk. The modern dog is a creature born to nurture and heal our emotions. For some people, a dog is better at uplifting their spirits than the highest paid doctors and psychiatrists; for some people, a dog gets through to their humanity deeper than the most earnest teachers and preachers. I guess I'm one of those people.

I figure for this life long service dogs provide us, it's not too big a deal for me to give them a helping hand when they need it. The next time I'm at the shelter on a Sunday morning, instead of sitting down to brunch at one of the trendy neighbourhood restos or chillin in front of my TV with a bowl of Cap'n Crunch and watching UFC and NASCAR outtakes, I can tell myself that spending some time with these dirty, used, abused and discarded dogs isn't such a crazy notion after all.

9 Comments to “Getting Schooled by Pitbulls and Parolees”

  1. GoLightly says:

    Knowing there are people like you out there gives me a kernel of hope. I have wrestled with the same question. Why do animals and their welfare matter to me so much? I think I owe it to them to care.

  2. Joanne says:

    You do it because you are an evolved human being, one who understands suffering, empathy and compassion, who is kind and generous of spirit. You are humanity at its best, trying to rectify what the worst has done. I cannot comprehend how anyone can mistreat or abuse something that is completely dependant on you for its very existence (animals, the elderly, chilldren) and if I see that kind of behaviour that person is annihilated from my world. Don't worry, you don't need to spend any time on spiritual enlightenment, you already have more than most of the world.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have been following your new blog, having discovered One Bark at a Time after its heartbreaking conclusion. I love Pitbull and Parolees; it has become a Saturday night ritual for me and my pittie mix rescue who is the love of my life. No, it is not too much to ask of us to take care of them.

  4. Thanks for this post, I have the same feelings about why i do what i do.
    I find it odd that people feel the need to question my dedication to dogs comparatively to why i lack the dedication to help my fellow mankind (homeless, poor, etc)...just boggles my mind.

  5. Fred says:

    Hi Joanne, thanks for that blushing review but I am nowhere near humanity at its best. You should see me on Monday mornings and I don't have nearly enough Facebook friends. Plus I'm eating potato chips for breakfast this morning.

  6. Biscuit says:

    Potato's a vegetable. You're fine.

  7. joanne says:

    potatoes are indeed a vegetable, fried in fat (an essential oil) and loaded with salt (the body needs the iodine). You are fine, I am no prize any morning myself. Not having enough Facebook friends is a good thing......

  8. Anonymous says:

    I honestly think that "balance" is the key. We have to care about people and our animals. Not calling 911 at 0300 when you hear screaming is horrific
    (Toronto is starting to scare me) but so is not responding to an abused animal.
    Let the love be shared around and around.............if we all gave a little more this world would be a better place.

  9. @ Wikked
    you should see Fred's old post at One Bark at a Time entitled "How to Answer a Question of Great Stupidity"- that'll help you address those people who question your dedication to animals over other human-based charities
    i refer to it ALL the time

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.