I was in Georgia this month visiting family and friends. There were several cities on the agenda, including a few that are hard to spy on a map. After breaking my number-of-roller-coasters-in-one-day record at Six Flags in Atlanta, I headed south to the small town of Helena. Down the I-75 corridor and east into the cotton fields.
Population 420. Mid 90s, ice tea weather. A 40-acre farm with a house built in 1903. Here I visited Meyer and his human, Kristin.
Meyer was 5 years old when he landed at the Everett Animal Shelter 4 years ago. The Everett shelter–an hour north of Seattle–euthanizes pit bulls irrespective of health and temperament. And the City of Everett considers pit bulls and pit bull mixes potentially dangerous. The city requires pit bull owners to: register their dogs as potentially dangerous; contain their dogs in a house or in a kennel with secure sides, top and a locked gate; and muzzle their dogs in public.
My friend, Stefaney, lives in Everett and her Animal Control contact at the shelter reached out to her to see if Meyer would be a good candidate for rescue.
Ideally we wouldn’t need shelters. Animals wouldn’t go stray. People wouldn’t surrender their punk adolescent dogs they claim are un-trainable. People wouldn’t dump animals they’ve decided they no longer want. Tied up to the front door. Dropped in the overnight surrender box. Left in a crate on the door step. Cut loose in the shelter parking lot.
Here’s the photo the Everett shelter took of Meyer when he was surrendered by his owner. Just like my two dogs, Buffalo and Chaney, a shelter staff member stepped up to save him. Maybe because of his good looks. Maybe because he melted the heart of the right person at the right time. For many shelters, pit bull rescues are an underground railroad, and in a city like Everett, it’s the only 2nd chance a pit bull will get. But it’s an above-and-beyond situation. A lottery because rescues simply don’t have the capacity to find homes for all the unwanted pit bulls that land in shelters.
Animal People reports: Shelters in large U.S. cities have a pit bull population ranging from 40% to 60% of the total shelter population and a national average of 33%. Shelters needing more space opt to euthanize pit bulls before any other type of dog due to the numbers. Animal People also estimates 75% of shelters nationwide euthanize pit bulls entering the facility without ever giving them a chance to be adopted. In a 2009 study, theyreport a 93% euthanasia rate for pit bulls and that equates to a 1 in 600 chance of being re-homed.
Meyer is a lucky dog. Stefaney and her husband, Andrew, met Meyer at the shelter and agreed to find him a home. At 5, he was in good health and eager to please but he struggled with separation anxiety and wanted to eat cats. A tall order for an adopter. He was first adopted to a couple that couldn’t manage him and instead of contacting Stefaney, they posted him on Craig’s List. By chance, Stefaney found out and pulled him from the adopter immediately. As good as we are at screening homes, most people have really good intentions and some people are really good at telling you what you want to hear.
Enter Kristin, another lucky strike. After a year of being in foster care with Stefaney, a good adoption application came through for Meyer. Stefaney’s bar for adopters is high and given the one failed adoption and Meyer’s needs, the bar for Meyer was alpine.
During Stefaney and Kristin’s first phone call, Stefaney responded to Kristin’s polite phone voice by explaining Meyer needed a strong, confident, savvvy dog handler. Kristin pushed back on Stefaney’s move to dismiss her by saying you haven’t met me, and they agreed to do a meet-n-greet. Some people think big dogs need to be managed with a 2×4. Kristin has it right. She’s a calm leader who sees around corners to guide and re-direct when necessary. Meyer responded right away to Kristin’s cool-headedness. Cat chasing, separation anxiety, Kristin’s laid back and confident approach put Stefaney at ease but she took the adoption slow.
To start, Kristin got to take Meyer on hour-long play sessions. Then she got to take Meyer to work with her at Google for day-long vists. Then an overnighter. A weekend trip. Kristin was working on buying a house with a yard and after 6 weeks, Kristin took Meyer home for keeps.
She slowly chipped away at his separation anxiety and cat chasing. And in the meantime, she figured out she no longer wanted to live in Seattle–too dreary for a California girl. She wanted to move to Australia with Meyer but pit bulls are banned from import. While she might have been able to prove Meyer isn’t 100% pit bull, she didn’t want to put him at risk.
So Kristin moved to Atlanta with Meyer and last November she bought a farmhouse in south Georgia as a weekend retreat from the big city. Meyer now shares his city house and the farm with a menagerie that includes chickens, goats, and a horse. We marvel at Kristin, and we beam knowing Meyer is loved-to-pieces and living every dog’s dream.
It was a pleasure to cross paths with them both again–and to meet a kissing goat. Here’s the lucky dog now.