Today I’m sharing the very important story of a beloved friend of mine, Andee, who, along with her dear husband Brandon, took in an abandoned Pit Bull and gave and gave and gave until there was nothing more to give… This is an important story, I will say it again. It’s a story of rescue, a story of redemption, a story of love, and a story of suffering and sacrifice. It’s also an excellent example of the bond that can quickly form between humans and their animals.
So why is this story important? Because it shows not only a human being’s spectacular level of caring and compassion, but also because it demonstrates how a so-called “bully breed” (an American Pit Bull Terrier) can be reformed, renewed and, overall, a superb family dog. It also shows something deeper, an issue that we often don’t want to address… What happens if a dog cannot be rehabbed? What happens if the risks of owning a dog like this just outweigh the benefits? What happens when you’ve spent thousands of dollars, tons of man hours, and countless tears and the dog is still not “normal” per se?
These issues are all explored in “Griffin, the Rescue Pit Bull…” I hope you all can appreciate this story as much as I do. Please leave me your feelings in the comments section.
Griffin’s story began in August of 2011. A good friend of ours, Monique, contacted us about a dog her co-worker found on the streets of Carlsbad, CA. Her co-worker saw him and pulled over, opened the door, and Griff jumped right in. He was unaltered, underweight, and had a chain around his neck. All the rescuers quickly saw how sweet and silly this precious dog was right away.
By law he had to spend five days in the shelter. Brandon, my husband, and I agreed we would take him if he wasn’t claimed. I called each day to see if he was still there. Five days quickly passed and no one came to pick him up. The poor boy was dumped and left to fend for himself. We took Ellee, our female AmStaff/American Bulldog/Chesapeake Bay Retriever rescue, to the shelter to meet him. They seemed to hit it off. They played together, peed on each other’s pee and sniffed together. We signed the papers, paid the fee and went home. We picked him up on September 1, 2011 at the vet where he was neutered. We were so excited, but figured we must be a bit nuts considering that we had a move planned – a big one. We would be permanently transplanting ourselves and our four-leggers from California to Colorado in a little over a month.
We named him, this sweet Pittie, “Griffin” with the help of my Mom. The name fit his personality perfectly — he ended up being a big ol’ goofball of a dog.
Upon arrival home (still in California), we quickly realized that Griff didn’t know what a bed was, he didn’t recognize a full bowl of water, and he did not understand the concept of a consistent meal. He scarfed his food down so fast and would drink the entire bowl of water as if it would disappear if he did not consume it quickly. He had huge calluses on his elbows; obviously from sleeping on concrete. His front legs had difficulty performing, it seemed as if there was trouble with them holding him up correctly; they would even shake and splay out to the side after just a short walk.
That aside, Griff immediately began guarding his food from Ellee. We thought, “Okay we can break him of this. No problem…”
Then we noticed he’d attack her over space…
Griff and Ellee
So we thought, again, “Okay, any dog can be rehabilitated.” Cesar Milan has shown us this… I mean, other than the food and space issues, the two dogs played together well and seemed totally compatible.
After only a few days of having him, Griffin came down with pneumonia. We fed him food and water through a syringe, took him to the vet for daily nebulization, and nebulized him at home with the hot shower running in the closed bathroom. We didn’t think he’d survive. He was down to a measly 55 pounds (a dog of his size should be 75). He could barely walk and his breathing was terrible. However, sure enough, with our perseverance, he slowly got better and soon enough was fully recovered.
Once recovered, we started to leash-train Griff. My goodness, was this a task! We started by working on his sensitivity to touch on the neck. He would jump every time touched there, no matter how gentle and/or slow the touch was. He was also sensitive to the touch on a certain spot on his side. He could be sound asleep on the couch and if you accidentally touched the spot on his side he would quickly awaken and jump down. I felt terrible every time this happened. He did slightly overcome these sensitivities, but never did so fully. Griffin did eventually adjust to being in the house and sleeping on a bed. He loved beds, he loved his crate, and he especially loved the couch!
Here we are only a month later getting ready for our move. We have learned how to manage Griffin’s issues to keep a happy home. So we went ahead and made the move to Colorado. Griffin and Ellee both loved the new backyard and the snow from the blizzard that welcomed us. Oh boy, did Griff love the snow! He loved to run in snow, eat snow and just be out in the snow. Seeing him take such pleasure in something made our hearts so happy!
As time went by, Griffin became more and more of a resource guarder. Poor Ellee lost half of her ear because of this…
We experienced our first “ugly dog attack” when Brandon took Griffin on a walk one evening. A neighbor had his dog in the front yard off-leash. The dog ran up in an aggressive manner to Brandon and Griffin. Griff went into automatic defense mode. He held on to the dog’s neck and tried to shake him. Brandon was able to break it up, but not before the other dog bit him (Brandon) in the leg. Both dogs were fine. We were traumatized and so was Griffin.
This led us to hire trainer number one. She helped with basic obedience and creating a stronger bond between us. We learned what signs to look for. Things also became more manageable between him and Ellee.
He still had his issues and fear of everything outside of the house; outside of his bubble we had created. He was excited to go on walks, but would keep his tail between his legs and head down the entire
time. Our hearts broke. We wanted so badly for him to relax and enjoy walks. Seeing a dog in constant fear is devastating. Humans did this to him. We did not know anything about his background, but we were sure someone either trained him to fight or just flat out abused him. We knew he had never been in a house and we knew he was not fed adequately. He did not know love before us. It was painfully obvious.
We started sessions with trainer number two. Rhea was recommended by our vet since she knew Rhea had rehabilitated many “bully breeds” and placed them in homes. Dogs deemed unadoptable now become the perfect family pet. She was at the Longmont Shelter so every Saturday we made the hour’s drive to and from. Here Griff worked with other dogs. He never learned how to be amongst them without attacking no matter what Rhea did. He would shake and stick to our side. We did notice he was much better with Ellee at home. The trainer did tell us Resource Guarding (diagnosed by her) was extremely difficult to break if you can break it at all. We stopped going after about six sessions since he was not progressing.
We decided to go camping in a remote area one day. Griffin stayed in the tent most of the first night. We awoke early the next day and decided to go on a hike. We walked past some other campers setting up their tent. They had three dogs with them. All three started to run up to us when the owner of two called them back to her. The third did not listen to his owner. He went straight up to Griffin and would not leave him alone even with us blocking him and his owner calling him. Griffin was terrified and the other dog knew this. After a few minutes Griff turned and latched onto the dog. He started shaking him. The dog was screaming. Brandon lifted Griffin’s hind legs to prevent the shaking. He would not let go. Finally after what felt like a lifetime, Griffin let go. The other dog popped up and ran to the owner. Miraculously, the dog was not injured. The people, surprisingly, apologized for not having control over their dog. I stayed back and explained Griffin’s situation. They were very understating; a rarity. We went back to camp completely devastated. Griffin went in to the tent and stayed there the rest of the day. He was depressed. We knew he did not like attacking. He was just so terrified due to whatever happened to him in his previous life; he couldn’t just let go and trust us completely.
Andee, Brandon and Sweet Griff
We then hired trainer number three; he told us he was the “Cesar Milan of Colorado.” He trained under the man who taught Cesar everything he knew… Naturally, we thought we had found our answer.
This trainer taught us confidence training. We worked with Griffin every day. We continued sessions with this trainer for about four months. In the beginning he said Griffin would work with his pack of dogs but the last several sessions felt as if we were paying him to walk Griffin. Eventually I asked him if Griff could now work with his pack. Griffin needed to learn how to be around other dogs without going into automatic defense. I never heard back from the trainer. This man emailed me weekly to ask how things were going with Griffin and when we should book our next training session. I did not receive email, a phone call, or a text after I asked him about working with his dogs. This told me he did not have the courage to tell us he could not fix Griffin.
Another fear of Griffin’s was children. We had friends in town last summer. Griffin stayed in the backyard, his bedroom (yes, my dogs had their own bedroom) or in our bedroom. We were not about to test him with our friends’ children. He was outside one morning, and we had the blinds closed. Our friends’ youngest, who was one-year-old at the time, crawled over and pulled the blinds back. Griffin was lying in front of the slider door. He saw Ben and attacked the slider door without hesitation. We believe he associated children with dogs.
We now knew we could never have him around children.
We continued to work with Griffin, keep a very managed home, and a strict schedule. We continued to tell ourselves he would get better with age and time — until the last two situations occurred…
My brother recently had a baby and the new family came over one Sunday afternoon. Griffin was in his crate in the other room. Brandon had Kallen, our nephew, in his arms. Once everyone was settled, I let Griffin out and he was quite calm. He sniffed the car seat, said hello to everyone and then plopped down in front of the fireplace. All was great until Kallen started fussing. Griffin jumped up and flew across the room to Brandon and started growling at the baby. I immediately placed myself in between Griffin and Brandon. I grabbed Griffin and took him to his crate. Brandon and I stayed calm so we did not scare my brother and his girlfriend. Brandon and I just looked at each other and did not have to say a word about what we were thinking.
The last situation happened a week before we put him down. We set out on our daily walk. Once we were in the park we noticed a man in front of us was walking very slowly with his older dog. We hung back. Once he got far enough ahead we continued. I went first with Ellee; Brandon followed with Griffin. The man stopped in a grassy area and watched us walk by. Griffin then slid behind Brandon and lunged at the dog. Part of his leash came off when Brandon grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground. The man did not move during this whole fiasco. Once Griffin got up and walked back towards me the man slowly continued on. He did not say a word. He did not change facial expressions. As Griff walked back towards me my heart sank as he found refuge in my arms. I fixed his leash, stood up, and looked at Brandon with tear-filled eyes.
We knew the time had come to say goodbye. We knew Griffin was too damaged by his previous owner, or should I say monster. We knew it was not fair to keep him in this fear-filled world. We knew it was not realistic for us to keep living in a bubble.
Brandon set up a time to talk to trainer number two, Rhea. We trusted and respected her. She explained that in a dog’s life you want quality over quantity, i.e., you do not want to keep them around when they’re just living miserably. She told us we had given him the best two-and-a-half years possible. He knew love now, which he did not know before. But Griffin was not going to heal. His wounds were too deep. Despite what we see on The Dog Whisperer, not all dogs can be rehabilitated. She said she knew how much we loved him. We have gone above and beyond in trying to rehabilitate him. Rhea said it was time to put him down. We were simply out of options.
Brandon and I both bawled our eyes out in disbelief that it had come to this. That it had come to losing him.
The phone call with Rhea was on a Friday. We spent the weekend feeding him spectacular meals, loving on him, walking him, talking about all his goofiness and what he did for us. How he helped us grow. We talked about how we each experienced a love that we never knew existed. How he rehabilitated Brandon (which is too personal of an issue to explain here). Neither of us has ever cried so hard and so much in our entire lives. We could not eat. We could not sleep.
Monday arrived. I called our vet, Dr. Walters, and left a message for her to call me back. She too rescues bully breeds. She goes one step further and finds fosters for dogs and cares for dogs until she can find their forever home. You will often find a dog up for adoption roaming the vet office along with the resident kitty. She called me back later that evening. The first thing she said to me was, “I 100% support your decision.” She went on to say she knew this day could come and that we had exhausted all options. She once had a rescue that she too had to euthanize. We talked for a while, well, I tried to talk through my dry heaving. We set up a time for the following day to say goodbye. She made sure we had two hours with no one else in the office other than her, her co-worker and vet tech. They all knew Griffin very well and loved him as much as we did.
Griff and Brandon
Tuesday arrived. We kept our routine. He snuggled with me in bed, we got up, he ate, we went on a walk, and then we loaded him up in the car with his blanket. I have no idea where the strength came from, but I was strong. Griffin simply went to sleep that day. As he left this painful world, an overwhelming sense of peace overcame me as I pet him through the last breath. Brandon held his head and told him how great he was. He said, “Thank you for all you taught me, I love you so much.” When Dr. Walters looked up at us and said he was gone she rushed out of the room. I guess she did not want us to see her cry which I did anyway when I went back to use the restroom before we left. I gave Griffin one last kiss, said I love you and left.
When we walked out of the office we noticed it was snowing. Great big fluffy snowflakes were falling from the sky. Snow was not predicted that day. I know in my heart it was Griffin telling us he was at peace. The same type of snow, unpredicted, happened again exactly one week later to the hour of his passing.
We are left behind – broken into pieces. We’re angry with the person who did this to him. To us. Our lives will never be the same. A void will go with us no matter where we are or what we are doing. A gaping hole is permanently ensconced in our hearts. Griffin’s singing, talking, laying on his back with his legs straight up in the air, his morning cuddles in our bed, his loving eyes, his huge hugs, and so much more are missed on a daily basis.
We miss his shadow. His motivation to never miss a walk. He taught us that love exists even in anger, frustration and fear. He showed us there is a reason for the pain in this life. The pain is to make us better people, to teach us what needs to be fixed in this world.
But through the pain love always conquers… Love always prevails.
Griffin is and always will be our little big boy.