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Meet 2 pit bulls that had it rough. Their human families' love saved them from stigma.

Canelo and Lula found forever families, and those families changed everything.

Meet 2 pit bulls that had it rough. Their human families' love saved them from stigma.

Like many pit bulls, Lula was a stray.

When Lula first showed up at the Hughes' home, she was severely underweight. She was also covered in scars and had evidence of mistreatment, but her sweet disposition won her family over immediately.

Lula was "just a giant head attached to a bag of bones," Ame Hughes told me about the day her family met her.


Lula photos via the Hughes family, used with permission.

And yet, Ame said, "I knew we were goners from the start. She's just too easy to fall in love with!"

Pit bulls have an unfortunate history in America as fighting dogs.

They're sometimes kidnapped or recruited into dogfighting circles. This bad reputation — often misguided — makes it difficult for pitties to get adopted. In fact, some adoption centers won't put pit bulls up for adoption at all.

But studies (like this 2013 one from the American Temperament Test Society) have disproved people's fears about pit bulls, showing that the pups are actually far more friendly and stable on average than most other dog breeds. Many pittie owners, like me and others, will tell you their dogs are nothing but loving.

Rather than risk Lula's low chances of adoption from a shelter, the Hughes family decided to take her in. They gave her a forever family on Valentine's Day 2012.

“She's a gentle baby," Ame says about Lula's temperament three years later. “[She] will kiss whatever happens to be in front of her face, including our guinea pigs."


Lula is also a big fan of napping with the Hughes kids in her favorite chair.

But even once a pit bull is adopted, discrimination lurks everywhere on a daily basis.

When my husband and I first adopted our pit bull, Tori, the adoption organization suggested — like places do for many types of dogs — that we enroll her in behavior training. We live very close to a PetSmart, so we planned to take her there. But guess what? PetSmart does not allow "bully" breeds to be trained at their locations. (They also specify that they don't allow wolves. Good to know, right?)

It's a common and sad story, one Simona Mihiela says she's faced with her pit bull, Canelo. Simona has been Canelo's dog mom since he was six weeks old.

All Canelo photos via Simona Mihiela, used with permission.

"He has been the joy of my life!" Simona told me. "[He] still thinks he's a 13-pound baby. He tries to crawl in my lap!"

But when Canelo grew into a 126-pound big boy, he didn't always mind commands like "sit" and "stay." So Simona sent him to an extended behavioral training course that a friend recommended.

Look at that sweet face! But, no, not quite a lap dog anymore, are we, buddy?

What's hard to realize is that pit bull mistreatment can happen anywhere.

Simona says when she took Canelo to obedience training, he was healthy. When he came back, he was 17 pounds lighter and covered in cuts and scars. She believes that because of his breed, Canelo was used for stereotypical dogfighting during his "training." He had fresh and healing cuts and sores all over his body, and his teeth were damaged, she says. According to Simona, the training facility, which has since closed, says Canelo caused his own injuries.

Poor Canelo!

Canelo is safe and sound now, thanks to Simona's efforts.

He's on five different medications and needs surgery on his teeth, Simona says. But despite that, he's still a happy pup. With her own form of training now, Simona encourages him with treats, toys, and “showing him tons of love."

Canelo and Simona: forever friends!

While Lula and Canelo were lucky enough to be saved from tough situations by their families, many pit bulls aren't.

But even people who don't own pit bulls can help change the current stigma! Organizations like The Humane Society of the United States offer rewards to people who report suspected instances of dogfighting. And Facebook groups like Your Pit Bull and You, Bully Rescue and Advocacy, and Pit Bull Advocates share positive pittie news and educate followers about training tips.

If pit bulls don't have humans expecting and encouraging them to fight, maybe we can see how family-friendly they can be!

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."