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.
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.
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."
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.
"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.
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.
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."
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.