Rescue aims to enlighten about pit bulls

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 6, 2013

 At the Guardians for Animals Pet Expo in Madison Heights Oct. 26-27, Tracy Stenhouse from Hopeful Heart Pet Rescue introduces a dog to Alex Whitney, president and founder of GFA.

At the Guardians for Animals Pet Expo in Madison Heights Oct. 26-27, Tracy Stenhouse from Hopeful Heart Pet Rescue introduces a dog to Alex Whitney, president and founder of GFA.

Photo by Donna Agusti

MADISON HEIGHTS — Pit bulls have it rough.

Bully breeds are “the most dumped dogs, the most abused and the most misunderstood,” according to Michelle Touchtone, cofounder of Loveabull Paws Rescue, based out of Roseville.

“If you go to a shelter, it seems there are three pit bulls for every other breed of dog,” Touchtone said. “They’re overrun with bully breed dogs, and many shelters don’t adopt them out to the public. We mainly pull from the shelter at Oakland County; all of their bully breeds are on death row.”

The sturdy, strong-jawed dogs are full of energy and extremely loyal, which has led to individuals breeding and training the dogs for aggression against others.

But when raised with love, they are gentle, sweet and reliable, Touchtone said.

People had the opportunity to meet her group and learn about the breed at the Guardians for Animals Pet Expo at Madison Place in Madison Heights Oct. 26-27.

Cofounded by Touchtone and Erica Buskirk in 2011, the group includes eight foster families and volunteers who raise the dogs in their homes. Between the lot of them, they usually have around eight pit bulls at a time, but sometimes they’ll get, say, a litter of 20 and the number will fluctuate.

Each year, they rescue around 100 dogs. They don’t limit themselves to pit bulls, but pit bulls are often the ones most in need of rescuing.

“Adult dogs are harder to place,” Touchtone said. “We have one right now, Bruce, who we’ve had for almost a year. He’s an awesome dog, with a great temperament, but unfortunately, he’s a large pit bull, which is intimidating to people.

“We get a lot of applications from interested pet owners, but they’re not always the right type of people that pit bulls should be living with,” she said.

So what is the ideal owner for a pit bull? First, one has to be willing to deal with the repercussions of owning such a dog — namely, how others view them.

“When you walk down the street with one, you’ll get people who walk on the other side of the street,” Touchtone said. “There are a lot of misconceptions that come with the breed, and it takes a strong mind to see through that.

“They’re such a loving breed, though, and they have such a strong will to please. You’re not going to get a dog that will fight to their death because they want to. When it’s happened in the past, they did it because they were trying to please their owner.”

Like all dogs, pit bulls need to be properly socialized. They’re very active and need lots of exercise and play.

“They’re like children,” Touchtone said. “If they’re bored, they’re going to find things to be not bored. They’re very smart dogs, which is another reason they’re not for everyone; they’re a working breed that needs a job, and a bored dog is a bad dog, but a tired dog is a happy dog.”

Loveabull Paws Rescue has extensive requirements for anyone adopting from them, but they do it to ensure the dog doesn’t wind up back at a shelter.

First, adopters must allow the rescue to conduct a home visit. First-time pit bull owners are required to take an obedience-training course and to establish a relationship with a veterinarian. Touchtone makes a point to follow up with each owner on a quarterly basis to make sure there are no issues and that the dog is receiving proper care.

The adoption fee is $200, which helps the rescue pay for food, bedding and all veterinary work — every dog comes spayed or neutered, up to date on shots, de-wormed, heartworm-tested, on flea and heartworm preventative, and micro-chipped. They’re also potty-trained and crate-trained, and raised in a loving family environment, so they have a sound temperament and are accustomed to being around people.

The fee also helps pay for any pressing medical needs the dogs may have had when they first arrived in the rescue, such as surgeries, blood transfusions and more.

If, at any time, the adopter finds they’re unable to keep the animal, they are contractually required to return the animal to Loveabull Paws Rescue.

“Every dog we pull from the shelter is our responsibility for the rest of the dog’s life,” Touchtone said. “If something happened and the dog ended up in the wrong situation, it’s our fault, since we placed them in the situation.”

Sometimes, the right home for a pit bull turns out to be within the rescue itself. Stacy Johnson, a Ferndale resident fostering for Loveabull Paws Rescue, became a “foster failure” when he wound up adopting Trixie, a 10-month-old puppy he was fostering.

“She used to have seizures, so it takes a special kind of person to take care of a dog that’s going to have a possible illness down the road,” Johnson said. “Trixie got attached to me, and I have two other pit bulls that are mine, and she got attached to them, as well. So now I have three pit bulls — I call them ‘the kids,’ and they know when they hear this that you’re addressing them.”

The other two were rescued from the Humane Society. One had been a “bait dog” used in fighting rings to get the other dogs riled up, and as a result, the dog has severe psychological issues where it bows in fear if you try to bring him in the house. Johnson suspects the dog used to be beaten by its former owner.

“But I’ve had him for two years now, and he’s a good boy,” Johnson said. “I think people don’t understand dogs have trust like humans, and once that trust is broken, they don’t trust again until their trust is earned back. You have to socialize any animal.

“And my pit bulls are great with kids,” he added. “I’ve always had pit bulls, and I’ve never had any problems. They’re very loyal and very smart — sometimes a little too smart! But they’re good, loving dogs.”

For more information about Loveabull Paws Rescue, call (586) 933-3303 or email