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Remembering Your First Pet: National Pit Bull Awareness Month

By PhotoLori on Oct. 4, 2017

“When you meet the one who changes the way your heart beats, dance with them to that rhythm for as long as the song lasts.” Kirk Diedrich

There are some animals that just touch you in a way that forever changes you. I never know which ones will wiggle their way into my heart and make themselves comfortable. The first dog that knocked me over was Jazz. Oh, sweet Jazz. He was the first pit bull I ever met. I fell in love with him and to this day, the thought of him makes me smile. 

The first time I saw him he was pressed up against the back of a cage. He looked tiny in that cage. It wasn’t very large and he’s a big boy, but somehow he just looked so…small. And sad. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it wasn’t that. I knew he was a Hurricane Katrina survivor, but that’s really all I knew.

upsidedown.jpgI’m not sure why I decided to walk him. I had only heard the terrible things about bully breeds. I was apprehensive to say the least. Would he try and bite me? Would he be aggressive with the other dogs we met on our walk? Could I handle him? I wasn’t sure, but I was already at the vet’s office and couldn’t turn back now.

 “I’m here to walk Jazz.”

 The receptionist looked up and asked, “Do you know how to get up there?"

 “No,” I replied.

 She led me to the back doorway and through a long hospital like hall. It wasn’t pretty. It was dark and scary. There were a million doctors walking around. The elevator was small. She hit the third floor button.

The third floor was where surgeries were performed. It smelled like medicine and urine. It was also where they housed the injured, the quarantined and Jazz. The last thing the receptionist said to me was, “Make sure you wash your hands after you touch him.” That comment scared me. Is he contagious? What does he have? Can I catch it? Can I give it to my cats? I almost turned around and went home. But something made me stay.

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He looked so lost and forlorn. A small black ball, curled up tight. All alone in his little corner of the world, except for the other two dogs in the kennel next to his. They barked non-stop. Poor guy, how could he stand it?

I peeked in, “Hi Jazz. Ya wanna go for a walk?” I was scared to open the cage. Surely he’s friendly? I don’t think they would let me take him out alone if he wasn’t. I open the latch…

All of a sudden he sprang to life. Fifty pounds of solid muscle, covered in scars and angry red skin. Bald patches made him look like a cancer patient. He smiled and jumped up on me and licked my face, tail wagging furiously. My first thought was, “Crap! Now I have to remember to wash my face AND my hands.” I put on his collar and leash. We were off. Or so I thought.

Ever few feet, Jazz stopped to scratch. Or chew his feet. Or shake his body as if it were covered in water. It took ten minutes to get to the elevator. By the end of the ride down, I was itchy all over.

Our walk was uneventful. I didn’t want to touch him or love him. I did try, but it was unconvincing. A timid pat on his head here or there. I took him on a 45-minute walk. He loved it. Even though his feet were swollen and he had a bad limp. I’m not even sure which foot hurt him most. I think they all did. But he was just so excited to be outside. I think he’d have walked for miles if he could, no matter how much it hurt.

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After our walk, I took him back to the kennel. Such a good boy, he just walked right in without a fuss and lay down. That was the second I fell in love. The deal was sealed when he gave me a look with those puppy dog eyes and my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. Then I went and washed my hands and face.

On my way home, I made a call to my vet, Dr. Gebroe. I asked him if a dog could give a cat any disease. He said only a few: one was rabies and one was mange. I described what Jazz looked like. To my horror, Dr. Gebroe said, “That sounds like mange.” I got home and immediately put all my clothes in the wash and jumped in the shower.

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It was a month before I went back to see Jazz. In that month only one person took him on a walk. He had spent the month in the kennel with little human contact. I felt horrible. Not only is he sick, in a strange state and been through who knows what, but he’s alone and no one wants to get close to him because he’s ugly and mangy and sick.

This time I knew where to go. No one stopped me or asked who I was. I just went straight up to the third floor. The sign on the door said, “Keep Door Closed”. I slowly opened it. What I saw broke my heart. The two dogs were no longer next to him. He was all alone in that room. Every fiber in my body ached with a sadness I didn’t think was possible. There he was…Jazz. The same tiny ball in the corner of a cage. This time he barely looked up. He met my stare, only to put his head back down, as if to say, “She can’t possibly be here for me. No one ever comes in here. She must be lost.” He closed his eyes again. My eyes welled up with tears. I can still picture that sweet face. The hopeless boy that everyone forgot curled up in a tight ball, all alone. 

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Through my tears I called his name. “Jazz, it’s me. I walked you before. Come on, we’re going outside.”

He got up, not really believing it. But once I opened the gate, the happiness invaded his body and he was all kisses and love. I struggled to put his leash on. I hugged him. He was no longer contagious and I was going to make up for lost time. I smothered him in kisses. And tears.

The walk to the elevator was really fast this time. He was rushing to get outside. I was rushing so no one would see me crying.

I cried for the first 15 minutes of our walk. I cried and I talked to Jazz. I told him I wasn’t going to let him sit in that kennel all day long with no visits. I promised him I would be there every day. No matter what. I told him I was going to find him the best home ever. I told him he would never hurt again. I cried and promised. Snot running out of my nose and into my mouth. (Gross!) I didn’t care. I cried as I picked up his stinky poop. (Really gross!) Several people crossed to the other side of the street. I don’t know which was scarier to them…A pit bull or the hysterical woman talking to herself as she walked him.

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I walked that boy for an hour and twenty minutes. We loved every minute. When it was over, he went to his corner and curled up. I couldn’t stand it. I got in the cage with him. The door closed behind me. His loneliness washed over me. His sadness. But also his strength. No hurricane was going to break his spirit. No cage. No isolation. Nothing. I got down right next to him and looked into his eyes.

“Jazz”, I whispered. “I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow.” His tail thumped a few times. And went to sleep.

Over the next few months I spent a lot of time with him. I even fostered him for a while and entertained the idea of keeping him. But he hated cats. I couldn’t risk that. It wasn’t fair to the felines. But I did find him a home. It was the best home ever and even though my heart broke when he drove off to his new life, I knew it was the right thing for him. He was loved. And he would never know loneliness again.

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Georgie was the next dog to make an impression on me. He touched me in a way that completely changed me to the core. He was the first dog I helped pull from the shelter. A day I will never forget.

I got a call from the director of a rescue for which I volunteered. She started with, “This is a very big deal and I want you to know you can say no if you really can’t or don’t want to do it.” Immediately I felt a knot of dread form. 

South Los Angeles has the one of the most hard-core shelters in Los Angeles. Hundreds of dogs find their way into their doors. It’s hard for me to enter shelters. It’s depressing to see so many animals needing homes. I want to love them all, make their pain go away and save them, but it’s not possible. And so I turn my eyes away and try not to think about it... but that would change with Rande’s phone call. That phone call made me realize that I needed to go to shelters, to help in any way I could. It was the start of my mind changing and me opening my heart to sadness. But it also was the start of me trying to make real changes for the animals housed there.

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I brace myself for Rande’s question. “There is a dog that comes available tomorrow and no one can go and bail him out. He’s only a year old and was brought in covered in gang graffiti. Can you go save him?”

My mind conjures up an image of a defenseless boy getting spray-painted. Scared, being held down by guys who probably think it’s funny. I can see them in my mind…laughing, drinking, having a good time. The dog’s eyes filled with terror. Maybe even with love and certainly with confusion and sadness. It could be that the ones who did this to him “owned” him. My heart broke into a thousand pieces at that moment. And with my broken heart, I knew I would go and save him.

Even if I had to see hundreds of others just like him. Ones I couldn’t bail out. Ones with scars and eyes too sad to even look into for long. I pause. I knew what I was going to say, but still I was reluctant. I held my breath a moment long and then said, “I’ll do it.”

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I don’t know what I was expecting, a huge crowd there to adopt abandoned dogs and cats. Turns out I was the only one there. The only one. I felt sad about that. A very nice man asks if he can help. I blurt out, “I’m here to bail out a dog, impound number (I consult my paper) A243938, white, pit bull, 1 year old, not neutered. This is the first time I’ve done this, I’m with Karma Rescue, he’s going to Animal Birth Control. Do I have to see where they keep the dogs?” I don’t think I took a breath! He smiled, stood up and pointed at the door. “The dogs are this way…"

“I DON’T want to go in there!”

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He laughs, “I was just kidding. I would never make you go in there. Some sad sights there. Sad.“

For a moment he looks like he might cry and then his face breaks into a smile. His smile is huge and I feel a little silly for practically screaming in his face. He pulls up the dog on his computer and tells me to take a seat. Then he winks at me. “He’s a beauty!” I smile.

I sit in the deserted lobby for what seems like forever. Finally the man comes back, and hands me a stack of paperwork. He is so nice. Really friendly. He introduces himself as Don and suddenly I feel like all is going to be ok.

Finally, everything is done and I’m the proud mama of a white, year old, unneutered pit bull terrier. With nothing left to do, I gather up my stuff, feeling really good. I went to a scary place and realized it wasn’t so scary. I saved a life. My stomach does a flip-flop. This time there is no fear, only excitement. I can’t wait to meet this little boy. Georgie. As I walk past Don’s desk, I smile. "Thank you so much Don! You really made it not so terrible."

Don smiled his huge smile, "No problem, pretty lady. Come back anytime."


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Georgie and I went on many adventures together: hiking at Runyon Canyon, car rides to the beach and long naps on my couch. I was with him just about every day and I loved him so much. He taught me how resilient dogs can be. He blossomed and became more loving and confident every day. He also taught me about loss, one of the most painful lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

It was just a regular day and I went to the boarding facility to bring Georgie to his first adoption event. Only something wasn’t right. He was having trouble walking. Instead of going to the adoption event he went to the emergency vet for tests. That was the first time I ever heard of distemper. It changed my life in a matter of hours. 

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 As it turned out, he did have distemper. It rapidly took over his body and slowly the life drained out of him. But not the love. He was full of kisses until the very end. I was with him when he left this world. He took a piece of me, but I am so very grateful he was a part of my life. He taught me the importance of being open to love, even if you know the end is in sight. That to have loved and lost is just as beautiful and special and necessary as a love that lasts for years. Maybe it even makes that love more extraordinary.

Because of Georgie and Jazz, I have been able to open my heart to loving these amazing creatures that cross my path. I am able to give them my heart with abandon, even if I don’t know what will happen, because in the end, I know, that what is important is the bond we share. The time we have together. The memories and the knowledge that I have made a difference in a life. And for that, I am grateful. 

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Professional photographer and dedicated animal activist Lori Fusaro takes photos of shelter dogs and cats at Best Friends Animal Society - L.A. in hopes that the images will help them find their forever homes. She also has a soft spot for pit bulls. Be sure to check out "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts," a book written by Laura T. Coffey, with photos by Lori Fusaro.

Read all about Sunny, Lori's most successful foster failure ever and one of the inspirations for the book "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts."

Want more dog training tips? Check out our Petco positive dog training classes in your area.

Does your pup need a change in diet

Keeping a stash of treats around might not be a bad idea, too.

Read this touching blog from Lori Fusaro about the heartwrenching choices pet parents sometimes have to make.

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8 Comments
Comments
by Kathy landrum
‎08-08-2016 05:50 AM

These stories of homeless and abused animals just breaks my heart. I wish l could foster and help animals. They are my heart and I love everyone of them. 

These stories of homeless and abused animals just breaks my heart. I wish l could foster and help animals. They are my heart and I love everyone of them. 

Posted on Aug. 8, 2016
by Pat Bruemmer
‎08-19-2016 01:17 PM

Thank you for loving these very sad and lonely dogs.  I've saved 2 from bad owners who just gave them away; and one I rescued from a shelter.  I cry everytime I have to go to a shelter and see how sad and lonely and mistreated these dogs really are.  My only worry is that I'll get something and it will carry home to my special babies that are waiting for me.  BUT...I will be going to the shelters and volunteering to walk and play and love these poor cratures that do not desrved to be forgotten and left alone.

 

I think you are an amazing person. (Hope I didn't mis-spell anything...it's hard to type with tears in my eyes.

 

THANKS AGAIN FOR CARING AND LOVING.

Thank you for loving these very sad and lonely dogs.  I've saved 2 from bad owners who just gave them away; and one I rescued from a shelter.  I cry everytime I have to go to a shelter and see how sad and lonely and mistreated these dogs really are.  My only worry is that I'll get something and it will carry home to my special babies that are waiting for me.  BUT...I will be going to the shelters and volunteering to walk and play and love these poor cratures that do not desrved to be forgotten and left alone.

 

I think you are an amazing person. (Hope I didn't mis-spell anything...it's hard to type with tears in my eyes.

 

THANKS AGAIN FOR CARING AND LOVING.

Posted on Aug. 19, 2016
by Joyce
‎08-19-2016 02:35 PM

I want to say a big thank you for this generous, loving woman.  I am crying so hard and it hurts so bad but I want to do the same thing as soon as I can.

I want to say a big thank you for this generous, loving woman.  I am crying so hard and it hurts so bad but I want to do the same thing as soon as I can.

Posted on Aug. 19, 2016
by Sharl
‎08-21-2016 06:00 AM

Thank you for this story and for sharing your heart with these canines.  Dogs are so special and loving.  But sadly so many of them are mistreated and go unloved.  I don't get it.  You are an angel and thank you again.

 

Thank you for this story and for sharing your heart with these canines.  Dogs are so special and loving.  But sadly so many of them are mistreated and go unloved.  I don't get it.  You are an angel and thank you again.

 

Posted on Aug. 21, 2016
by Thomas
‎08-24-2016 05:35 AM

Someone is cutting onions here.

 

Thank you for what you are doing.  We need more goodly people doing goodly things. 

Someone is cutting onions here.

 

Thank you for what you are doing.  We need more goodly people doing goodly things. 

Posted on Aug. 24, 2016
by Lee Smith
‎08-25-2016 05:53 AM

I have a female pitt someone dumped in a field across from my home. She's an angel. I have cats also, and had to spend a lot of time, closing doors, making sure the cats were away from her, you know. She learned. Sorry about the distemper. That had to break your heart.

I have a female pitt someone dumped in a field across from my home. She's an angel. I have cats also, and had to spend a lot of time, closing doors, making sure the cats were away from her, you know. She learned. Sorry about the distemper. That had to break your heart.

Posted on Aug. 25, 2016
by Amy Garofalo
‎08-26-2016 05:45 AM

I read this story and by the end was crying so hard I could hardly see. I volunteered at my local animal shelter and saw this, and so much worse. It's so truly heart breaking! Thank God for all animal rescuers and the very hard jobs they do. All my animals have been rescues, and I've had many. When they leave, for the Rainbow Bridge, they break my heart. I do know I will have a very large pack waiting for me when I get there.

 

I read this story and by the end was crying so hard I could hardly see. I volunteered at my local animal shelter and saw this, and so much worse. It's so truly heart breaking! Thank God for all animal rescuers and the very hard jobs they do. All my animals have been rescues, and I've had many. When they leave, for the Rainbow Bridge, they break my heart. I do know I will have a very large pack waiting for me when I get there.

 

Posted on Aug. 26, 2016
by Rich
‎08-29-2016 05:20 AM

Hi!  My daughter, her husband, & their 2 year old son live with us.  Last week they were given a puppy, a brindle colored pit bull.  He looks just like Jazz.  They named him Rocky.  He is a seemingly lovable little mut, & puts up with a lot from the 2 year old.  However, he is very protective of his food.  It bothers me thast he is a pit bull.  Should we be afraid of him with the 2 year old???

Rich

Hi!  My daughter, her husband, & their 2 year old son live with us.  Last week they were given a puppy, a brindle colored pit bull.  He looks just like Jazz.  They named him Rocky.  He is a seemingly lovable little mut, & puts up with a lot from the 2 year old.  However, he is very protective of his food.  It bothers me thast he is a pit bull.  Should we be afraid of him with the 2 year old???

Rich

Posted on Aug. 29, 2016
About the Author
  • Lori Fusaro has worked as a photographer since 1996. Her boutique studio, Fusaro Photography, is based in Los Angeles, CA, where she is well known for her lifestyle portraiture of pets. She was honored as the top portrait photographer in the L.A. area for four consecutive years and her work has been featured on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show Pets, In Touch Magazine and in the book ‘So You Want To Be A Pet Photographer’. Lori has a soft spot for seniors and her book “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts is a National Best Seller.
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