Shine: Opening Hearts and Changing Minds, a Guest Post By Aleksandra

You regular readers knew it wouldn’t be long before there was an animal-related post on SHINE. Aleksandra and her husband epitomize the spirit of SHINE. They are showing people one of the most important life lessons of all: don’t judge a book by its cover. And they are doing it by opening their home to some of the neediest dogs in their local shelter – pit bulls. Through their blog they are proving that no matter where they come from, what color their fur is, or what they are called, dogs are individuals, just like people. Read on to see how Aleksandra and her husband are debunking stereotypes  one foster dog at a time.

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In October 2004, I walked in to the Town Lake Animal Shelter in Austin, Texas, as a volunteer looking for a way to contribute – a mission. In November, I walked out with so much more.

His name is Chick, and he is a pit bull. Something about the enthusiasm in his tail wag and the emotion in his eyes just called out to me, saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I’ll love you forever. Please love me too.” As I watched other dogs leave the shelter for the homes of happy families, he was overlooked, time and again. On the last day before his time ran out, he became mine.

 

Confronting discrimination.

I had never met a pit bull before. To me, Chick has always been just a dog – the best dog I’ve ever met. But as we’ve passed the years together, I have been surprised with how quick some people are to judge my Chick just because of his big square head, his wide goofy grin, and his muscular physique. Like maybe there is something dark and sinister hiding under his soft fur, expressive eyes, and floppy ears.

At first, I was content with Chick’s role as an individual mind-changer. He worked with me at a homeless shelter and we paraded around town together, licking hands and kissing babies, showing how lovable and mild-mannered a pit bull can really be.

But over time, the different treatment of Chick crept under my skin. Like most loved, cared-for pet dogs, my Chick is just a loyal, brown-eyed pet on a six-foot leash. Like many shelter dogs, he was abandoned or mistreated in a previous life and went on to find redemption and peace in the arms of a loving, responsible family.  So why was he treated so differently?

The mission that I was looking for when I walked in to that animal shelter had found me.

Bringing it home.

It turns out my family was in on a strangely well-kept secret: pit bulls are great family dogs. We knew we could talk about it all we wanted, but talk would only get us so far. What if we showed people by bringing homeless pit bulls into our home and documenting our lives with them as normal, well-adjusted members of our family?

I started Love and a Six-Foot Leash, my fostering documentary project, and brought home our first foster pit bull in October 2010.  Lollie Wonderdog was a shelter favorite – everyone’s darling. She had been bred, starved, beaten, and thrown in a dumpster, where animal control found her.  Despite her poisoned past, she was the happiest, most affectionate dog the shelter had seen in a long time. Unfortunately, her prospects at the shelter were not good: very few families will stop to consider adopting a three-year-old pit bull with stained, patchy fur and scars on her face. I knew that she was exactly the kind of dog who we could help.

The foster home difference.

In our home, Lollie blossomed. She learned how to play with toyseat snacks, and solve puzzles. She learned how to trust and how to snuggle, and even how to dance. After a few months, she was like a different animal. She was clean, groomed, and beautiful. She was no longer emaciated or awkward around strangers. She had gone from being a stray dog to being a house pet – an emotional transformation to watch. Lollie met her perfect family in February, and was adopted, by a family who had never considered a pit bull before they met our girl. With eyes full of tears and hearts brimming with love and pride, we let our little girl go off into the world to start her new life – a gentle, happy life that would not have been possible without our care.

Since then four other homeless pit bulls have passed through our home and found their way into our hearts. Each one charming, each one unique. Thanks to them, we have opened hearts and changed minds. Many people just don’t know what these dogs can be like, and can’t picture one in their lives. But fostering is a perfect way to counter this all-too-common lack of imagination. If we, a busy young professional couple, bring a homeless pit bull into our home and successfully demonstrate how perfectly she can fit in, the least we will do is make some people think twice. It’s hard to make any sweeping generalizations, but since we began our adventure, handfuls of people have confessed that their eyes have been opened.

 

Saying goodbye.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “I could never foster, it’s too hard to let them go,” I could buy a whole mountain of dog treats. Absolutely, it’s hard to let a foster dog go. But for us, it’s not as hard as knowing that we could have saved a life but didn’t.  Every dog who enters a foster home is not only improving his own prospects for adoption and elevating the image of shelter dogs to a higher level, but also opens up a shelter cage space for another needy dog – a dog who won’t be euthanized due to lack of space. There is no question, fostering saves lives. In light of that, letting a dog go is not so hard.

And in truth, I’ve learned something over the past year: we fall in love with every dog we foster. While that makes it hard to let each one go, it also makes it easier in a way. Sending a dog off to its perfect forever-home gives us a chance to fall in love again, and again, and again.

Aleksandra is a social policy analyst by day and a pit bull advocate, photographer, and blogger by night. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland with her husband, and two pit bulls – her own darling Chick, and an adorable, adoptable foster. Her blog, Love and a Six-Foot Leash, chronicles her family’s quest to win hearts, open minds, and save lives through dog fostering. 

Coming up next on SHINE: After a frightening incident, Lauren figures out how to see the world through a new lens. 

If you know anyone who should be featured in SHINE, please send me a message. contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.

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33 comments

  1. Jacqueline, thank you for introducing me to SHINE and Aleksandra. Aleksandra, thank you for advocating and caring for pit bulls. I had a Rottweiler, Lina. She remains the best dog I have ever loved. Like Pit Bulls, Rotties have a bad reputation. I loved the fact that Lina surprised so many people by her gentleness – she was a fantastic advocate for the awesome kindness of Rotties.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Lenore. Lina sounds like a true testament to the breed – a loyal and kind-hearted dog. Through my volunteer work, I’ve learned that the bad raps many breeds have come from people who hear stories in the media, even though they haven’t had any bad experiences themselves.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope that it helps people to appreciate these wonderful dogs.

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  2. As Jackie knows, my dog Olive came from a shelter and she is part pit bull–a sweeter, more loving dog has never walked this earth on three paws.
    Thank you for this, Jackie and Aleksandra–and for all you do to protect and nurture our very best friends.

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  3. I have been following Aleksandra for about a month now and have been totally inspired by her blog. We’ve always been pitbull advocates. Our dog Izzy’s best friend is a pitbull! They came to us through our dogwalker looking for a playmate for their dog to keep her dog social. They had been shunned at the dog parks even though their pitbull was more well-behaved then many of the dogs that were in there (including ours!).

    I currently have a foster in my home now, Mr. Peeps who is a boxer lab mix and maybe a little pitbull in there! I’m sure to tell people proudly his breeds as I know he’ll make a great pet for any family!

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    1. I just popped over to your blog and I must say Mr. Peeps and Izzy are adorable. It looks like Mr. Peeps is keeping Izzy on her toes! Good luck to Mr. Peeps to find his forever home soon.

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  4. I’ve been following Alex’s blog since she had Lollie. Her work with foster dogs is so wonderful, and she has a beautiful ability to tell their stories through her blog. As a fellow bully lover, I love it whenever pit bulls get good press, but her blog goes above and beyond every day. Wonderful post!

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    1. I couldn’t agree more! And she really has a way with her photographs that brings out the best in all of the dogs. How about Stevie in that blue chair?

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  5. I too have been following Aleksandra’s blog since the beginning and that photo of Lollie with her new family still makes me tear up. What she has done, and is doing, for dogs and this wonderful but misunderstood breed, is incredible. She has already changed more lives than she will ever know. Thank you for sharing her story and helping to change more.

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    1. Thank you for your warm comments, Kristine. This is really what I intended for Shine to be: inspiring stories about everyday folks who are dong great things in their community. And I hope that Aleksandra’s work fostering pitties will make some people think twice about any preconceptions they might have.

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  6. I happened upon Aleksandra’s blog in my journey through the pit bull blog universe. I continue to be awed by her selfless devotion to the dogs she brings into her home and the wonderfully articulate way she describes them.

    Petey entered my life when I met him at the ACC in NYC’s East Harlem. He had never been in a house before, having been picked up on the streets of the South Bronx. In the cage, his sweet eyes looked at me as if to say “nobody picks me, I look like a pit bull”. He flew into my lap when they brought him out. Today he is the happiest, sweetest, most loving dog on the Upper East Side.

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    1. Olivia! It sounds like Petey and Reggie have similar stories. Like you, we met at the ACC in Harlem. And he too, was found wandering in the South Bronx. How long ago did you adopt him?
      I will look for Petey’s picture on Aleksandra’s FB page. Thanks so much for your comment.

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  7. I would be delighted! And if Petey knew he would be thrilled :). If anyone was born to be famous it’s him :). He has doorman friends all over the UES 🙂 And…I cried when Lolly and Gonzo got adopted! You rock!

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  8. I’ve been following Love and a Six-foot Leash since Lolly Wonderdog arrived and continue to find inspiration in all of the work Aleksandra and Ben do for the dogs who come into their homes. Thank you for featuring her work on Shine!

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    1. Thank you for stopping by. It was really a no brainer to invite Aleksandra to write her story for Shine. I’m just so glad she agreed to do it!

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  9. I loved this: “Many people just don’t know what these dogs can be like, and can’t picture one in their lives. But fostering is a perfect way to counter this all-too-common lack of imagination. ”

    The gift Aleksandra is giving is truly exponential. Every family who adopts one of her fosters will in turn have the opportunity to open minds within their own communities. Some may become foster families themselves. Aleksandra and her husband will never know the true impact they’ve had, because it will be immeasurable.

    This is a story of selflessness in it’s most kind and graceful form. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. You’re so right about fostering being a gentler way for people to consider adoption. Some people are skittish about going into their local shelter, but finding a dog through a foster family gives a potential adopter more information about the dog and gives a better idea of the dog’s true personality. It’s people like Aleksandra who make all of that possible.

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  10. Awesome post! “…fostering saves lives. In light of that, letting a dog go is not so hard.” You said it!

    I am so glad you’re writing about your foster experiences and trying to spread the word about how great it is to be a foster parent and save lives. I think we foster peeps need to glam it up a bit so the celebs jump on the foster bandwagon. Brangelina, I’m certain we can find you the perfect pit bull–they make great nanny dogs, after all!

    Keep it up! My own past foster loves are chronicled at http://peacefuldog.blogspot.com/p/previous-fosters.html.

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  11. That’s a great idea Kirsten! Maybe we’ll even see them walking the red carpet. Wouldn’t that be a sight? 🙂
    Heading over to check out your blog now.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! I’ve been following your adventures with Havi, too. Glad that all of your exams are over. 🙂

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  12. I love this so much. I think it’s beautiful how there is so much love in the world available to all of us… no matter what. My eyes teared a little because though I am not a dog and was never officially in foster care, I know what it’s like to need love and to not know how to get it… and in a way throughout the years I’ve had many different foster homes. Love and trust really do set people free to find their highest potential.

    Thank you for this.

    Like

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