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October 20, 2011

Protecting the Underdog: Hello Bully Helps Rescue 200 Ohio Pit Bulls

Pittsburgh-based group gives former fighters a chance for a new life

All Animals magazine

  • Daisy Balawejder with Gremlin, who was rescued from a North Carolina dogfighting ring. John Balawejder

by Ruthanne Johnson

Plastic bins held the decayed bodies of dozens of starved-to-death snakes, while hundreds of animals languished on the southeastern Ohio property—ill-kept pigs, hawks, quails, roosters, and chickens. Hello Bully volunteers came for the dogs: 200 pit bulls seized during the August 2010 narcotics-turned-dogfighting arrest.

While HSUS staff called on responders nationwide to care for the other animals, the Pittsburgh-based group helped rehabilitate those who’d been deemed the “Ohio 200.” Bred and trained to fight, most had been weighted down by logging chains attached to buried car axles; they suffered from mange, ringworm, and untreated infections and injuries. But overcoming poor health was only part of their journey from victim to survivor. “These dogs never had any normal companion dog experiences,” says Chris Schindler, HSUS manager of animal fighting investigations. “A lot of them were so scared.”

For more than two months, 50 Hello Bully volunteers rallied to the challenge, many carpooling 1 1/2 hours each way on their days off. Inside a horse facility donated by an HSUS supporter, they built kennels and helped the dogs work through their scarred past. For volunteer Robin Bower, her time there every Thursday softened the grief from her brother’s recent death. “That’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “... I expected them to be shy of humans and maybe even a little defensive ... but most of the dogs were excited to see everybody and to be petted.”

Bower and fellow Hello Bully volunteers are dedicated to reshaping the image of pit bulls. Every morning, she runs her two rescues, Horace and Hazel, on leashes looped over the shoulder bandolier-style. The unusual running team draws curiosity and friendly greetings from passersby.

After the Ohio case was over, Bower adopted Pedro, one of the more than 100 dogs who have found homes so far. Eight years on a chain had rubbed bald patches around his neck, and he walked with a shy crawl around people. But Pedro blossomed in his new home. He now runs alongside Horace and Hazel and cuddles with them on winter days. Though his missing neck hair is a permanent reminder of the past, his once ashy coat now glistens like coal.  

Hometown Heroes: Hello Bully, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

In the Beginning: Crediting her late pit bull Kaneda with grounding her after a rebellious youth, Daisy Balawejder knows what it’s like to be misunderstood: “I always tell people I was raised by a pit bull.” Volunteering at an animal shelter exposed her to his breed’s plight and sparked her mission to dispel the myths and promote adoption.

Groundwork: With more than 130 volunteers, Hello Bully runs a foster home network, teaches free Pit Bull 101 classes, and helps owners turn mischievous pets into role models. Fundraisers have enabled free spay/neuter and vaccinations of more than 1,000 pit bulls.

All Hands on Deck: Since 2010, Hello Bully has assisted The HSUS with dogfighting rescues in Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. Balawejder praises the volunteers’ commitment: “We are trying to make this a better place for these dogs, and so there’s an amazing spirit of cooperation.” 

I’m a Survivor: When Jennifer Brown first met Ferdinand from the Ohio 200, it was love at first sight. Later, as he slobbered down treats on her couch, Brown understood why his Hello Bully foster mom had referred to him as “a bit of a pig.” “He was smiling away … and there were crumbs everywhere!” To prove his sweet nature, she showed her landlord recommendations from his trainer and vet. Once the landlord met Ferdinand in person, the adoption was complete.

Read more from this issue of All Animals.

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