December 19, 2011
Sweet as Honey: With TLC from Casa Del Toro, Former Fighting Dogs Bloom
Pit bull rescue group heals neglected fighters with training, treats, and kindness
by Jim Baker
When The HSUS’s Animal Rescue Team and local law enforcement raided a Gary, Ind., dogfighting operation in July, they found dogs stashed everywhere on the rundown property.
Some were crated in the kitchen of a trashed house where the occupants had allegedly been cooking crack cocaine on the stove. Others languished in urine- and feces-laden crates in the basement or were staked outside in the muddy yard. Still others were confined to rusted cages or filthy crates stacked on top of each other inside a decrepit shed, where boarded-up windows blocked out all light.
Outside the home’s back door, the first dog responders saw was Honey, an older pit bull missing a big chunk of her lip. “She was on a heavy logging chain, and she had no food, no water and was just sitting in basically feces and mud,” recalls Chris Schindler, manager of The HSUS’s animal fighting investigations.
The frightened dog would retreat to her dilapidated doghouse, emerging only to bark at her rescuers. But that didn’t last long—in 20 minutes, Schindler was able to gain Honey’s trust, pet her, remove her chain, and carry her off the property.
Honey and 19 other dogs seized that day were taken to a boarding kennel where Laurie Adams and trained volunteers from Indianapolis-based Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Education and Rescue would help them transition to normal lives as companion animals.
Since the dogs would have to stay at the kennel until they could be adopted—a process that could take weeks or even months—they’d need outlets for their energy. “They’re social creatures; they need things to do,” says Anne Sterling, HSUS Indiana state director. “They get bored—crazy bored—and that’s when they really give up and don’t engage with the world anymore.”
In 2010, Adams and her volunteers had pioneered a canine enrichment program at Indianapolis Animal Care & Control, offering toys and treats, obedience and agility training, and basic human kindness to keep shelter dogs happy and occupied.
That’s the kind of attention The HSUS sought for the Gary dogs, who were finally able to experience simple pleasures like running in the grass, soaking in the sun, eating good food, and playing with people.
Honey—who soon gave birth to three pups—blossomed in their care. “She’s just progressed in leaps and bounds,” Schindler says. “She just became one of the most lovable and friendly dogs.”
A veterinary technician who looked after Honey would certainly agree. She fell in love and hopes to bring her home. Honey has “changed a lot of minds [about pit bulls],” Adams says.
Hometown Hero: Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Education and Rescue
Testify: Founded by Laurie Adams in 1999, Casa Del Toro has a roster of about 40 volunteers who participate in fundraisers, adoption and education events, and the Indianapolis shelter program. Adams has also joined The HSUS’s Anne Sterling in testifying for state legislation that would make attendance at animal fights a felony.
Meet the Elite: Casa Del Toro is one of the few approved rescue groups The HSUS calls on to participate in dogfighting raids and work with seized animals. “When we had the Gary case come up, Laurie was the first person I called, and she sent out a whole team,” says The HSUS’s Chris Schindler.
Start Me Up: The HSUS has given Casa Del Toro a $10,000 donation so the rescue can expand its Indianapolis shelter program to facilities statewide. Adams and volunteer Shawna Ping are putting together a starter kit including an operations manual, low-cost toys like PVC pipes drilled with holes and filled with treats or enticing scents, and copies of soothing music chosen specifically for dogs and cats.