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December 10, 2009

A Symbol of Hope for Fighting Dogs

Fay's caretaker tells her story

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Fay lost her lips through a dogfighting injury. Humane Society of Missouri

  • Fay is affectionate in spite of everything she has endured. Humane Society of Missouri

So far in 2009, The Humane Society of the United States has rescued, or assisted in the rescue of, more than 9,700 animals—creatures spared the suffering of animal fighting, the neglect of hoarding situations, the endless miseries of puppy mills, and other rank cruelties.

One of those rescue missions occurred In July, when we joined federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and the Humane Society of Missouri in an eight‑state raid against dogfighters—the most sweeping crackdown of its kind in U.S. history. Hundreds of dogs were saved from the agonies of the fighting ring.

Among these survivors was a black pit bull named Fay, a dog whose face was mutilated by dogfighting, but a dog still willing to show affection toward humans.

For many people, Fay became emblematic of the horrors of dogfighting and, at the same time, a symbol of hope for countless Americans who have joined in the fight to abolish dogfighting.

The HSUS is hugely proud of the important role we served with our partners in this landmark sequence of raids, including our pioneering work to secure passage of the federal dogfighting law that made them possible—and our staff and supporters are among those who are deeply touched by Fay. The HSUS has paid $5,000 to assist with Fay's veterinary bills.

Below is a conversation with Fay's current caregiver, Gale Frey, founder of Mutts-n-Stuff, in St. Louis, Mo.—a woman who is as remarkable as the dogs she helps.

HSUS: Please tell us a little about your work on behalf of special-needs dogs.

Gale: Our group started in 2000 after my husband and I lost our Rottweiler to bone cancer. We went to an area shelter, and that's when we discovered the plight of the pit bull and the Rottweiler, and we decided to open a rescue. One of our first pit bulls was Miss Pitunia, and the other one's name was Sugarbear. Sugarbear was one of the first dogs we took back in 2000 who came from a fight bust. Sugarbear was treated for heartworms, and she now lives in a loving home. We fostered Miss Pitunia, who had a fractured leg, and decided to keep her as our own.

HSUS: Where did your big heart come from?

Gale: I've always had a large heart for animals. As a child, I suffered rheumatic fever and rheumatoid arthritis, and my companions were my cats. I guess you could say I wasn't socialized properly, and my world was based on my animals. They were always there for me.

HSUS: Fay and her story of abuse, rescue and now rehabilitation, has touched the heart of so many people. Will you tell us about her treatment?

Gale: I started working at the bunker (where dogs rescued during the dogfighting raid by the Humane Society of Missouri and The HSUS were temporarily housed) in July. In there was Fay, and catty-corner from her was Tallulah, also a pit, who has three legs. My heart just went out to Fay when I saw what happened to her. Her lips were gone, and her muzzle was mangled.

When her group of dogs was released, no one showed an interest in Fay. I could tell she was special. Her eyes were so soft, so beautiful. I went to Pam Whitcraft with Humane Society of Missouri to ask about taking her. When HSMO learned I would take this special girl, tears were rolling down the cheeks of her caregivers. When I saw Fay, I thought, I can do this, and then I saw Tallulah and said again, I can do this. Suzanne, a volunteer for Mutts-n-Stuff who lives in Chicago, took Tallulah.

Fay's treatment is a pioneering effort. In the past, no one really took care of dogs like Fay—they were euthanized. This is our special project to rebuild her lips. I took Fay to our vet, Dr. Marcy Hammerle, and she researched the issue and received input from plastic surgeons for people.

One of the main problems in getting Fay's lips back is ensuring there is a blood source for the tissue that will become her new lips. To form the sides of her mouth, her skin was stretched, rolled, and then tacked. The next step will be her nose and her upper lip. We will have to let the sides heal before we can continue with reconstruction.

You can see in the pictures that she basically breathes through her mouth. When she breathes, there's almost a gurgling sound because she can't keep the saliva in her mouth. Fay's saliva was draining out of her mouth instead of keeping her teeth and gums bathed in moisture. Her dry mouth caused her teeth and jawbone to deteriorate. Her little front teeth, you can probably pick them off her gum. So far, we think we've slowed down the deterioration.

HSUS: In a video we took of Fay soon after her rescue, she showed great affection toward people despite the misery that had been inflicted on her. What can you tell us about her personality?

Gale: She just melts in your arms. She's like butter. In a video of her interacting with one of our volunteers, she just laid on her back and was kissing [the volunteer] underneath her chin. She's exceptional.

One of my dogs, Smiley King Elvis, a therapy pit bull, met [Fay] in a controlled situation. At first, Smiley looked at her as if he was unsure, and then they both softened and started rubbing up against each other. Smiley is a very soft dog. We have to teach Fay that other dogs won't hurt her anymore. Every interaction she has with another dog has to be positive; it has to be upbeat. You have to use your head. Both dogs will be on a leash.

HSUS: What is your hope for Fay?

Gale: Our goal for Fay is that we're going to fix her lips so she can have an enjoyable life. I also want her to receive her Canine Good Citizenship certificate.

And I want to have her certified as a therapy dog so she can visit veterans who have lost limbs, to inspire them with the thought that if Fay can keep on moving, so can they. The veterans have gone through hard times during the war, and when they come back, they have to adjust to society. The same thing happens to fighting American pit bull terriers. They go from the fighting pits and then into society. Our goal is to prepare the dogs for loving homes.

The spirit of the pit bull is also an inspiration for children with life-changing diseases. The childrens' faces light up when they see a dog who still has a loving spirit, even though they might be missing a limb or lips. Through Fay, we can show that dogs can make it out of the pits. She is the sad face of the victims of dogfighting.

Of course, we also want to find her a forever home. She's welcome to stay with me until then. It has to be someone who wants Fay for who she is and not because of the publicity she's received.

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