by Jessica Dolce, StubbyDog.org
Joan, the “pretty lipless pittie,” was found as a stray in Indiana suffering from terrible wounds to her face. Despite her injuries, Joan was so loving that strangers were inspired to step up and provide help. Now, she’s shining as a true survivor, as anyone can see in this video.
StubbyDog recently spoke to Rebecca Stevens, executive director of the Humane Society for Hamilton County, who stepped up on Joan’s behalf, and Joan’s foster mom, Jennifer Judd, about this moving story.
StubbyDog: Can you tell us about Joan’s history prior to coming to HSHC?
Rebecca Stevens: Joan arrived as a stray at the Terre Haute Humane Society with injuries unlike anything they’d ever seen. Her lips had been literally ripped from her face. The folks there work incredibly hard to save the lives of the animals in their care, but they have no choice but to euthanize for space – and I think they knew Joan wouldn’t be an easy placement. So, they reached out for help on Facebook and posted Joan’s photos, videos and information.
SD: Can you tell us about your decision to transfer Joan into your care?
RS: I saw the post on Facebook, and although there are literally hundreds of pleas posted out there daily, her face – those eyes – pierced through me. I watched her play and love her people in a video that was posted, and it was clear she was full of life and forgiveness. She weighed on my heart all night, and I woke up the next morning knowing I had to help her. We have always had good luck finding homes for animals with special needs and disabilities. I have found this community to be very open to helping those like Joan who have suffered so. However, we had no kennel space for Joan – that space is reserved for Hamilton County animals – so the only way I could help her was if we could 1) find a financial sponsor to help cover the cost of her care and 2) find a foster home willing to take her in for the long haul. Enter Jennifer Judd.
SD: How did you find Jennifer, Joan’s foster mom?
RS: Jen is a longtime volunteer and foster for our organization. She has been involved in our fundraising efforts and events. She is also a personal friend. Ironically, I didn’t ask Jen to do this. She contacted me after seeing my post on Facebook asking for a foster to take her in. Jen has always been drawn to the little fluffies as I call them, so I was surprised she wanted to foster a pit bull!
SD: Did Joan need any special accommodations?
RS: Joan ended up being heartworm positive and having an upper respiratory infection when she arrived, but in terms of her injury though, no. It is what it is, and Joan has moved on.
SD:Here at StubbyDog, we think that foster families are crucial to supporting shelter and rescue dogs. Can you share your thoughts on the importance of foster homes?
RS: Foster homes are the only way our shelter doesn’t euthanize for space. As an open-admission facility for our county, we turn no one away regardless of the space or resources we have available. We are the one stop shop in Hamilton County serving as both the animal control facility and humane society. We receive all the hit by a car and abuse cases right along with strays and owner surrendered pets. Without fosters opening their homes to currently 200-plus animals out of the 600 in our care, we would be forced to make decisions no one wants to make.
Foster homes are also critical for those animals recovering from injuries or illness, or those in need of socialization and rehabilitation, which is impossible to achieve in a shelter environment. And lastly, it’s the only way we can on occasion help dogs like Joan who are not from our area. We reserve kennel space for Hamilton County animals, so Jen’s generous offer to take Joan in saved her life.
SD: Were you concerned about how Joan’s breed and appearance would affect her adoption prospects?
RS: You know, I wasn’t, and here’s why. I have found that people are compelled toward animals that have a story. I learned that when I started here in 2005. It was shortly after, Hurricane Katrina hit. Our phones rang off the hook for people wanting “Katrina dogs.” We had none here, but instead of turning them away; I explained we had our own “Survivor Dogs” which was the beginning of our Survivor Program. These were dogs that had survived abuse and neglect … horrific injuries and illnesses. They too had amazing stories. It was a matter of packaging those stories with photos that touched the heart.
This is the program that Joan would become a part of, which funds the medical care of our animals. Joan’s story of survival – her ability to move on and celebrate her life in the face of such adversity – I knew would touch many people. And it has. We’ve had many requests and inquiries about adopting Joan, but Jen gets first dibs as her foster mom.
SD: In general, how does HSHC support pit bull type dogs during their stay at your shelter?
RS: Probably 50 percent of the dogs we get here are pit bulls or pit mixes. In order to give them the chance they deserve to find loving homes, we have developed a Pit Bull Education Program, which includes a lobby display, website and Facebook marketing, handouts and, up until he was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, a resident pit bull mascot named Chulo who would sniff and mingle with shelter guests, often giving them their first real interaction with a pit bull.
Every March is Pit Bull Education Month at our shelter, and we focus all of our marketing efforts toward educating folks about the history of the breed and working to restore their reputation as “America’s Dog.” We put on a seminar in March open and free to the public and also celebrate the breed with a pit bull parade. This year, we had Michael Vick survivor dog Hector attend as our grand marshal. This was great. Our team and volunteers work daily to change minds and perceptions one person at a time.
SD: How can readers support HSHC and dogs like Joan?
RS: For those here locally, we always need more fosters and volunteers. As I said, foster homes save lives, and one of our biggest challenges is finding fosters who will welcome pit bulls into their homes. They are the dogs who typically need foster care the most – they’re the most abused of any dogs we see, and they represent the largest portion of our canine population. There just aren’t enough fosters out there willing to help us help them.
SD: Jennifer, can you tell our readers about your decision to foster Joan?
JJ: It was something about her face. There was a look in her eyes, something that said, “I have no clue anything is ‘wrong’ with me. I’m just a good girl who needs to be loved.” I was moved to offer to help, even though I already had a full house. I offered to foster her until her forever home could be found.
SD:What were your thoughts about pit bulls prior to living with Joan?
JJ:When I first started volunteering at the humane society seven years ago, I was scared (and uneducated). As time progressed, I saw their sweet, gentle souls and saw family after family adopt them, and knew that they could be great dogs in the right home with the right owner. That, however, did not mean I was on board with bringing one into my home. I have small dogs (Maltese and Pekingese), and two cats. Pit bulls were great for everybody, just not me. I always said, “When my dogs are gone, I will have one.” Joan has completely changed my heart and mind. She runs when my 5-pound Maltese barks at her. She takes naps with my cat. There is not one iota of aggression or prey drive in that dog. I did not just happen to get the world’s only non-aggressive, perfect temperament pit bull. They truly are wonderful dogs and will tell anyone who will listen how she changed my mind 100 percent.
SD: Are you still planning to adopt Joan once her heartworm treatment is finished?
JJ: I am. It was a tough decision, but I could not imagine letting her go. I’ve fostered many, many dogs – and have been a foster failure three times. Some just speak to you in a way that others don’t. Joan (Jojo) was one of those. Could she go to a home where she was the only dog or one of two and be just as loved? Absolutely. But she is so amazing. Her story needs to be shared. She is a true breed ambassador, and I believe I can and should share her story with anyone willing to listen.
SD: What are your goals for Joan? We hear you’re interested in doing therapy dog work with her!
JJ:I am so excited about this. Once she’s no longer heartworm positive, we are going to participate in a Canine Good Citizen training class. Once she’s CGC certified, the plan is to take her to Peyton Manning’s Children’s Hospital, as well as to local grade schools. Her platform will be to not judge a book by its cover, not only because of her breed but also because of her deformity. This girl has the power to change hearts and minds. Believe me.