In honor of Pit Bull Awareness Month and Pit Bull Awareness Day (Oct 28), we caught up with Aften Bell, Founder of The Love Pit, a non-profit pit bull rescue located in Dallas, Texas. Built upon the mission of “reducing the homeless pit bull population through rescue, rehabilitation, training and advocacy,” the Love Pit is helping raise the bar for rescues the nation over. Covering everything from pit bulls’ unique personalities to the Love Pit’s inspirational beginnings, read our interview with Aften Bell below.
Can you give us a little background on the Love Pit: How long it’s been around, what inspired you to start it, how it all came together?
It really all started in 2015. I was coming home from work and I saw a dog walking into oncoming traffic. I got out and called to her, “Come here Sweet Pea.” For whatever reason, that name just came out. She slowly walked over to me, and as she got closer I saw the damage to her face. Basically, a big part of her face was missing—it had been chewed off by another dog. Seeing something like that can really change your perspective.
Once we got to the vet, I took some photos. I posted a single photo on Instagram, and within 48 hours, we had raised close to $5,000. It really inspired me to take a bigger step, not only to help dogs, but also to work with people who shared my vision. It took $1,500 of surgeries to get her fixed up. Then we took the rest of the money and rescued 13 more dogs from euthanasia in Ft. Worth. I ended up adopting Sweet Pea, and she’s still with us today.
Rescue is obviously a worthy cause, by why pit bulls in particular? Is it because Sweet Pea is a pit bull?
I was actually already fostering 4 pit bulls prior to finding her. Originally, I started with a general breed rescue. But after fostering more pits, I fell in love with their personalities and the breed in general. Also, after getting involved with other pit bull rescues, I got more educated about what was going on with pit bulls at shelters.
“Of the 1.4 million dogs euthanized at shelters every year, 40% are pit bulls. That’s nearly 500,000.”
What do you think makes the breed so special—What do you love about pit bulls so much?
It’s simple: It’s how much they love. They give so much of themselves to please their human, more than most breeds I’ve worked with. Their loyalty and affection is my #1 favorite thing! They’re also some of the easiest dogs to train. Last but not least, it’s their goofy personalities—those floppy ears and big smiles!
Has running the Love Pit changed your outlook on dogs, on people? If so, how?
As far as changing my perspective on dogs, mostly it’s just made me love and understand them more. As far as people go, I never realized how much rescue can affect people’s lives. I’ve had volunteers who suffer from depression and social anxiety—where they can’t be around crowds—but now, because they have a purpose and a moral mission with these dogs, they’re able to go out to adoption events and connect with other volunteers. Rescue opens up this whole new world to people.
What do you say to those still apprehensive about pit bulls? How do you approach the misconceptions surrounding the breed?
I could tell you facts about pit bulls all day, but it’s not going to matter until you have an interaction with a pit bull firsthand. Until someone has that positive experience, it’s hard to change their mind.
I used to be afraid of pit bulls myself in high school. Then I met my first pit bull. He was a friend of mine’s dog, about 100 lbs, very intimidating looking. But he was a complete goofball! There was no aggression in him whatsoever. After that, everything I thought I knew about pit bulls went out the door. I wouldn’t have changed my mind had I not experienced that for myself. I encourage people to come out to our events. You don’t even have to volunteer. Just come out, see what we’re about, visit one our pit bull kissing booths, get a “I kissed a pit and I liked it” sticker, and come pet a dog. And then if you want to volunteer, by all means volunteer.
Rachel, long time TLP volunteer and adopter of TLP alumni, Cleo, says her favorite part about the breed is that “they are always there for you and give you tons of hugs!!! And accept your hugs all the time!”
What is the rehabilitation process like for the pits you rescue?
We look at the rescue model differently. We don’t rescue based on how many dogs we can save, it’s more about quality over quantity. We invest 100% in every dog we rescue, from rehabilitation all the way to post-adoption. All of our foster parents are required to come to weekly training classes. Every dog has their own training plan, because every dog is different. Out of the 300 pit bulls we’ve fostered and rescued, we’ve never had to euthanize one for behavioral issues.
Maegan Carlile, fitness coach, volunteer for TLP and long time Pit Bull advocate, is pictured here with one of her recent fosters, Ella.
What are some ways that people can support or otherwise get involved with the Love Pit?
We are a 100% volunteer-based rescue, so donations are big for us. We’re very focused on transparency. We want you to know where your money goes. We also do not use boarding or kennel facilities, which means the number of dogs we can save depends on how many foster homes we have. Foster parents are basically the heartbeat of our rescue. When you foster with us, you’re not alone. You have your your own trainer, your own medical coordinator. We cover all bedding costs. We also offer to pay for all dog food.
Is the Love Pit doing anything special for Pit Bull Awareness Month (2017)?
Yes we are! We have quite a few things going on this month. We just started a new education program called Keep Calm, Bully On. A big part of our mission is not only rescue, training and rehabilitating, but also advocating and educating. After two years, we’re now finally able to start the educational portion of our mission. We’re launching this for Pit Bull Awareness Month.
We’re going to be down in Houston at Spinal Tap Brewery on Pit Bull Awareness Day (2017) as well for a Pit Bull Awareness festival, which we’re hosting in partnership with Brave Bully Rescue and Good Lif3 Bully Rescue.