The Kitty Chronicles: Episode 9

We are sad to share with you all, that late last week, Kitty got her wings. 

Kitty was a very good dog. She was confiscated on August 23rd, 2013 as part of the second-largest dogfighting bust in U.S. history. Kitty didn’t choose a life at the end of a chain. Kitty was a big girl with cropped ears. She was powerful and so very fearful. Her bark said “GO AWAY.” Not because she didn’t like people, because she had likely never had good experiences with them. In the year that she was held at a temporary shelter, we watched her blossom into a bit of a wiggle-butt. She loved her people, but she was still scared. She still had her moments.  

We pulled Kitty knowing that she had issues. We have worked with many survivors of dogfighting, and many fearful dogs. We knew she was high risk. Hello Bully has had such incredible success rehabilitating survivors of dogfighting and helping them learn about being a “normal” dog. We were excited for Kitty’s future. It was amazing to watch her grow. 

Early on, Kitty developed some resource guarding issues. We called in a behavior consultant to help us work with her. (We often do this when a dog has been in our care for more than 6 months, because we like to make sure we’re staying objective with our dogs — who become like members of our own families.) Kitty was a total rock star. She responded to the training and exceeded our expectations. 

About a year ago, we saw that Kitty’s stranger danger needed a lot of work. Again we called in an outside behavior consultant to help us. She had some success, but Kitty was never able to go to events or even meet strangers in a natural environment. Overall, she was making some progress, so we kept on pushing forward. 

While we will always ask ourselves if we could have done something differently, we feel we did our best for Kitty. We’re all volunteers, and we’re certainly not perfect, but we do have an amazing group of people who help to rehabilitate our dogs. Kitty had an entire team of people. There were meetings and protocols and plans. We shared her challenges and progress on social media, hoping someone like us would fall in love with Kitty and give her a forever home. We attended Grisha Stewart’s B.A.T. Training seminar and decided that we would muzzle train Kitty for safety, and then start opening her world up further, at a pace that would set her up for success. 

Kitty had limitations. She had dog friends, but also some resource guarding with other dogs. So we searched for an only-pet home. Because of her stranger danger we decided it should also be an adult-only home, a home that was dog-savvy and would properly introduce her to new people. Her adoption window was small, which increased her time with us, resulting in more issues, more limitations, and more time…

Recently, Kitty began to decline. She became oddly reactive, and we were not always able to identify the triggers. A series of incidents, including bites, prompted us to again call in help from outside. A behavior consultant who had seen her 6 months earlier noticed the decline. Kitty was a totally different dog with her. She had become less social, more unpredictable, and her aggression had grown. Based on her history, and assessment, it was recommended that Kitty not be placed, and that she be humanely euthanized. We are fortunate to have a handful of trainers and animal welfare professionals on our board and in our pool of volunteers. None of us could challenge the assessment, regardless of our love for Kitty. It has been agonizing to say the least. 

One of the things that many of us questioned was Kitty’s quality of life. As far as a shelter environment goes, The Hello Bully Halfway House was created to increase tolerance of “length of stay.” We know that dogs can go “kennel crazy” and become institutionalized. So much of the work we do and the strategies we use can help “buy more time,” but if we’re being realistic, 3 years in a cage, even a cage with lots of breaks and love and enrichment, is a very, very long time. 

We saw a part of Kitty that we could not reach. The unpredictability and aggression were not something that Kitty seemed to choose, but rather something that she couldn’t control. We know that she was very fearful and anxious for most of her life. We know that in the last 3 years she was never threatened or in danger — but somehow, Kitty still lived in that scary place. On the outside, Kitty was a vibrant, beautiful girl and a picture of health. But somewhere we can’t see, and couldn’t reach, was a dog stricken with pain from a traumatic past. Even in moments where she was safe, and surrounded by love, somewhere inside Kitty, she was back on that chain. 

As an organization, we made this decision based on quality of life, risk, and the mission and resources of our organization. Kitty had a multiple-bite history, she was anxious and unpredictable in spite of our efforts to help her. Hello Bully has always followed the Pit Bull Rescue Code of Ethics as a way to guide our mission. We do not place Pit Bulls who are aggressive to people. We serve individual dogs, and the bigger picture of repairing the reputation of the breed. 

We were asked if Kitty could be placed with someone from inside our organization. A lawyer had already warned us of the liability of placing Kitty, but we reached out to our lawyers for more information. In short, placing Kitty would have been negligent on our part, due to her history. Furthermore, our organization would be liable, regardless of waivers, based on Pennsylvania’s definitions of liability and negligence. As a non-profit, knowing how many animals and people depend on the help and services we provide, we would be working against our mission to deviate from the recommendations by professionals. 

To say that recent days at Hello Bully have been hard, is an understatement. It has been over three years since we have had to make a decision for humane euthanasia for behavioral reasons. Many of the people new to our organization have never been through a behavioral euthanasia before. Kitty also had become very selective with people. So much so, that many of the people in Kitty’s “inner circle” of friends, never saw that side of her. Kitty was deeply loved, and is deeply missed. 

Kitty, we are so sad that you didn’t make it to the finish line. We got so damned close. You are remembered by all of us as a wonderful dog who was haunted by a traumatic past. You didn’t die at the end of a chain, or at the hands of a hateful human being. You didn’t die in a pit, fighting for your life. You lived three years as a loved, cherished, and very special dog. Your last hours were a pizza party with a few of your closest friends. You left this world quietly, and deeply loved. 

Fly free, Kitty, never to be chained again.

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