October is Pit Bull Awareness Month, but for dedicated advocates like Michelle Sathe, educating people about this misunderstood breed is a year-round effort.
Sathe recently published “Pit Stops 2,” a book about her cross-country road trip last year with a homeless Pit Bull named Kara.
If this sounds familiar, in 2009 Sathe embarked on a similar journey with Loren, another homeless Pit Bull, and wrote about it in her book, “Pit Stops.”
The purpose of both trips was to raise awareness of the breed, and to hopefully find furever homes for Loren and Kara in the process. (Both dogs have been adopted.)
“There are some people who believe what they believe based on the news, having never met a Pit Bull in person,” Sathe said. “Every time you step out with a Kara or a Loren, you can’t deny that these are wonderful dogs, and 99.9 percent of these dogs are like Kara or Loren. It’s the ones that are mistreated and act out that get all the attention, and that’s the problem.”
During her trip with Loren through 29 states, Sathe encountered some prejudice against her traveling companion. But on her latest trip, Sathe said, “I did not have a single person react negatively, at least not to my face, with Kara. I actually think it could be the fact that Kara is smaller and kind of more quirky-looking than Loren. It was really strange to me, because I thought people would react to her just as strongly if not more so than with Loren.”
Perhaps people reacted positively because Kara didn’t fit the stereotype – or could it be that they are starting to become more aware of the qualities of this breed?
“When they do say something to me like, ‘I can’t believe there are places that ban these dogs,’ it does seem like there’s more awareness in general,” Sathe said. “I think that people are kind of shocked to find that there is a ban against dogs – it just seems so un-American.”
She said that people outside the circle of Bully breed proponents seem to be “more open to the idea that Pit Bulls can be great pets. Those in the circle know that they’re awesome.”
For her second trip, Sathe spent more time visiting some of those in the circle, particularly the ones who run Pit Bull rescue organizations.
“Honestly, I was not super excited to take this trip like I was with Loren, because I knew what was going on across the country with these dogs. I was a little bit more jaded,” Sathe said. However, meeting Ashley Owen Hill, the young founder of Lucky Dog Rescue in Meridian, Miss., was a turning point for Sathe.
Hill runs a boarding kennel and rescue kennel in the same facility. The boarding kennel helps raise money for Lucky Dog Rescue. She does much of the work herself.
“I saw what she was doing, and we were able to commiserate about our experiences,” Sathe said. “It gave me the inspiration to continue.”
Sathe also had a memorable experience in Maryland with Eric Vocke, founder of Baltimore Bully Crew (BCC). Vocke is a chef by night and runs the rescue during the day.
“He took me and a friend for a little tour of the inner city in his old Honda Civic. He’d stick his head out the window, and honk and point: ‘Yeah, this is where people fight dogs all the time!’” Sathe recalled.
“People do incredible things out there and you really don’t hear about them. One of the things I’m so proud to be able to do through these books is to highlight these unsung heroes, such as Eric and Ashley, and get their stories told. It’s important.”
Sathe is an unsung hero herself. Along with promoting Pit Bulls on cross-country trips, she is the program and development director for AngelDogs Foundation (ADF), a Southern California non-profit that provides mobile spay and neuter services. Since it launched in 2009, ADF has fixed more than 20,000 dogs and cats. Thanks to funding from the Best Friends Animal Society’s No Kill Los Angeles initative, ADF is providing free spay/neuter services for low-income San Fernando Valley pet parents this year.
“It’s so rewarding to provide that service to people who wouldn’t have the ability to get their pet spayed or neutered,” Sathe said. “Most of the time, they’re so incredibly grateful, because they want to do right by their pets, but maybe they can’t afford to. Every time you fix an animal, you’re preventing dozens to thousands of unwanted births.
“Knowing that, I feel like between my work with ADF and the ‘Pit Stops’ books, that’s going to be my legacy in life. And I’m really proud of that.”
In June, ADF opened the Deaf Dog Ranch in Acton, Calif. It’s the first rescue in the U.S. for hearing-impaired dogs of all breeds.
Sathe said the deaf dogs are amazing. “They’re very affectionate and look to you more than a hearing dog would for direction,” she said. “I really enjoy working with them. It’s a real treat for me to be able to try to find these dogs homes and educate people on the fact that we don’t feel that deafness is a disability – it just makes them different.”
As for a third road trip, Sathe hasn’t made up her mind. “A lot of the Deaf Dog Ranch dogs are bully breeds and mixes,” she said. “Lisa Tipton, my boss, is like, ‘You have to write ‘Pit Stops 3’ and take a deaf dog!’ So I’ll go on the record and say that if I do take a third trip, I’ll take a deaf dog with me.”
“Pit Stops 2: Adventures with Kara” is available for $16.95 exclusively at pitstopsbook.com. One dollar from each book sold is donated to AngelDogs Foundation. A special limited edition that includes a Kara bookmark is also available for $20; $5 from each purchase will be donated to your selected rescue.
PHOTOS: Michelle Sathe