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Hero Finds His Perfect Pup
Two survivors join together in a miraculous match that came dangerously close to never happening at all
When North Shore Animal League America rescued Brandy from a municipal shelter, the sweet pup had pneumonia. Although the condition can be very dangerous in dogs, it’s very curable if treated promptly. Sadly, many traditional shelters don’t have the space or resources to care for ailing animals, and that put Brandy at grave risk of being euthanized.
Moreover, Brandy had another strike against her: As a Pit Bull, she automatically falls victim to the myth that surrounds many dogs of this breed: that they are by nature aggressive, unfriendly and dangerous. That misconception is so widely held, in fact, that some counties in the U.S. have actually banned Pit Bulls altogether or are working on legislation to do so.
Given their unfair reputation, it’s not surprising that Pit Bulls are among the first animals to be put down when a municipal shelter becomes full and needs to make room for new arrivals.
It’s pretty safe to say that it’s a miracle that Brandy is alive—and it’s just as miraculous that her adopter is, too.
Love at First Sight
When Kevin Vaughan decided it was time to adopt a pet, he made his first-ever visit to North Shore Animal League America. He immediately noticed a brown-and-white dog who was joyfully romping in the Dog Walk Atrium area of our shelter. Beautiful Brandy, just shy of a year old, was being introduced to a couple who were looking to add a canine to their family.
Kevin had no inkling of just how close Brandy had come to being destroyed, but he sensed that she was something special. “She was so gorgeous and incredibly playful,” says Kevin, 23. “The second I saw her, I just knew she was the dog for me.”
Figuring that he’d arrived too late, Kevin left with a heavy heart. But the following day, he decided to return to Animal League America to see if the adoption had gone through. To Kevin’s great relief, Brandy—who had survived against so many odds in her young life—was still available.
Kevin knows more than his fair share about surviving against all odds. The North Merrick, NY native joined the United States Marine Corps at age 18, right after graduation from high school. He was deployed to Afghanistan, where he served two tours as a member of the Third Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
On September 28, 2011, during his second tour of duty—and just two months before he was scheduled to go home—Kevin was seriously wounded by a road-side bomb. Both of his legs were badly injured, and he also suffered from third-degree burns and many broken bones. “It was a miracle I survived the initial explosion,” says Kevin.
Kevin was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and he describes the care he received there as “unbelievable…the best in the world.” Despite undergoing almost 40 surgeries, Kevin’s left leg could not be saved, and it was amputated below the knee more than a month after he sustained his injuries. He was honored for his service with the Purple Heart.
On March 9, 2012, Kevin returned to his parent’s home on Long Island for a four-week visit. About 3,000 people flooded the streets, welcoming him back with a full-blown parade. “It was completely unreal,” he says. “I just expected a few friends and family to be there.”
In total, Kevin spent more than a year in the hospital, healing from his injuries and learning to walk again. Today, he’s living with his parents, but he will soon be a proud homeowner thanks to Homes For Heroes Foundation, a program that provides financial assistance and housing resources to veterans, firefighters and others who serve our communities.
The Healing Power of Dogs
When Kevin does make the move, Brandy will be right by his side, just as she has been nearly every moment since he adopted her on April 17, 2013.
“She’s doing great!” reports Kevin. “I’m so happy with her; I can’t stop pampering her.”
Kevin marvels at the fact that until recently, he was among the many people who believed that Pit Bulls were a dangerous breed. “I had a friend growing up who trained his Pit Bull to be very aggressive,” he explains. “He used to growl at everyone.”
But Kevin’s best friend A.J., who accompanied him to Animal League America the day he adopted Brandy, gave him some wise advice. “I told him it’s the deed, not the breed,” says A.J., citing the mantra of opponents of breed-specific legislation. “My friend used to rescue Pit Bulls, and they’re great dogs!”
A.J. is right on target, says Joanne Yohannan, Senior VP of Operations at Animal League America. “The issue is responsible dog ownership, not ‘bad’ or ‘good’ breeds,” she says. “Any type of dog can display aggressive behavior if he or she isn’t trained properly. In my 30 years in animal welfare, I’ve met thousands of Pit Bulls, and the vast majority are among the sweetest, most loving dogs in the world.”
That’s certainly true in Brandy’s case. “She’s so well disciplined, and she gets along great with people,” says Kevin. “She’s a big mush!”
In fact, Brandy has such a wonderful temperament that Kevin is exploring the possibility of having her certified as a service dog, so he can bring her with him to restaurants, stores and other locations where only assistance dogs are allowed.
“Emotionally, physically—in every way, dogs provide the best route to healing,” says Kevin, whose experience at Animal League America has made him a staunch advocate for the adoption of Mutt-i-grees®—any dog, cat, puppy or kitten from a shelter or rescue group, whether purebred or mixed breed. “Once I learned that 4 million animals are euthanized each year in municipal shelters simply because of overcrowding, I’d never consider buying from a pet store,” he says. “Brandy is proof positive that adopting Mutt-i-grees is definitely the way to go!”
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The Truth About Pit Bulls
Remember Petey, the adorable dog made famous in the Little Rascals/Our Gang comedies in the 1930s Petey may have gotten into a bit of mischief on occasion, but he was a friendly, well-behaved dog—completely opposite of today’s stereotype of Pit Bulls as aggressive and dangerous.
In truth, the term Pit Bull doesn’t describe a single breed of dog; rather, the term is used to describe dogs who are American Pit Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers (or some mix of either). Occasionally people include Boxers and some other bully breeds in the Pit Bull category.
Whatever they’re called, what matters most is that they’ve been victims of an unfair reputation that leads to the unnecessary destruction of hundreds of thousands of these dogs each year. They are typically the first animals to be euthanized at overcrowded municipal shelters—even as puppies.
“Pit Bulls are dying needlessly across the country because they’ve been saddled with an image that is simply not accurate,” says Joanne Yohannan, Senior VP of Operations at Animal League America. “The fact is that any dog can become aggressive if it’s trained to do so, or if it’s not socialized properly.”
Historically—and sadly, even to this day—Pit Bulls are the dog of choice for illegal dog fighting rings. When aggressive dogs are bred with other aggressive dogs, and then trained to be fighters, it stands to reason that they are more likely to display those types of behaviors. Also, any dog who is kept chained up is more prone to developing aggressive tendencies.
But the majority of Pit Bulls do not come from such a background. Most are well-bred, friendly dogs who make the perfect companions for the right adopters. In fact, it might surprise many people to learn that Pit Bulls were long considered an admirable, desirable breed, viewed as one of the most reliable, loyal and trustworthy family dogs. Many famous Americans, including Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller and Fred Astaire, were proud Pit Bull owners.
How do you know if a Pit Bull-type dog is right for you? Consider the following:
- When adopting any dog, you should always spend time with it and ask the shelter personnel for information about its personality. If your lifestyle would be best-suited with a docile, easy-going lap dog who doesn’t require lots of exercise, a Pit Bull is not for you.
- Do you have other animals? Some Pit Bulls—just like any other dog, regardless of breed—want to be the king or queen of the castle. Ask shelter staff if a particular dog is good with other pets, and arrange a meeting with your resident dog before adopting.
- Training is essential for any dog, but it’s especially important for dogs like Pit Bulls, who are typically strong and muscular. Consider bringing your dog to professional training classes—or consult training manuals on your own.
- Do you have an active lifestyle and enjoy exercise? Pit Bulls enjoy lots of activity, and they’re more likely (again, just like any dog) to misbehave if they’re not given enough exercise.
- Do you have very young children? Simply by virtue of their strength and size, many Pit Bulls are better suited to families with older children—but this is not a hard and fast rule. Check with your adoption specialist about the personality of the specific dog you are considering.
- Have your entire family meet the dog before making a decision on adoption.
- ALWAYS spay/neuter your animal—regardless of breed. It not only decreases the problem of overpopulation and euthanasia, but it helps decrease wandering and other bad behaviors.