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Christine does a great job at representin' -- !!

Making a Pit Stop

by Rod Burkert on May 5, 2010

We are getting ready to begin the next leg of our road trip … we're headed to St. Louis by way of Montreal. Hey – I'm the driver, not the navigator. First, though, it seems we've already put enough miles on our Winnebago to merit a pit stop for some routine RV maintenance. We're also visiting my mother, who will turn 85 this month. Hi mom!

Since we're in this pits, I thought it would be an opportunity to post my recent interview with Christine Zajac. Christine is a marketing coordinator and graphic designer for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, NJ. She spends her free time volunteering for Smilin' Pit Bull Rescue, Inc. in New York. She answers emails from families who need help with their pit bulls, reviews adoption applications and assists with dog transports through New Jersey. Christine and her husband share a home with their two dogs: Remy, a 2.5 year old husky/pit bull mix and Ripple, a 1.5 year old pit bull.

Rescued Toby at 3 days old

What is the story behind SPBR's formation?

SPBR president Eric Gray started the non-profit rescue organization 13 years ago when he rescued his dog, Spud, from a kill shelter in upstate NY. Slowly, but surely, he started helping more pit bulls one by one. With the rapidly growing internet, Eric created the SPBR web site, profiling the rescue and adoptable dogs. He also used his love for photography to snap professional photos displaying their physical beauty in conjunction with their emotional stories of abuse and neglect.

Where (geographically) does SPBR focus its rescue efforts?

SPBR was established in western New York; however, its focus is not geographically limited. SPBR often rescues dogs from the south including, but not limited to, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Dogs are also rescued from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Rescued dogs are cared for by volunteer fosters located throughout the northeastern states and have been placed in homes as far away as Missouri and Florida.

About how many pit bulls are in the SPBR “system” at any given time?

SPBR has 20-40 dogs in its foster care system at any given time. We are limited due to the fact that SPBR runs solely on a foster home basis – we do not have a central facility to house adoptable dogs. We choose which dogs come into rescue, based on foster availability, and focus on those with the most urgent needs. SPBR tends to pick dogs that need medical attention first and foremost.

Is it more or less difficult to rescue and find forever homes for pit bulls today then, say, 5 years ago?

(Answered by SPBR volunteers and forum members)

“I am not sure it has changed much. More people are open to adopting them, but there is SO many of them due to breeding at the same time.” Erica, Middletown, NJ

“I think there is more positive exposure then there used to be. A lot of our applicants have small children and are families…that speaks volumes.” Lisa, Rochester, NY

“On one hand, we have many more opportunities to reach people to promote our adoptables, educate potential adopters, dispel myths about pits and encourage people to spay/neuter, especially with the Internet and social networking. Also, it seems there is a lot more positive press with celebrities and TV shows advocating for pits. On the other hand, we still have problems with over population, breeding, backyard breeders, puppy mills, etc., and these are reasons pits are ending up homeless in the first place.” Chelle, Columbus, OH

Can you describe SPBR's adoption process?

The process begins with a potential adopter filling out an application. The application includes questions about their location, yard, current pets, training habits and beliefs, and references.

Once submitted, a team of volunteers reviews and discusses the application. If there are any questions that need clarification then a follow up email is sent to the potential adopter. This can be a lengthy process. SPBR takes great care in choosing forever homes for its rescued dogs to ensure they find comfortable, safe, and permanent placements.

If the adopter passes the clarification process, SPBR schedules a home visit. A local volunteer visits with the family (all members must be present) and current pets. They discuss and review adding a new dog to a household, training, crating, feeding and more. The home is also inspected for safety issues.

Next, the home visit volunteer submits a report for the other application moderators to review. Once the application moderators deem the application/home/adopters fit for a rescued pit bull, Eric Gray gives the final approval for a dog to go home.

How does SPBR receive its operating funds?

The rescue website and forum , provide for the opportunity to advertise and sell various SPBR promotional items, such as cookbooks, water bottles, wearables, and an annual calendar featuring photos of the adoptables and their happy ending stories. Through several affiliate programs, such as iGive and Avon, the rescue also receives a portion of the proceeds from product sales. In addition, rescue volunteers attend various raise funds through individual donations, raffles, and the selling of promotional items.

Once its 501(c)(3) status has been approved, SPBR will seek additional funds through corporate sponsorship and grants to help offset operation expenses that often come out of the pockets of volunteer staff members. Additional funding will also allow SPBR to expand its rescue efforts.

What is the biggest pit bull myth you'd like to dispel?

Myth: Pit bulls are mean and vicious. According to the American Temperament Test Society , it is reported on temperament tests that pit bulls had a passing rate of 82% or better — compared to only 77% of the general dog population. These temperament tests consist of putting a dog through a series of unexpected situations, some involving strangers.

What would you tell someone who is interested in adopting a pit bull?

Do your research! Educate yourself about dog ownership, positive reinforcement training and the personality traits of pit bulls. The internet is a great place to find positive and correct information about adopting a dog. Use this education to be an ambassador for the breed and a responsible dog owner.

Christine with Clover & Kaia