Asia has an ear-to-ear grin, a happy tail and boundless energy. She loves to bask in the sun in her favorite chair. She's devoted to her humans, and they return the feeling. Asia's breed, American pit bull terrier, has one of the worst reputations in the canine kingdom. But this sweet dog just seems grateful for her second chance at a happy life.
At All Breed Rescue & Training's facility off North Nevada Avenue, the pup has received the descriptor "from abused to ambassador."
When her owners surrendered the 7-week-old puppy at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, they admitted they'd thrown her against a wall. Fortunately, the HSPPR and ABRT have a close relationship, and the latter took on the task of finding her a new home.
"Between her abusive past, her medical issues and her breed, there was no other organization that would take her. It was us or nobody," says Lauren Fox, ABRT's executive director.
First, Asia needed a stable foster home while going through medical care for her neurological issues and socialization classes to help her trust humans. Andy Wooten signed up to foster her, but quickly fell in love.
"She was on the floor when my daughter and I came in, and my daughter knew the minute I saw her that it was over with."
Asia, now nearly 2 years old, went home with the Wootens and the temporary situation soon became permanent. Years ago, Wooten didn't like pit bulls when he married a woman who owned a pit bull mix.
"I thought [Roxy] was unpredictable," he says. "There were very few games we could play that would not escalate with her. I would see this switch in her eyes. I would think, 'OK, this has gone too far.' But as she got older and had some training, I started to change my tune."
The couple divorced and Wooten's ex-wife moved out of state. He missed Roxy, and his ex-wife agreed to turn her over. That was in 2005, and it's been smooth sailing ever since. Even adding Asia to the household came easily — after a bit of sniffing around, Roxy accepted her new canine sibling into the home.
"These dogs are very intelligent; they love their people," Wooten says. "I don't think any dog has more personality than pit bulls."
Fox says nearly all of the 107 dogs she's fostered over the past 15 years have been pit bulls or mixes. Several Colorado cities, including Denver and Castle Rock, have banned the breed, so they often land in Colorado Springs shelters and rescues.
"If I had to generalize about pit bulls, it's that they want to please humans," Fox says. "They will be whatever you want them to be, and so in the wrong hands, they can be not pleasant. But in my opinion, you couldn't ask for a better dog."
From foster to forever
Fox started fostering dogs for what was then called Colorado Springs All Breed Rescue. She stepped up to lead the agency in 1998, and in 2005, CSABR changed its name to reflect its mission to train the dogs that come through its doors before transferring them to foster homes.
Puppies age 6 to 14 weeks can attend a seven-week "kindergarten," which includes learning how to play well with others, noise desensitization and basic manners. From 15 weeks to 11 months, they can move on to classes designed to quell behaviors such as jumping up and barking.
"If we can get more rescue puppies into that stabilizing training before 20 weeks of age, we can reduce the amount of behavior problems and therefore reduce the amount of euthanasia in dogs being put into shelters," Fox says. "The number one killer of dogs in this country right now is behavior and training problems."
ABRT's adult-dog classes include Outdoor Adventure and Canine Freestyle Skills, along with training for safety and therapy tasks.
Last January, ABRT began offering free post-adoption training for any puppies adopted from HSPPR or local rescue groups. New owners can attend as many classes as they want until the puppy reaches 20 weeks. ABRT also offers classes for any dogs at the HSPPR shelter for more than 30 days or that have been adopted and returned twice.
The organization's greatest need is for more foster homes. Currently, ABRT has 75 to 80; Fox dreams of having 120 foster families ready to help prepare dogs for their forever homes.
"When I'm talking to an adopter or potential adopter I say, 'I want to make sure that you are the one who holds this dog's paw on the day that it dies."