Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pit Bulls & Parolees

A very creative grassroots approach to reentry, as reported by the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“Tia Torres has a passion for underdogs – whether they're people or animals. The star of Animal Planet's series "Pit Bulls & Parolees" has proved that for the past 17 years since she established the Villalobos Rescue Center in Santa Clarita, the largest pit bull rescue facility in the United States. She started taking in refugee pit bulls and later parolees who were having trouble finding work.

“The red-headed Torres, dressed in denims and a black sweatshirt against the fall chill, manages 200 pit bulls on 10 acres of dusty desert property. Her daughters, Mariah and Tania, help out, as do her two adopted twin sons, Kanani and Keli'I.

"I was at an animal shelter up in the high desert with a friend, and she was getting a collie out; she was with collie rescue," Torres said, seated on a folding chair under a pepper tree.

"It was then when the sheriff's department were bringing in some dogs. It was a drug deal gone bad.

"Out in this area there are a lot of meth labs and everybody had been killed on the property. And the only thing that was left was one pit bull. They brought her in because she was evidence.

"They had tied her ears off with fishing line. And it stopped the circulation and the ears just fell off. The fishing line was still in her ears. When the shelter brought her in she broke loose and ran toward my daughters. They were both sitting on a bench and she knocked them over and I thought, 'Oh, oh.' And the next thing I knew she was kissing them all over the place. So I decided to get her. It took me a while because there was a court case, but I finally got her and she was the inspiration for the whole place. Tatanka was her name."

“Back then, pit bulls were considered satanic dogs, she said.

"It was hard to get them out of a shelter," she said. "No one wanted to save them, everybody hated them. So it was tough. Thankfully I was able to build up a decent relationship with animal control and worked my way up the ladder." During Hurricane Katrina about 50 dogs were sent to Torres.

"It hit us hard, so recently we went to New Orleans to see where our dogs came from and were really taken with the people there. You feel it and we fell in love with the people and with their animals and we made a promise to not forget about them."

“Torres has been married three years to a man she met when they became pen pals while he was in prison. He's back in prison, charged with stealing property in a mixup with another parolee, she said.

"It's hard when you deal with pit bulls and parolees. People go, 'What? I don't want to donate to that.' But they fit together. You spend five minutes with them, you wonder what's the fuss?"