Shiva went from locked in a car to lovingly living with a new family in six months.

By Austin Cannon
October 23, 2020
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Shiva, left, cuddling up with her brother Buddha, also a pit bull.
| Credit: ASPCA

When pit bulls are in the news, you may not expect them to be the victims of violence. But on Pit Bull Awareness Day, the story of Shiva reminds us that every dog deserves an opportunity, regardless of their breed. 

Two years ago Shiva, identified as a pit bull, was found locked in a car with two other dogs on a 96-degree day in New York City. The ASPCA and police rescued her and took the underweight Shiva, who had wounds on her face and neck, to the society’s animal hospital. 

Three months later, she still needed help. She was healthy but so afraid, reluctant to even leave her kennel, the ASPCA says. She moved to the ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in North Carolina, to get that additional assistance. 

Whatever her life had entailed before the ASPCA found her had instilled an immense amount of fear in Shiva. At the beginning of her behavioral rehab, she was afraid of the leash and some people—but not all of them. Darren Young, a behavior rehabilitation specialist at the rehabilitation center, and Shiva’s case worker, says one of the most encouraging early signs occurred when she started cuddling up to familiar trainers like him.

“Her ability to kind of connect with people was really there, inherently, from early on in her treatment, so we were able to utilize those relationships that she was creating with people and dogs to help her become more confident,” he says. 

She got more comfortable on walks—no longer “pancaking” on the floor when the leash came out—with the assistance of helper dogs, graduates or soon-to-be-graduates of the behavior program who offer moral support to dogs just starting out. 

By November 2018, Shiva had graduated from the program and had become a helper dog herself. Soon after, she met Emili at the veterinarian’s office. Shiva walked up and sat down next to her. Their relationship took off from there. In January, Emili and her husband Zach were her new parents. These days, Shiva enjoys loving on her human and feline siblings, not to mention her pit bull brother Buddha.

As we approach National Pit Bull Awareness Day on Saturday let us celebrate the journey of the pit bull who deserved—and received—just as much help as any other dog should. 

“I only take a look at the dog that’s in front of me really without regard for breed or any of that,” Young says.

If only all pit bull stories could end this happily.  

Shiva loves her new siblings, two- and four-legged.
| Credit: APSCA

Pit Bull Fear, Stereotypes

Pit bulls like Shiva experience an odd dichotomy in today’s world. Some people still fear them and other stereotypically aggressive breeds. Those stereotypes often result in breed-specific legislation that restricts ownership. For example, in Des Moines, Iowa, where Daily Paws is based, owners of pit bull terriers and other “high-risk” dogs must be insured in case the dog harms someone. The United Kingdom is even stricter. Residents there have been prohibited from owning pit bulls since 1991.

Conversely, pitties are common dogs and are oftentime pets in the United States. Heck, even one of the best athletes in the world is a pit bull dad. (Cough. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Cough. Cough.) And he’s hardly the only celebrity.

Yes, in the 1800s the English ancestors of today’s pit bulls were used in bull-baiting spectacles, where they would basically have to fight staked bulls. And yes, pit bulls were and are used in highly illegal dog-fighting rings. 

But that’s just a small percentage of the breed overall, says Pam Reid, vice president of the ASPCA Behavioral Sciences Team. Today, there are so many pit bull-type dogs out there who are bred much more randomly, mostly without regard for a fighting profile. 

In fact, the term pit bull refers to several mixes of several breeds. “It’s not one type of dog itself,” Reid says. 

In the same vein, pit bulls also aren’t prone to only an aggressive kind of behavior. Can they lash out and harm humans? Any breed of dog raised a certain way might do that, Reid says. Pit bulls can also be the lovable, sweet “nanny dogs” who look after and protect children or who just enjoy lounging around the house and smiling big smiles. Some just really, really love blankets.  

But in part because of negative news coverage and breed-specific legislation, people are still afraid of pit bulls, Reid says. That puts them in shelters—more than any other dog, she says—and thus, at risk for euthanization. 

So hopefully we can counteract that fear with the story of Shiva, a now-happy and gentle girl who was saved from a near-death situation and now snuggles with her two- and four-legged siblings. 

Nothing to be afraid of here.