I led the way into the shelter’s dog room, I remember. Cement floors, metal fencing and lonely faces. Dogs — big and small, young and old, barking and sleeping. Then there was Oreo, just sitting, waiting, looking up at us with wide brown eyes that seemed to say, “Please?”
Ever since, we’ve been learning about how to care for him, train him, live with him. (Loving him came naturally.) And in my opinion, everything has been made a little bit more challenging due to the fact that Oreo is a pit bull mix.
A pit bull isn’t a breed, it’s a number of breeds that have similar characteristics. They’re muscular, stocky and short-haired. And of all the types of dogs out there, they have the worst reputation. In fact, strangers have gone out of their way to tell me that I have a “dangerous dog.”
The thing is, I agree. Oreo is dangerous — as are many dogs, and not just pit bulls for that matter. But Oreo also can be friendly, and more importantly, he’s trainable.
I respect people’s opinions and certainly their fears, yet sometimes I find myself a bit downtrodden by the pit bull stigma. And so one day, I decided to search online for pit bull-friendly websites, communities for educating and supporting pit bull owners, something to lift my spirits.
That’s when I found “Maine Pit Bull Advocates,” a Facebook group that has gained more than 12,000 fans since it was created in September. Surprised by the popularity of the page, I sent a message to the page administrators asking a few questions.
A reply came from the group’s creator, 22-year-old Chelsea Braley, who lives in Corinna with her fiance, Justin, and their 2-year-old Labrador-pit bull mix, Colby.
Braley was inspired to create the group after becoming involved in other pit-bull related Facebook groups being formed throughout the country, including “Colorado Pit Bull Advocates” and “We’re Lovers Not Fighters.”
“I wanted to do the same thing for Maine,” Braley said. “And a week after starting the page, I already had 500 likes, and I was like holy cow.”
As hundreds of fans became thousands, Braley formed a team of administrators to help consistently update the page with pit bull-related news, contests, forums, resources, photos, videos and comics. The group is now run by a team of four — Braley, Angela Carter of Bangor, Amber Scott of Topsham and Montana Deschaine of Skowhegan.
“I really hope it makes a difference,” Braley said. “We really want to get the real information out there and get people to understand that these dogs are really like any other dog. They really are loving and make great family dogs and service dogs.”
Every Thursday, the group posts pictures and links of pit bulls currently up for adoption throughout Maine.
“We’ve been able to connect dogs with people,” Braley said.
During the first week of December, the group raised $200 for the Bangor Humane Society through the sale of “Maine Pit Bull Advocates” T-shirts. And they’re now developing a hoodie sweatshirt, to be sold for future animal shelter fundraisers.
For now, they continue to answer fan mail, which includes everything from holiday doggy photos to breed-specific questions.
“Since there are four of us on the page, we have a lot of opinions to give, and we think that sort of helps our fans,” Braley said. “Our support is just overwhelming. We have names we see over and over again — people who are dedicated to the page.”
So are pit bulls for everyone? Braley gets asked that question a lot, and her answer is, “no.”
“You have to have time,” she said. “They’re a lot of work and commitment. And they’re very active.”
“You really need to know something about pit bulls before you get one because you’re going to have to deal with the stereotypes and also training your dog,” she continued. “It doesn’t have to be hard, but you have to be smart … I wasn’t looking for a pit bull when I got my dog, it was just a lucky chance.”
A lucky chance. That’s how I feel about Oreo — or maybe “a lucky challenge.”