This story was corrected at 3:23 p.m. March 2019.
Last March, authorities rescued 30 pit bulls seized in a dogfighting investigation. One year later, some of them have found new homes.
Orange County Animal Services took in and evaluated the dogs. In the past, all of them would most likely have been euthanized. But over the past year Animal Services was able to arrange for eight of them to be transferred to three animal shelters, then new owners.
“We were fortunate to be able to partner with trusted and highly respected colleagues in the field of animal welfare during the process of rehoming these dogs,” said Bob Marotto, director of Animal Services.
“We knew that they would be attentive to not only the needs of the dogs, but also the needs of the families and communities with which these dogs will live out the rest of their lives,” he said.
In April, Daniel Isiah Crew Jr. was arrested on charges of felony dog fighting and animal cruelty after a drug raid on a Rougemont property owned by his parents, according to a search warrant.
Along with the 30 dogs, investigators found a fighting pit, animal records and treadmills for exercising the dogs on the property, located at 9316 N.C. 57.
Per state law, 18 of the dogs were immediately classified as dangerous because they had bite wounds, scars or other warning signs. Four other dogs did not pass behavioral evaluations conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Those 22 were euthanized, or killed by lethal injection.
The other eight dogs, however, were deemed adoptable. In recent months, Marotto secured new placements for the dogs in three animal shelters.
“These colleagues were well aware of the situation that brought the dogs into our lives, and we knew they would be considerate of that when finding the right homes for them,” he said.
Life after dogfighting
In the days leading up to her adoption, Raisin had a major case of the “zoomies.”
“Zoomies,” as the dog community calls it, are when a dog starts running at full speed, all over the place.
Those fit of energy express “exuberance and joy,” said Emily Cook, spokeswoman for The Humane Society of Charlotte, a nonprofit that took in four of the dogs.
Raisin’s story shares similarities with the other pit bulls who came in with emotional challenges and trauma that needed to be addressed.
“Our biggest challenge at first was determining how best to bring the animals out of their shells without them feeling fear from us, because that’s likely the emotion they knew best,” she said.
But the learning curve was quick.
“What we found is the animals are extremely resilient creatures, which is really amazing in terms of what [many] of them go through,” Cook said.
Take Cantaloupe for example.
Cantaloupe arrived in Charlotte alongside Miss Piggy in late November. Cook said the dog was shy and shut down. Within three days, however, she was showing her “goofy” side and would run up to visitors on her own accord.
David Stroud, executive director of Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society, said the one dog his organization took in, Melon, was easy to handle from the onset.
“She was just like a social butterfly from day one,” he said. “There was really no room for improvement because she was so sociable with everybody.”
Melon — who the “Shrek”-loving, Sapphire-based shelter renamed Fiona — found a new home earlier this month.
Vincent Cesenaro, her new owner, said he was drawn to her disposition..
“She was one of the few dogs not barking. She was just sitting there behaving herself,” he said. “When I walked her around a bit, she was really affectionate. She just sold me right away.”
The Humane Society of Charlotte took in four of the dogs in two waves: first, Miss Piggy and Cantaloupe in November, then, Brad and Raisin last month. All the dogs found new homes within two weeks of arriving and have settled in well with their new families, Cook said.
Miss Piggy is now a “doggie fashion model” with a reputation that reinforces her name.
“When they first adopted her, they were planning on a different name, but the more [the family] got to know her, the more they realized, ‘no, that’s her name,’” she said. “And they decided to keep it because she is a snorter.”
The wait was longer for Fiona, who remained at the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society from October to March. Winters are slow in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Stroud said. But, after a trial period with a Ceserano, Fiona finally went home.
Stroud said the fit is great as her new owner works out of his van and owns another dog, a shorkie, or shih-tzu yorkshire terrier mix.
“Because Fiona just loves to go on car rides, he’s hoping he can get Fiona to just come with him on the job site to travel around every day,” he said, adding that the first meeting between the two dogs led to “all kinds of wagging tails.”
Indeed, Cesenaro said the dogs have gotten along well. Fiona is one of the smartest dogs he has had, and even though she dwarfs the shorkie, she acts “nicer and gentler.” Fiona is a fast learner, Cesenaro said. He taught her to sit and roll over within one-and-a-half days, and now he takes her to dog parks, hikes or even simple car rides.
“Every night, it’s become a habit where she’ll lay on the couch and wait to be covered up,” he said. “On the rare few times we forget, she’ll come into the bedroom and let us know. Then, she’ll go back to the couch and expects us to follow.”
Stroud also lamented the public perception of pit bulls.
“If there were a poster dog for why pitbulls don’t deserve a reputation as a ‘bad dog,’ it would be Fiona,” he said.
Cesenaro said learning Fiona’s backstory only won him over more.
“I was already interested in her based on her temperament and looks,” he said. “But when they told me how long she had been there, then they told me why she was there, it pulled at my heartstrings.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Vincent Cesenaro’s last name.