Experiences of Dog Rescue Groups with the Mighty/Tiny Breeds

As the recipient of a grant from the Best Friends Animal Society, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors created The Mighty and the Tiny Project whereby the group will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and American pit bull terriers at a cost of only $25 per dog. These two breeds are most at risk for relinquishment and euthanasia in the United States. This fall, as part of helping to promote The Mighty and the Tiny Project, I reported on my research into both breeds and even included interviews with two of their owners. To wrap up my coverage for 2015, I’ll highlight below what other local animal welfare groups shared with me regards their opinions of and experiences with these two breeds.

Yes, I think that Chihuahuas and pit bulls are the most difficult to place.—Carol Wheeler, Hearts United for Animals

Pit bulls are harder to place than Chihuahuas. Partly because of size and breed restrictions where people live. Young Chihuahuas have found homes through us fairly quickly, but the older ones have taken longer.—Holly Harpster, Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue

To start my research, I sent out emails to various local dog rescue groups. Groups that responded noted varying experience. For the Chihuahua, some groups either had little contact with them or limited difficulty placing them. In contrast, for the pit bull, some groups either had just started working them or outright didn’t even accept them.

The two animal welfare groups I chose to interview were Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue and Hearts United for Animals. Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue, a group dependent on fosters and adopters, is a non-breed specific dog rescue. Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill shelter near Auburn, has rescued almost every breed that is commonly known in the United States. My thanks goes to Holly Harpster and Carol Wheeler for taking time to answer interview questions.

I asked Holly and Carol about their experiences placing Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers. Both women confirmed that these two breeds have been difficult to place. Holly also added, “With any breed, the personality of the dog has a lot to do with the ease of placement. A dog that is small, fluffy, house-trained, and loves everybody will quickly find a home. Throw in ‘non-shedding’ and we’ll have multiple applications in a day!”

Why have Chihuahuas and American pit bulls been such a challenge to place? With Hearts United for Animals the biggest challenge in placing Chihuahuas, Carol frankly stated, is that they can often be unfriendly to would-be adopters. “There are people who know the breed well and understand its nature, but a lot of people do prefer a dog that shows some regard for them at the first meeting.” Carol also pointed to the sad fact that Chihuahuas are way too numerous. “The worst breeders have pumped out litters onto society without a speck of conscience from knowing that there are way too many of them. People will buy the tiny dogs but, when there is difficulty with them, they don’t keep them.” According to a recent check on Petfinder, over 13,000 Chihuahuas need homes.

For pit bulls, Carol referred to multiple issues. First, she pointed out that the breed has an earned reputation for not getting along well with other dogs. “Pit bulls are terriers and share some attributes with other terriers, like Yorkshire terriers and Jack Russell terriers, but they’re bigger and far more powerful. When there is a spat between a pit bull and another dog, it can be a bad one.” Second, there is always concern about insurance coverage that may not be available in a home with a pit bull. “I think the problem for pet parents can happen when there is some incident involving a pit bull, and they receive notice that their insurance is going to be cancelled.” Last, there is the pit bull overpopulation issue. According to a recent check on Petfinder, over 17,000 pit bulls need homes.

With Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue, the biggest problem in placing any dog has always been simply having a foster available to work with the dog and get the dog ready for a new home. “Especially with the pit bulls, there are so many people looking to give them up that rescues are flooded with them.” If the group does have a foster, the next problem is screening potential adopters. Naturally, the group is looking out for the best interest of the dog and so a lot of questions are asked on the application to better understand the lifestyle of the potential adopters. “With the bully breeds, we have to check city ordinances and look for any apartment/condo/duplex restrictions that could keep them from adopting the dog.” An additional complication happens with military families, because of the chance they could be transferred overseas. “Because many countries do not allow bully breeds, we need to know if they have a plan for the dog if that happens.”

This is really how most Chihuahuas act, although maybe not as adamant as Turbo. They might not welcome someone new, but they’re very loving to their own people.” —Carol Wheeler, Hearts United for Animals

My best memories of pit bulls are their big smiles and happy eyes when they’re with their family.—Holly Harpster, Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue

Despite challenges with the Mighty/Tiny breeds, Hearts United for Animals and NE No Kill Canine Rescue have had special moments involving both breeds. Carol told the tale of Turbo. “He is adorable with ears almost as big as the rest of him. He has been living in the Central Care Room of the Homeward Bound Building and built quite a reputation by nipping at the legs of almost everyone who is new that enters the room. However when Chico is out of that area, he becomes most amiable, and so we know he is simply protecting his environment. Anyway, he is most loving and precious to those people that he knows.”

She also shared the story of Axel, a pit bull who was brought in by a city official. “Axel was running the streets of a small town causing some havoc.  I knew from the first look exchanged with Axel that he is a profound fellow, full of love and loyalty, so anxious to give his heart to someone who would care about him. The more I have learned about him, the more I find that to be the truth.”


Holly affirmed, “There have been a lot of memorable Chihuahuas and pit bulls during my four years in rescue.” She told the tale of Marley and Cuddles were two Chihuahuas who came from the same home. “We thought they might need to be placed together, but tested them apart and found that they were just fine. Cuddles was an energetic young Chihuahua who was placed very quickly. Marley was an 8-year old with a wonderful, friendly personality who had the energy to play, but mostly loved to sit on your lap.  We had Marley for 8 months before he found his home. As it turned out, Marley was waiting for a special home and that is exactly what he got.  His new mistress is a quadriplegic who is comforted by having a dog on her lap and Marley has been her constant companion since they met. He even lets her mom know if he thinks there is a problem and persists until she’s checked on his mistress. He is a 10-pound package of love and loyalty and very happy now.”


She also told the story of Reja and Jewels, a bonded pair of pit bulls who were adopted out together. “They’re two of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever known. They love everyone and really enjoyed going for car rides.  Their preference was to sit in the front seat and with both of them trying to ride on one of my front seats, they kept setting off my seat belt alarm.”


Holly emphasized that Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue’s adoption process covers a lot of information and the group coaches new pet parents on how to best acclimate their new dog to their home. “We have been very successful in placing both Chihuahuas and pit bulls in homes that they thrive in. We stress that dogs we place need to become part of the family. A dog who alives inside with his family and takes part in their daily activities is usually a smarter and happier dog.”

Korra is a Pit who we had for 2 years before finding the perfect home. She had been in several foster homes prior to finding the home that had everything she needed.
Korra is a Pit that Nebraska No Kill had for two years before finding the perfect home. She had been in several foster homes prior to finding the home that had everything she needed.

Celebrity dogs, aka designer dogs, are very popular with puppy mills. They’re the latest trend and they can get high prices for them.—Holly Harpster, Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue

No discussion of Chihuahuas would be complete with addressing the issue of celebrity dogs. According to Mill Dog Rescue, largely due to media influences the Chihuahuas accounted for 2.4% of the dogs offered for sale or adoption by 2010. Yet sadly overbreeding has saturated the demand for these tiny dogs. When I asked Carol about her opinion of celebrity dogs, she didn’t mince words with her reply, “Promotion of celebrity dogs is irresponsible because it lures people into seeing only the glamorous side of pet ownership without the responsibilities that go along with it, and the most irresponsible people are susceptible to that.”

Holly was just as outspoken. “If you want a designer dog, I urge you to actually see the place they were bred. Websites will always look good and are NOT an indicator that your dog isn’t coming from a puppy mill. If you aren’t allowed into the facility or allowed to see both of the pups parents, that should be a red flag. Ask lots of questions, get health and vaccination records, and be prepared to walk away if things don’t feel right.”

I think breed specific legislation needs to specify what every dog needs and not promote an outright ban.—Carol Wheeler, Hearts United for Animals

No discussion of the American pit bull terrier would be complete without addressing the issue of Breed Specific Legislation, a rule which animal welfare groups tend to not support. Carol is of the belief that, “Dogs that are kept safe and comfortable don’t cause a problem. They have a human house to live in and a securely fenced yard that protects them and protects the public from them.”

Holly stressed that, “BSL is not the way to prevent dog bites.  The way to prevent dog bites is to place the responsibility and accountability of people’s dogs on the people who own them.” To decide for yourself about this issue, please check out my article on the topic: Is the Pit Bull One of the Most Aggressive Breeds?

Focusing specifically on the pit bull, Holly added that she doesn’t believe that the pit bull breed is any more dangerous than other breeds. “Any breed of dog that is not properly socialized and trained can bite under the right circumstances. Understanding the characteristics of a breed is key to getting a dog who fits your lifestyle and if you aren’t willing to put in the time to train and socialize your dog, don’t get one.”

I think it’s a great thing that LAA is making the low cost spay/neuter possible for dog owners of these two breeds.—Holly Harpster, Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue

You have now read the highlights of what local animal welfare groups shared with me regards their opinions of and experiences with Chihuahuas and the American pit bull terriers. In previous posts published this fall, I reported on my research into both breeds and even included interviews with owners of Chihuahuas and of American pit bull terriers. Armed with all this information, the question remains: What can the average person to do?

If you have an unaltered Chihuahua or a pit bull, please take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial.

If you don’t need to have a Chihuahua or pit bull altered, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.

Also, should the cute stories and photos make you interested in owning a Chihuahua or pit bull, please educate yourself first to determine whether the breed is right for you. Then contact your local shelter or one of Lincoln’s numerous rescues.

They’re all dogs!  They all have their own individual personalities and quirks and they all need good homes. Some breeds are more popular to adopt than others, but Chihuahuas and pit bulls are not hard to find in rescues. There are plenty available for adoption! –Holly Harpster, Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue

Life with the “Mighty” Breed

Pit bulls are in great need because of people’s perception of them.—Dina

According to the United Kennel Club, the essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are confidence, strength, and enthusiasm for life. Due to extreme friendliness, even to strangers, UKC does not recommend the breed as a guard dog. In addition, UKC notes that American Pit Bull Terriers make excellent family companions and have been well-noted for their love of children.

On the flip side, UKC cautions that most American Pit Bull Terriers can exhibit aggression. Few can deny that the history of the breed includes blood sports such as bull-and-bait and, when that went out of style, dog vs. dog. Indeed, because of its powerful physique, the American Pit Bull Terrier requires an owner who will carefully socialize the dog and train it to be obedient.

Extremely friendly, but aggressive. And thus the controversy over the breed. Having limited familiarity myself with the breed, I spent hours in September researching and reporting on the debate over pit bulls. I also contacted local pet owners and animal welfare groups to ask them about their personal experiences with these dogs.

Dina & Nala: "When I have been gone too long, she lays on top of me to keep me home."
Dina & Nala: “When I have been gone too long, she lays on top of me to keep me home.”

Dina Barta owns two pit bulls. Both were in danger of being euthanized. Her first, Nala, was taken off the adoption line because she scared a volunteer. “Nala is a talker with a growly bark. She barks to be fed, she barks to play, she barks when she wants you to follow her.” Dina explained to me that many pit bulls communicate like this but it takes time for those unacquainted with pit bulls to understand and become comfortable with it. “I’ve entered houses with pit bulls to do photographs, and the foster/owner will ask me if I speak pittie. I laugh and say I am fluent.”

Her second, Renny, was picked up in Salina, Kansas, which is a Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) town. One of Salina’s restrictions on pit bull ownership is it will not allow anyone in the state to adopt their pit bulls and so the dogs have to leave the state. “I was just supposed to foster, but it only took a couple of days to know she was not leaving. She is the comic of the house.”

random pit bull photo, Dog Bone Photos

I asked Dina about her most touching moment as a pit bull owner. Dina replied that with so many pit bulls she’s had many. One occurred at Capital Humane Society, before she had her own, and when she felt truly terrified of these dogs. “I had to photograph a pit bull named Hoss. I was so scared to get him out of his kennel, but I did it. We went into the yard and he leaned so hard on my legs. He laid down and ‘frog-legged’ (putting his rear legs straight back), and wagged his tail at me. My heart melted. I was never scared again. Hoss taught me.”

Obviously, Dina has had many touching moments with her own pit bulls too. “Nala hugged me so tight the first night I brought her home, I did not think she would let go. Renny slowly crawled into my lap her first night here. She tried to make herself into a tiny ball, like I would not notice her snuggling.”

Every breed is different with different traits. I am so happy I have taken two pit bulls into my home.—Dina

To have a basis for comparison between breeds, I inquired about Dina’s other pets. Dina shared that she’s always had dogs in her life, ones of mixed breeds and purebred hunting dogs. Currently, she has a black lab mix named Marco. She is a Labrador fan, stating that these dogs are usually happy and friendly.

random pit bull photo, Dog Bone Photos
random pit bull photo, Dog Bone Photos

As for pit bulls, Dina says this breed is very in tune to their owner’s emotions. “I’ve never seen anything like it before in a dog. I do believe it’s what gets pit bulls in trouble. If you’re stressed, they feel this and become stressed too. If you’re calm and happy, so are they.”

Using her own two as examples, Dina described Nala as wanting “nothing more in life but to take care of me. She guards the door of every room I enter. She needs to know that I’m safe. If I have a disagreement with my boyfriend, Nala begs us to stop. She goes back and forth between us making small grunts asking us to get along. If I’m sad, Nala recognizes this and covers my face with kisses. She is not happy unless I am happy.” As for Renny, she too wants to please. If she has done anything she thinks Dina will be upset about, she begs for forgiveness. “And then there is Marco the lab. He watches all of it in quiet amusement!”

My biggest initial challenge was getting over my own crazy uneducated fear of these dogs. My biggest challenge now is staying calm whenever anyone says something uneducated about the pit bull breed.—Dina

Because of the stigma connected to pit bulls, I wondered what challenges Dina faced as an owner of two of these dogs. None of her answers suggested that she has ever faced any behavioral issues. Instead, Dina stressed that her biggest challenge has come from other people, who often view her as crazy for owning pit bills. “People do cross the street as I approach with one of my dogs. I have come to accept it. It even makes me smile now, knowing that I get to have the experience of these great dogs in my life. I am happy to not be the person afraid of these dogs.”

We really need legislation on all dog breeding! If dog owners had to obtain a license before their dogs could breed, and if they paid taxes on the sale of those dogs, maybe we could slow down the backyard breeders.–Dina

Part of my interest in pit bulls came from the decision by Lincoln Animal Ambassadors to target them with their The Mighty and the Tiny Project whereby the group will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers for only $25 per dog. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. LAA chose these Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers because they are the most difficult breeds for shelters to place.

random pit bull photo, Dog Bone Photos
random pit bull photo, Dog Bone Photos

As an animal lover, I also became concerned about the pit bull welfare after learning about their poor outlook. A study by the organization Animal People Online reported that in both 2011 and 2012, pit bulls accounted for 30% of the dogs admitted to U.S. animal shelters and 60% of the dogs euthanized. Of eleven major shelter systems providing pit bull data, the average pit bull death toll among the 11 systems was 80%. The study also shared that there is only a 1 in 600 chance that a Pit Bull who even manages to find its way to a shelter will find a forever home.

When I asked Dina about why she thought the pit bulls were among the breeds most in need, Dina brought up the issue of irresponsible breeders, who are trying to make a quick buck and selling to people who do not have the time or energy for pit bulls. We also talked about how some people want to own these dogs because of their tough image stereotype. The reality, however, is that these dogs are huge lovers. “We need to continue to educate people on the breed. Pit bulls are high energy athletic dogs. They need exercise and mental stimulation. They can become destructive if they become frustrated without an outlet. We need responsible ownership.”

Many animal welfare groups believe that one solution is to spay and neuter. They contend that the biggest risk factors for dog aggression are malicious or neglectful dog owners, as well as dogs that have not been spayed or neutered.

Best Friends Animal Society believes so strongly in spay/neuter as a solution, it offered a grant for these purposes. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is one recipient. If you have an unaltered pit bull terrier, please take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. Let’s all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.

Also, should the cute photos make you interested in owning your own American Pit Bull Terrier, please educate yourself first about whether the breed is right fit for you. Then contact your local shelter or one of Lincoln’s numerous rescues. A pit bull will be waiting there for its forever home!

random pit bull photo, Dog Bone Photos
random pit bull photo, Dog Bone Photos