Monday, November 19, 2007

Lucky pit bull has a home for Thanksgiving

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/19/07

If dogs celebrate Thanksgiving, Bitsy the pit bull has plenty to be grateful for.

This summer, she achieved a flash of fame when she turned up at the Atlanta Humane Society after someone plunged a hunting knife in her head. Various media outlets picked up jarring photos of the injured dog and the humane society fielded calls, e-mails and donations. The vets who saw her through emergency surgery named her Lucky.

Today, the renamed Bitsy spends her days chasing squirrels and playing with her new canine companions at the Athens area home of her new owners, Chris and Michelle Rabold. She loves chasing squeaking toys and riding in the car, hops up on the couch like she owns the place and eats with gusto. When she conks out for the night she curls up on her bed off the kitchen, or in her crate.

"She's got this old soul quality, you can see it in her eyes," Chris Rabold said. "There's something special about her."

He and his wife have always been animal lovers — Lucy, their Australian sheepdog, wore flowers in her collar as an official member of their wedding party. Michelle Rabold, an Atlanta native, teaches a class called "Helping Man's Best Friend" at Clarke Middle School. Chris Rabold, an audio engineer and production manager who tours with area bands, grew up in Bowling Green, Ky., where dogs were always part of the family.

Both were stunned to see the pictures of a grotesquely injured pit bull, posted on shortly after arriving at the humane society the morning of Aug. 15.

"It looked like a cheap Halloween gag," Chris Rabold said. While the dog was still in surgery, he was on the line to the humane society.

"I really didn't think, I just instinctively picked up the phone," he said. "I wanted them to know we were serious."

For the Rabolds, the time felt right to adopt another dog. They'd just lost a dog, Bunny, who died accidentally when her collar got tangled. Headlines at the time were trumpeting jarring dogfighting allegations against suspended Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who has since pleaded guilty and faces sentencing Dec. 10.

"Our hearts were a little tender," Chris Rabold said.

The humane society kept the injured dog for a couple of weeks to recover. The Rabolds kept in touch.

"We would huddle every night to see if we'd gotten an e-mail," Chris Rabold said. Finally, they got a phone call saying the dog's original owner had surrendered custody, and she was officially available for adoption. On Aug. 27, the day Vick pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges, the Rabolds drove to Atlanta to meet with humane society staffers and meet the dog they hoped would become their newest pet. A few days later, Bitsy had officially joined their family.

"We have a real soft spot in our hearts for pit bulls," Chris Rabold said. "They get such the bad rap. But we would have adopted her even if it was a daschund."

Bitsy loves running around the Rabolds' large backyard and gets along well with their other dogs: Lucy, Sissy, Ricky and Bubba. Bitsy accompanies Michelle Rabold and her running buddies in the mornings, and may come with her to school one day.

"She loves people," Michelle Rabold said. "So much of society sees pit bulls as fighting dogs. I think she's going to be a great example for her breed."

The Rabolds paid the standard adoption fee for Bitsy, who was spayed before she left the humane society. Aspiring pet owners pay $100 for puppies and $85 for dogs, cats and kittens. With the felines, it's buy one, get one free, said Atlanta Humane Society president Carl E. Leveridge. While he's disappointed that Fulton County authorities weren't able to make an arrest in the case, he's thrilled with its happy ending.

"It's heartwarming," said Leveridge, who estimates the dog's emergency care ran between $3,000 and $4,000. "We love these kind of stories and hope there are more of them."

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