The 50-pound black pit bull is a true couch potato, spending many of his waking hours lounging on upholstered furniture. As a stranger approached, he ducked his head shyly and wagged his tail, then rolled onto his back, in the classic submissive canine posture. He groaned with pleasure as his belly was rubbed.
The dog's name is Ferdinand the Bull, and the friendly stranger was me.
When I moved my hand from his head to my pen and notebook, he snuggled closer to me and put his head on my lap, in an apparent bid to get more pats and rubs.
Two months ago, this dog was living outside at the end of a chain in Jefferson County, Ohio. He was one of the 200 dogs discovered during a drug bust. Most of the dogs were pit bulls, and police suspect they were used for fighting.
The owner relinquished ownership, and a number of animal organizations stepped up to care for the dogs, including the Humane Society of the United States.
Five of the dogs are now in the Pittsburgh area, under the care of Hello Bully, an all-volunteer rescue and educational organization. You can read all about them at www.hellobully.com. The dogs have new lives in foster homes or boarding kennels and new names: Franklin D. Roosebull, Isadora Bull, Pedro, Sucre and Ferdinand the Bull.
Pedro, 8, has already been adopted. The "foster mom" who provided temporary care decided her home would be Pedro's "forever home."
The others are undergoing careful training and rehabilitation. Ferdinand, 5, splits his time between a boarding kennel and the Cranberry residence of Daisy Balawejder, who started Hello Bully six years ago.
Pit bulls are not for everyone, and those that come from suspected fighting backgrounds undergo extra scrutiny and evaluation.
Ferdinand, for instance, has not yet met Mrs. Balawejder's pets, Meiko and Mizuki, who are also pit bulls. Pit bulls have been bred for centuries to aggressively bait bulls and fight dogs, but they've been bred to be nonaggressive with people. Some pit bulls can peacefully co-exist with other dogs.
Ferdinand has a lot to learn before he's ready to be adopted. When volunteers gave him dog toys, he didn't know what to do with them. He has learned how to enjoy toys, and now Mrs. Balawejder is teaching him a new activity.
"Do you want to go for a walk?" she asked him, as she held up a leash. Ferdinand rolled over on his back and wagged his tail.
"He'd rather lay on the couch than take a walk," she said, sadly. He doesn't pull on the leash, but he doesn't sniff and explore and enjoy like most dogs do on walks. "I think it's just too much for him right now."
Hello Bully volunteers do educational programs and talks, educating the public about a breed that some people fear and hate. Pit bulls do not have jaws that lock and they are not "killers" that cannot be trusted. They are loyal and loving pets in the hands of responsible owners, Mrs. Balawejder said. They score high on temperament tests and many have passed certification tests to become therapy dogs.
She and other pit bull lovers blame the media for reporting pit bull bites and attacks while failing to report bites by other breeds.
The vast majority of dogs never bite anybody, and that includes pit bulls. Dog bites are also blessedly rare. There are about 1,200 dog bites reported annually in Allegheny County, where more than 100,000 dog licenses are sold each year.
Many thousands of pit bulls are euthanized because there are just too many of them. In an effort to stop the carnage, rescue groups and shelters emphasize spay and neuter programs.
Hello Bully's Pit Fix Plus program has neutered 830 pit bulls at no cost to owners. They do this by fundraising and by working with three local shelters -- Animal Friends, Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. Go to www.pitfixplus.com or call 412-235-1997 for further information.
Hello Bully accepts donations at the website. Fifty dollars will neuter one pit bull, but any amount will help. The biggest fundraiser of the year is the third annual "Lovers Not Fighters" gala on Feb. 19 at the Zen Social Club at Station Square. Last year's gala raised $21,000.
Here's a service you hope you'll never need, but it's good to know it's available locally. Radiation treatments for canine and feline cancer patients are now available at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township.
The center has hired Dr. Koichi Nagata, a radiation oncologist. The 2000-square-foot radiation therapy wing is outfitted with a linear accelerator purchased from the University of Chicago Health System.
The local facility joins the University of Pennsylvania Ryan Veterinary Hospital as the only comprehensive veterinary cancer centers in Pennsylvania, according to a news release from PVSEC.
An open house will be held from noon to 3 p.m. today at 807 Camp Horne Road, Pittsburgh 15237.
For further information, go to www.pvs-ec.com or 412-366-3400.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064.