Physically, they're like a whole different group of dogs than when they started out here. It's amazing what good food and attention and baths and things can do. —Hannah Parpart, communication outreach coordinator for the humane society
BOISE — When Kyle went to the Idaho Humane Society in Boise on Sunday, he expected to look at two or three pit bulls before deciding which one to take home.
Instead, he spent the entire afternoon looking and playing with about a dozen of the animals.
"It was a tough choice between all the dogs. That's how kind and loving and personable these dogs are," he told the Deseret News on Monday.
While pit bull adoptions are nothing new, what made this adoption special was that Kyle and his wife became the first to adopt a dog rescued from a suspected dogfighting operation where police also discovered a grisly triple homicide last month.
A total of 63 pit bulls were seized and first taken to a facility in Pocatello. Later — with an escort from Idaho state police — the dogs were transferred to the larger and more secure Idaho Humane Society in Boise.
When the pit bulls first arrived at the shelter, they were underweight, suffering from malnutrition and overall in very poor condition. Many of the dogs had open lacerations and extensive scarring from old wounds — some suspected of being recently involved in fighting. Many suffered from skin, eye, and ear ailments including fly bites and frostbite. A few dogs have old injuries of broken bones that were left untreated.
"The staff was really affected by what terrible condition they were in," Hannah Parpart, communication outreach coordinator for the humane society, said.
When some of the dogs first arrived, she said they didn't even know how to be a typical dog.
"They had a lot of fear issues, they'd never walked on leashes, they didn't know what treats were. None of them played with toys, they didn't have a clue what a toy was. They didn't know how to act with each other — not necessarily being aggressive but some of them were just dumb, like, 'How do you play with another dog?' So we've seen such progress that we definitely want to make sure they continue with somewhere positive," Parpart said.
Many of dogs had been kept on chains so long that when humane society workers took them into the enclosed yard area and let them off leash, they would only walk around them in circles or just flop to the ground.
Now, one month later, many of the dogs have made a 180-degree turnaround. The dogs have not only improved physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.
"Physically, they're like a whole different group of dogs than when they started out here. It's amazing what good food and attention and baths and things can do," she said.
Today, the worst injuries the dogs receive are by wagging their tails too hard inside their kennels when they are happy to see an an employee.
Soon after the dogs arrived in Boise, the nonprofit group Bad Rap from Oakland — which gained national attention in 2007 when it assisted in evaluating the pit bulls seized from NFL star Michael Vick — arrived to evaluate every one of the animals.
"It was like a 12-step evaluation — everything from seeing if they got scared to how quickly they'd recover, to how they dealt with people around food, to how they responded to dogs of the same gender, to how they responded to dogs of the opposite gender and how they did with toys and all sorts of things," Parpart said.
The dogs were then divided into three groups. The first were those that could soon be adopted. The second were dogs that needed to be sent to a rescue center elsewhere for additional development.
"Whether it was they wouldn't walk on a leash or they were too excitable around dogs of the same gender or whatever it was going to be, those were the dogs we knew would need some type of rescue placement. They were going to be with a foster home or rescue group until they could work through those things and be prepared for a new home," Parpart said.
"They'll learn about life and how to be a dog, how to play with toys, what a dishwasher is, what a vacuum is, all those things."
The third group of pit bulls were those that either for health or temperament issues involving other dogs would not ever be suitable for adoption. The shelter was forced to euthanize about a dozen such dogs.
"Those were dogs we just knew weren't going to be placeable in a home situation where there were pets or even if there were pets they would encounter in the public. They weren't dogs we were concerned about with any human aggression issues. These dogs, from the moment they got off those vehicles in terrible shape were extremely affectionate, extremely friendly with people. But there were some we knew weren't going to be adoptable due to their issue with other animals."
For the past month, the humane society has been working on making the remaining pit bulls — all of which have been named after cities, states, countries and continents such as Madison and Asia — emotionally ready for adoption. Many have been shipped out-of-state to rescue operations that specialize in pit bulls. The pit bulls have been sent to places such as California, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota and Indiana.
On Sunday, the first pit bull rescued from Oneida County was adopted. But for safety reasons, the shelter asked that the full name of the couple who adopted the dog not be released publicly as well as where they live. Parpart admitted the humane society has received angry emails from some who believe all of the dogs pose a threat and should all be put down.
Kyle, who previously owned a pit bull until recently when it died of old age, had followed the story of the Oneida pit bulls since they were discovered.
"We kind of watched the story develop. We lost our pit bull a few months ago, so we are familiar with the breed. We've had experience with pit bulls all our lives," he said.
While initially Kyle conceded he had some concerns about the dogs knowing their backgrounds, that changed quickly after he saw pictures of the dogs at the humane society.
"We saw the photos of the people handling the dogs and there was not one dog in the whole thing that was aggressive to anybody or anything," he said.
In the first 24 hours since they adopted their new pet, Kyle said his pit bull has been enjoying playing fetch in the yard and sitting in the sun.
"We have not had one problem with this dog," he said.
Another reason the humane society doesn't want much information released about who adopts the dogs is so the pets won't be negatively labeled their entire lives, such as some dogs are still known as "Michael Vick dogs."
"We don't want these dogs to always be stigmatized that these are always ex-fighting dogs," Parpart said.
Anyone who wants to adopt one of the dogs, or any of the other animals at the shelter, needs to first fill out an application at www.Idahohumanesociety.org. Parpart said applicants will be given a thorough check before they are allowed to adopt.
"We ask them all about their lifestyle and their home and everything else. They have to provide a veterinarian reference where they've taken their pets to a veterinarian in the past. They have to provide a pet ownership reference, so we call those references, we talk to people who know them. They tell us about their experience handling animals and living with a pet," she said. "We want to try and make a good lifelong match."
On April 5, authorities found the bodies of Yavette Chivon Carter, 27, Trent Jon Christensen, 32, and Brent L. Christensen, 61, all shot to death inside their Holbrook, Idaho, home in an isolated area about 20 miles west of Malad, which is where the dogs were found. Carter and Trent Christensen's 2-year-old and 2-month-old daughters were found unharmed.
There have been no arrests made nor a possible motive given. The Oneida County Sheriff's Office on Monday said there were no new leads in the investigation and declined to answer any other questions. The sheriff told the Idaho State Journal that the case was moving forward, that the person who shot the victims likely had some prior affiliation with them, and that the secrecy surrounding the world of dog fighting was making it difficult for investigators.