Tonight’s honoree for National Pit Bull Awareness Month is Jo Angle Staats, founder of WV Pit Bull Haven. I asked Jo about her inspirations and her love for pit bulls. (WARNING!! Read only if you want to be inspired)…
In the early 1940’s when my father was a young boy, he had his first ‘bull dog’, a little male named “Blue”. He’d meet dad after school every day on the walk home. But one day, Blue didn’t meet him. He went looking for the dog, asking neighbors if they’d seen him. He knocked on the door of a man that had been suspected of kidnapping dogs in the area and ‘banding’, or castrating them. The man told my dad he hadn’t seen his dog and sent my father on his way. When dad got to the top of the hill in the tree-line, he heard the man’s door close and Blue come running up the hill after my father with a little band around his scrotum. After my grandfather learned of this, he waited till nightfall, took his shotgun and plenty of birdshot and ventilated the man’s tin roof and shot out every window.
I would hear that story repeated numerous times throughout my childhood while sitting on my grandfather’s porch swing with him, surrounded by our bulldogs. I grew up knowing that it was my responsibility to protect my dogs, with the same heart and devotion that they so willingly and freely gave to me.
Jo was working for the police department in the mid-80’s when the hoopla was just getting started with breed specific legislation. She was shocked by the fear, hatred and ignorance that surrounded the bully breeds, not in another city or state, but right in her own town. It caused her to became more conscience of people and their relationship with dogs, and she wanted to not only educate on the bully breeds, but to enhance the relationships people had with their dogs.
Years ago, Jo’s vet at that time was an old-timey doctor, the kind that got calls in the middle of the night to sew up a dog a dog-fighter had allowed to be mangled in some horrific battle. He would call Jo when an owner would agree to give up a dog that had little chance of a ‘full-recovery’. She would take the dog home and nurse it back to health. She didn’t know at that time that she was ‘rehabilitating’ fighting dogs; To her, she was just repairing an abused and damaged dog and giving it a second chance for a better life.
When she started with the police department K9 unit, the guys laughed at her for showing up with a bully. They didn’t think her dog was going to be able to pull it off…they weren’t laughing for long. Her bully, Nino, while not an official member of the police department, practiced at every training exercise and at home with her every day. He especially loved the agility course, and every new challenge he was faced with he met with eagerness. His days of being an abused fighting dog seemed to melt away in the evening heat that first summer she started working him…and so did the preconceptions of the K9 guys of just what a bully dog could and would do when in good hands.
After having a family of her own, her life was busy and other responsibilities took priority, but she never stopped defending the pit bulls, her heart belonged to the APBTs. She served as a foster home for a local rescue from 1996 till 2006, and it was then that she saw the great need for an organization that exclusively focused on pit bulls, and she started WV Pit Bull Haven in 2006. She also found a Yahoo group of like-minded individuals that inspired, supported her efforts and encouraged her. She learned new tactics and better avenues to bring change for the dogs that had been such a huge part of her life. She started attending Council and Commission meetings, offering alternatives to breed-bans or regulations.
Over the past 5 years, she has traveled to numerous meetings, sometimes driving hours to get there, and the triumphs over BSL continued to push her to do more. She hss authored state legislation, and joined the board of various state organizations in effort to bring positive change for pit bull type dogs. She’s also worked with local law enforcement in combating dog-fighting, and developed the state’s first law enforcement training program highlighting effective investigative tools for dog-fighting cases. She works with shelters across the state to evaluate dogs for adoption, developed free-training programs for shelters, and put together a dog-bite prevention educational program for elementary school-aged kids, and an anti-dog fighting program for high school students.
I have had the honor of knowing Jo since she joined my FightBSL Yahoo group in 2006, and am very proud to call her a dear friend. Jo is the epitome of the meaning of the National Pit Bull Awareness Campaign. She is a true inspiration as to what can be achieved by one person, and what that one person can do to impact and enhance the lives of humans and animals. Anyone who has worked with her knows she is always willing and ready to offer help, suggestions, advice or just an ear. In her words:
I do all I can, and many days it feels as if it’s nowhere near enough. Some days it feels as though I’m stretched too thin to possibly accomplish any good. But at the end of everyday I’m reminded by soulful eyes and silly grins and separable personalities that I do all I do, whether enough or not, for them…and I do it because my grandfather taught me, if a dog is willing to lay down its life for me I damn well should be willing to stand up for it.
On behalf of Bless the Bullys and the National Pit Bull Awareness Campaign, thank you Jo, for everything you do on behalf of pit bulls in West Virginia, as well as across the country. You are an endless source of inspiration for others to draw upon, and you should be extremely proud of all your accomplishments on behalf of the breed!!