From a dog fighting ring to being sentenced to death, and to becoming a veteran's reason to get out of bed, Cuddles the pit bull has been through a lot in her life.
Don't judge a book by its cover, they say. While this idiom has been around since forever, and it's unlikely that there would be anyone on this planet who hasn't heard it. Prejudging something/someone based on outward appearances is still a common practice. For Cuddles the pit bull, she had two things going against her: the prevalent prejudice against her breed, and the time she spent in a dogfighting ring. Despite all this, and even being sentenced to death at one point, Cuddles turned her life around for the better. Today, with her second lease on life, she has earned a Ph.D. and become a veteran's reason to get out of bed in the morning.
According to a report by PEOPLE about the resilient Cuddles, she was one among the 21 pit bulls pulled during a dog fighting ring bust in Ontario, Canada, in 2015. Though they'd escaped the abuse they had been subjected to, the dogs' suffering was far from over. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) evaluated the canines' behavior in order to determine what had to be done with them next. Unfortunately, the evaluator claimed they were too dangerous to be rehomed due to their past and suggested that they all be put down.
Lucky for the dogs, known as Ontario 21, animal rights activists like Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary from King City, Ontario, approached the court to re-assess the dogs. After a long drawn out legal battle of almost two years, they finally got permission to bring in a third-party evaluator to assess the pit bulls again. This was when Jim Crosby, a retired police lieutenant from Florida, came into their lives. Crosby had dedicated his post-retirement years to researching the way dogs behave especially when they get aggressive. Apart from holding a Master's degree in Veterinary Forensics, he is also a Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA).
With his experience in the field and a keen understanding of dog behavior, he was able to approach the Ontario 21's case (now Ontario 31 since 10 puppies were born after the dogs were seized) with a fresh perspective. Speaking about his process, Crosby said, "When I go in, I go in basically and start each dog at a 0 regardless of what I am told. I don't go in looking for a pass-fail, I look for triggers and problems." After evaluating whether the dogs would respond to training and be able to form caring human bonds, he cleared 29 of the 31 dogs for eventual placement following retaining.
Cuddles happened to be one of the 29 cleared and she was sent to Florida, where she was put under the care of Pit Sisters, a non-profit organization aiming to find forever homes for pit bulls. The founder of the non-profit, Jen Deane, placed the smiley Cuddles in their TAILS (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills) prison program, where she was taught basic obedience and received some much-needed human socialization by working with an inmate. The pit bull reveled in the individual attention she received and excelled in the program to such an extent that she was awarded a Ph.D. from The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), the highest honor offered by the association.
Additionally, Cuddles also earned herself an AKC Canine Good Citizen certification. She finally got the much deserved happy ending to her story in fall 2018 when Deane handed her over to her new owner Billy Brauer. The retired firefighter and veteran, who'd suffered a stroke, found a new friend in sweet little Cuddles. Speaking about the impact the pit bull has had on her father's life, Brauer's daughter Carolyn Schwerdtfeger said, "She is a true companion. She gives him a reason to get out of bed every morning. He feeds her, talks to her, plays with her, grooms her and loves her."
She added that Brauer had been anxious and depressed prior to Cuddles coming into his life. The two of them became the best of friends right from the beginning as the canine immediately warmed up to the 73-year-old. "She smiles and her tail is constantly wagging. She is always happy to see everyone and just wants love. She gives kisses and high fives," Brauer gushed about his furry friend. The visibly happier veteran added that he was looking forward to parenting Cuddles for the rest of her life. He also hopes that her story would serve as a reminder that everyone deserves a second chance in life and highlight the importance of every dog being given the resources to overcome abuse.
Crosby couldn't agree more with Cuddles' human. "The biggest lesson from this whole thing is that not everyone has the ability and resources to help dogs like Cuddles, and that is something we need to work towards, but where we have the ability to give dogs a second chance, I think we have an obligation to do that. Some dogs that come from the worst scenarios have the potential to succeed if we find the time and place for them. Cuddles was raised and trained to fight and kill other dogs. But with a second chance, despite the abuse she has suffered, she is now assisting someone who needs her help and they are working as a team," he said.