An amazing thing happened when Belle and Bullwinkle walked into a classroom…
As the door opened, the squeals of excitement from the children caused little Belle’s tail to quickly spin like a propeller with mirrored excitement. She knew exactly what she was there for as she eagerly trotted over to the seated group of children, and the children knew all about Belle, too.
Belle loves her job, teaching children to be safe around dogs!
Before Belle was known as the adorable little girl who works for belly rubs with her own hashtag (#bellethebaitdog), she had a much darker past. A past I knew little about, until she came into my life 15 months ago.
It was November, 2014 when I first received the call about Belle.
The chief dog warden from Cleveland reached out to me via email with a short description about the condition and location she was found in. Being part of an ongoing investigation, there are details surrounding Belle that I still cannot discuss today.
Belle’s journey to a life of belly rubs was a rough one.
What we can say is that Belle came in bearing all the markings of a “bait dog.”
This is a term I’m cautious with, since it is quickly being over used in the rescue community whenever a stray dog with a scratch or two is found on them. While many dogs can get into fights and they can be bad (particularly stray dogs who have to compete for resources), a true bait dog is systematically used, over and over again, as a training tool for dog fighters.
Dogs that have to endure these most heinous acts of animal cruelty are typically only found when an active dog fighting ring is busted, or when a dog escapes with its life. Sadly, most bait dogs are killed by injuries sustained during attacks, or immediately afterwards. The most tenacious bait dogs survive the longest, and bear the most markings and scars (both physical and emotional) from the life of horror they were forced to live.
We believe that Belle escaped with her life, and just barely at that.
Her extensive injuries required months of rehabilitation, from her physical needs to her emotional needs.
Emaciated and severely wounded, Belle had clearly been in multiple fights. The lower part of her jaw was falling off, her cuspids (the fangs, or sharp teeth of a dog) were cut cleanly off (rather than a stray or chained dog who was worn down their teeth prematurely by chewing on rocks, a sign of neglect that is oftentimes mistaken as an indicator of dog fighting), her ears were mangled to the point that they now resemble antlers, and once the anesthesia wore off after her jaw was pieced back together…you couldn’t get Belle 100 feet from another dog before she let out a screeching howl/bark that indicate that her vocal cords were at one time crushed by another dog.
When I see a dog with a scratch on its nose and everyone yells “bait dog,” I’m instantly reminded of Belle’s jaw
It is all of these things, coupled by the incredible display of sweetness that she exhibited even in the moments that she was in the most excruciating pain in her life that make Belle such a wonderful dog to take to schools as part of the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio’s Youth Education Program.
Dog bites happens. Before we go any further, if you think “pit bulls” are the problem, I encourage you to read two of my previously published blogs before mindlessly ranting and cutting/pasting in the comments section below:
The Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics Behind Dog Bites
The Real Solution to Protecting Pit Bulls
It is a fact that children are the number one demographic to be bitten by a dog. It is also a fact that while only 1.8 percent of all emergency department dog bite visits result in hospitalization, the majority of those are children and the elderly.
Rather than targeting dogs based on their appearance, a faulty practice promoted by no reputable organization, the general consensus is that education coupled with breed neutral, dangerous dog laws are the keys to a safer community.
The bonus of having little Belle with me, is that we get to do more than just talk about how to “stand like a tree.” We also get to discuss my job, which is an animal cruelty investigator.
We get to talk about the importance of being kind to all animals and we go over the type of food, water and shelter the dogs in their neighborhood should have access to.
And as the children learn the proper way to pet a dog, they also run their fingers over Belle’s scars and study her ears and her face intently. Even at a young age, these children are touched by what this happy little dog has gone through and they are glued to their seats, attentively listening through the entire presentation.
I would be a little remiss, even though this blog is being written for Pit Bull Friday, if I didn’t mention Belle’s co-star in the show, the goofiest Doberman you ever will meet by the name of Bullwinkle.
Not only is it remarkable that Belle can be such a great ambassador and carry such an important job as the travels with me across Ohio to various schools, she has also learned how to be friends with other dogs despite her past.
Bullwinkle towers over little Belle, a reminder many times to me that while the “Pit Bull Terrier-type dog” is the popular dog of the past two decades to be overbred and abused, it wasn’t that long ago before it was the Doberman (along with other breeds) who was overbred, abused and vilified in large numbers.
But all the children see are two goofy dogs, and all the dogs see are a room full of small humans that smell incredibly interesting, and will most likely give out enough belly rubs to get them through to the next dog safety class we teach.
Steffen Baldwin is the Founder, President and CEO of the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio, a private nonprofit Humane Society with a unique focus on animal cruelty investigation services, providing enforcement services within our jurisdiction and providing education and assistance/support services beyond our jurisdiction.
We will travel state-wide through Ohio. Other locations may be considered, however we cannot incur any costs as we are funded entirely through donations.
To inquire about Belle and Bullwinkle, please email [email protected] To support our youth education efforts, donation options can be found on the home page and under “donate” here.
To contact Steffen, please email [email protected]