Suspected Dogfighting Survivor Goes from Harrowing Past to Heartwarming Home

April 8, 2024

“Because I knew that Mila was in a suspected dogfighting scenario, I honestly think it made me want her more,” says Ashley B., Mila’s adopter. “I wanted to show her that she deserved a family; there was never going to be any harm in her life after that.”

In July 2022, Mila was brought to the ASPCA Cruelty Recovery Center (CRC), in Columbus, Ohio, after being rescued from a suspected dogfighting operation.

Despite her harrowing past and medical conditions, Mila, a pit bull puppy, came to us with youthful exuberance.


“When Mila came in, she was very young, juvenile-like, sociable and playful with us, but she also had what appeared to be an old injury to her back leg. When she walked, she had this awkward gait to her,” explains Dr. Crista Coppola, Senior Director of Animal Behavior at the CRC.

Caring for Mila’s Medical Conditions

When Mila arrived at the CRC, she underwent a full exam with our forensic science team where they found scarring on all four legs and her head, consistent with healing bite wounds. She also had deformities in her back legs, causing her hind limbs to hyperextend.

“Her back left leg was noted to be more severely affected, causing her pain and difficulty walking,” explains Dr. Maggie Joel, a CRC veterinarian. “We started her on pain medications for her leg and recommended a consultation with an orthopedic specialist.”


When Mila saw the veterinary orthopedic specialist in August, they discovered that her back left leg had severe previous trauma, which caused her hip to luxate and not sit properly in the socket. A procedure called a femoral head ostectomy (FHO) was recommended to help improve Mila’s quality of life.

“This is where the femoral head is removed from the top of the femur, removing the damaged bone and allowing the hip joint to heal over time,” explains Dr. Joel. “This procedure is fairly invasive, but the goal was to help relieve her pain and allow her to walk normally long term.”

Following her consultation, the orthopedic specialist performed Mila’s surgery later that month. The young dog’s road to recovery had only just begun, but she had a dedicated team at the CRC to help her along the way.


“Mila was very much a staff favorite amongst the CRC medical team,” Dr. Joel tells us. “She was known for her goofy antics in the kennel, but sweet and docile side when interacting with us.”

After her surgery, Mila underwent extensive physical therapy. Despite the amount of pain Mila was in, coupled with the long recovery process from surgery, she remained a happy, loving puppy and an absolute trooper.

“Immediately after her surgery, Mila struggled with pain, but would let us perform her physical therapy willingly—as long as there was cheese and frozen baby food present!” Dr. Joel recalls. “Her care started with simple icing and range of motion work and progressed to daily physical therapy exercises. Over the course of the first month, she began to gain strength and use the leg again. After another month of continued walks and exercise, she increased her muscle strength in that leg and began to walk, romp and play normally again. She could often be found snoozing in the medical office after her exercises.”

Working with Suspected Dogfighting Survivors

When working with suspected dogfighting survivors, our staff is diligent in assessing both their medical and behavior conditions to provide the animals with the best possible outcome.

“When we work with dogs from suspected dogfighting cases, some of the things we take into consideration are their relationships, including their behavior around other dogs,” explains Jessi Henry, Senior Manager of Animal Behavior at the CRC.

Our team at the CRC will run an evaluation on these dogs and assess how they behave around other dogs and their level of fear.

“Sometimes these dogs are locked away in areas and only pulled out for the [dogfighting] activity, so they’re not properly socialized,” Jessi tells us. “Sometimes we have to start at square one and just socialize them with basic, everyday things. Things like sunlight, bicycles, people walking by or a car horn can be really novel to them because they’re not used to being around that kind of stimulus.”

And while Mila may have taken a few days to warm up to everyone at the CRC and showed mild fear around new sounds, she did not show any signs of fear around new people and places or around other dogs. In fact, she loved other dogs and always wanted to be around her people.


“Words that described her are goofy, silly, fun. She has a presence about her that, when she’s around, you know she’s around, and you want to be around her because she just makes you feel happy,” says Jessi.

Becoming a Helper Dog

Though Jessi and Dr. Coppola didn’t work with Mila on some of the typical behaviors suspected dogfighting survivors exhibit like cowering, growling or agitation, they still worked closely with her and the medical staff during her recovery.

Because Mila couldn’t play on her back leg for quite some time, they had to manage her puppy energy in other ways, like keeping her mind busy with enrichment activities.

“We would do fun kennel time enrichment—like bully sticks, boxes smeared with peanut butter and yummy treats, frozen chicken broth popsicles, or busy boxes stuffed with goodies and things to shred—and office time,” says Jessi.


Dr. Coppola and Jessi also worked with Mila through her physical therapy.

“We would let her use her leg in short spurts and we’d teach her how to walk upstairs and how to strengthen that leg without over-using it,” says Dr. Coppola.

Two months after Mila’s surgery, she was finally cleared medically and ready to look for a loving home. Unfortunately, it took some time for Mila to find her person. But while she waited, the happy-go-lucky pup was finally able to get back out to the play yard with her canine friends. In fact, Mila loved playing and other dogs so much that she became a helper dog at the CRC.

“A helper dog is a dog that is friendly and able to interact with multiple play styles,” Jessi explains. “We use those dogs when we’re assessing other dogs. We find that having a dog that is confident and has those types of skills can really bring out the personality in the other dogs.”

When Jessi and her team would run playgroups, Mila was almost always on the list.

Finding Her Person

Though it took some time for Mila to find the right adopter, our Placement team at the CRC remained determined to find her the loving home she deserved.

In February of 2023, Mila’s luck turned when Ashley, a recent Ohio State University graduate and medical assistant in radiation oncology, found Mila on the Petfinder website.


“I knew I wanted a pit bull; I’ve always wanted one, so I just Googled ‘pit bulls in Columbus’ and found Mila,” explains Ashley. “I wanted a pit bull because of the stereotype. I feel like they’re gentle giants and it really hurts my heart because they get such a bad rap.”

Growing up, Ashley’s dog, Macy, was a pit bull-lab-mix, and despite being the happiest, sweetest dog, when people found out she was a pit bull, they’d back away.

“That always really bothered me, so I wanted to get one for myself and show that they really are the best dogs,” says Ashely.


Not only was Ashely looking for a pit bull, she was specifically looking for a companion who could go on runs and long hikes with her in addition to enjoying some chill time hanging out on the couch for a movie night. Ashley was looking for her new BFF, and that’s exactly what Mila was prepared to give her.

“When I went to meet Mila at the CRC, she did her zoomies and ran around and then when she was finished she just came up and plopped on the couch next to me and laid with me. I was like ‘you’re perfect, that’s exactly what I want,’” Ashely remembers.

Just shy of seven months in our care, Mila had finally found the person she’d been waiting for.

A Place to Call Home

Like many dogs when they are adjusting to a new place, Mila showed some initial anxiety when Ashley first brought her home.

“She was scared of trash cans, loud noises, thunderstorms—all that type of stuff,” Ashley explains. “So, we had to work on really making sure that she was immersed in loud noises to get her used to it, especially because we live on a busy street.”

In college, Ashley worked with an organization that trained puppies to become service dogs, which gave her a leg up when it came to working with Mila. In fact, working with Mila was a breeze and just one year later, Mila doesn’t seem to have a nervous bone in her body.


“She loves to be all cuddled up in bed or on the couch. She's always snuggled up with somebody,” Ashley explains. “Every time I wake up in the morning, she snuggles up right next to me because she sleeps right on top of me. And when I come home from work, she’s staring at me out of the window like she knows the time. She’s just the happiest thing in the whole world. I think she's made a big turnaround since I first got her.”

In addition to Ashley, Mila has become best friends with Olive, Ashely’s roommate’s dog. The duo run around all the time, get each other’s energy out and even don matching Ohio State University bandanas. 


Since bringing Mila home, Ashley has found that the young dog has changed her life for the better.

“Honestly, I can’t imagine my life without Mila anymore,” she says. “All around I would say that Mila has made my life a thousand times better. She made me a happier person, a more active person—we go on daily walks and runs and have an awesome time when we go on hikes on the weekend. It’s like I have my own little built-in best friend. She’s completely changed my life and makes me a better person.”


But Ashley isn’t the only one grateful that Mila is by her side. All our staff at the CRC are over the moon that Mila is living her best life with Ashley.

“I loved Mila. She was an office dog for me, and I have pictures of her sitting on her bed,” says Dr. Coppola. “Knowing that she’s in a loving home really just warms my heart. She will always be that dog that I remember.”


“Mila is a very special pup, and we are so proud of how far she has come,” says Dr. Joel. “She is truly the definition of a ‘happy tail!’”

“It’s heartwarming to have dogs come through from these suspected dogfighting cases and not only thrive in playgroup with multiple dogs, but then go on to live a normal life where they’re getting that affection and love and the basic things that pet dogs get,” says Jessi. “Walks, beds, toys—all those things that Mila didn’t have where she came from—we were lucky enough to provide those to her, and now in her loving home she gets those things too.”


Adopting a Suspected Dogfighting Survivor or Former Cruelty Victim

Having been rescued from horrific conditions, all dogs like Mila want is a place to rest their head and for someone to love them for who they are. Yet, far too often, unfair bias and misconceptions keep these dogs in shelters, waiting for someone to see that they’re more than just their past. While every dog will experience trauma differently and heal in different ways, we’ve seen countless dogs like Mila go on to become beloved pets.

“In my opinion, I think most people would think that a dog who comes from a suspected dogfighting scenario would be either very scared or aggressive around other dogs. Mila is not that way at all,” Ashley tells us. “She is the first dog to run up to another dog to be like, ‘Hey, do you want to play with me?’ She’s always wagging her tail at any animal at all. She’s not afraid to be in new situations or around other dogs, new people, kids, anything like that. She’s the biggest baby ever.”


As we recognize National Dogfighting Awareness Day on April 8, consider becoming an advocate for suspected dogfighting victims like Mila. Whether that means adopting a former victim or simply sharing Mila’s story with friends, family or on social media, you can make a life-changing difference.

If you’re considering adopting a dog, Ashley offers some advice.

“Always keep an open mind. Dogs who have been in bad situations aren’t bad dogs and don’t deserve less of a loving home and a family. They just want to be your best friend and be there for you, so if you could provide a really great, loving home and a loving environment for them, all they’re going to do is love you right back.”