A Tale of Two Sheas
After Melinda L. and her partner, David, brought home a blue nose pit bull named Shea, they soon understood the widespread bias against pit bulls.
“I experienced the discrimination first-hand,” says Melinda. “I’ve had folks shout at me from a distance to avoid Shea; I’ve also had parents push their children away from us.”
That prejudice inspired Melinda to both advocate for and foster pit bulls and large dogs.
“I have a whole family of large dogs,” says Melinda. “My cousin and sister have pit bulls, and my aunt and uncle had a Rottweiler—the best dog ever—when I was growing up.”
Melinda posted photos of Shea on Instagram and noticed other pit bull enthusiasts promoting adoption, fostering and volunteering.
“There are a lot of positive efforts to address the problem of the large population of homeless pit bulls,” she says. “I started following accounts of people with multiple resident and foster pit bulls, which made fostering seem achievable.”
“We typically have a difficult time finding fosters for our larger dogs and especially pit bulls,” says Dora Garcia, Administrator at the ASPCA Canine Annex for Recovery and Enrichment (CARE). “Many buildings, especially in New York City, have weight or breed limitations, and there are biases, too. We’ve had a surge of large dog fosters during COVID-19, but we always need more.”
For Melinda and David, it wouldn’t be long before another large dog would find her way to their home and hearts.
A Second Shea
Just before Christmas 2019, a three-year-old dog named Shea was brought to the ASPCA by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). This Shea was found in an apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Her owner was arrested and ownership of Shea was ultimately transferred to the ASPCA.
“She was emaciated and suffered from bacterial skin and urinary tract infections,” says Dr. Alison Liu, Forensic Veterinarian who served as the lead on Shea’s case and testified on her behalf. “She was also dehydrated, an indicator that she did not have adequate access to water. X-Rays also showed that she had previous rib fractures, which had healed.”
In the Animal Recovery Center (ARC), ASPCA staff placed Shea on a careful re-feeding diet. In January, she moved to CARE, slowly reaching a healthy weight, and her infections cleared.
“She went from 34 to 51 lb., an increase of more than 40 percent, and had reached a healthy weight by the end of February,” says Dr. Liu.
The behavior and daily care teams at CARE worked hard to keep the energetic Shea active.
“Shea responded well to learning basic commands and even agility,” explains Christina Lee, Director of Behavior for ARC and CARE. “Even though she liked other dogs, she got excited and barked whenever she saw one.”
“In Shea’s case, not only did we need a foster who was willing to take a large dog, we needed an experienced person who could work with her reactive behavior,” adds Dora. “Toward that end, Melinda was a blessing; she checked all the boxes. And when she said her resident dog was also named Shea, it was like a clear sign.”
Melinda and David called Shea #2 “Citi” after Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. (The Mets’ previous home stadium was called Shea Stadium).
Introducing Citi and Shea
Melinda, a computer systems manager who lives on Long Island, learned about Citi in March, while she was working from home due to the pandemic.
“Being home meant I’d get to spend more time with a foster dog,” says Melinda. “We had casually talked about adding another dog to the family, and David wanted a pit bull. That she was originally named Shea wasn’t lost on us. He fell in love the moment he met her.”
Over the next 10 days, Melinda carefully and gradually introduced five-year-old Shea and three-year-old Citi.
The first day, she gated off the living and dining rooms—with bedsheets over the gates—leaving the kitchen in the middle as a buffer zone. The dogs saw each other only when Melinda periodically pulled back the sheets. Over the next few days, she pulled the gates in closer and closer to reduce the size of the buffer zone, and the dogs traded places each day to get familiar with each other’s scents.
“We stationed a ‘Treat and Train,’ a remote-controlled treat dispenser, for Citi,” Melinda says. “Every time I saw Citi turn toward Shea, I rewarded her for doing ‘nothing.’”
On the fifth day Melinda was down to just one gate. On the tenth day, they were allowed to interact, and Melinda gradually increased their one-on-one play sessions as they developed a relationship.
“Citi thrived with Melinda,” says Dora. “We really appreciated her progress reports.”
On July 2, Melinda and David adopted Citi. And true to their fostering nature, the couple recently took on a new foster pup, Chicky—another pit-mix—who is benefitting from her human and canine caregivers.
“Citi really surprised us by filling the mother role this young pup needs,” Melinda says. “We’re excited to foster more pups with her help.”