The Redemptive Power of Faith

All of the photos obtained and displayed among this post are courtesy of DCL (Animal Planet/Discovery Channel) and depict moments from Season 4 of Animal Planet’s popular show “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” a series that highlights the day to day operations of Villalobos Rescue Center (VRC) and its mission to provide refuge, care, and adoptive services to Pit Bulls in desperate need of rescue.

The feature image at the top of this post depicts two pit bulls, a parolee named Earl, and Mariah, the daughter of VRC founder, Tia Torres. I chose this photo for the feature because I believe it communicates the best of what VRC sets out to achieve. In this photo, Grizzly, the adorable brown Pit Bull nestled closely to Earl, is encountering his first day out on the streets of New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter. What is amazing about this seemingly ordinary photo is that Earl and Mariah had been tasked to expose Grizzly to the streets of the Quarter because his potential adopter frequented this area, so they wanted to ensure that Grizzly could handle the hustle and bustle of busy New Orleans streets. This pre-adoption exercise might sound like common due diligence, but VRC appears first and foremost to be a sanctuary for Pits, hosting hundreds of dogs and tending to their medical, social, and emotional needs. Yet amid all of these services rendered, the Rescue Center does its best to make sure that even when a dog leaves its grounds, it does so under proper and healthy circumstances. VRC goes as far as to perform home checks, often traveling out of state to bring dogs to their prospective homes and owners.

Still, what remains a controversial point, and one that is stressed time and time again by Torres and her staff throughout the series, is that many people fret at the mention of “Pit Bull.” The show’s introductory message notes that this breed, although often portrayed as highly aggressive, is actually one of the most “misunderstood.” This was something that I had heard from Pit Bull owners prior to viewing “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” but I had never spent much time with the breed or witnessed many Pits interacting with other dogs or people. Unfortunately, my view of Pits had been previously informed and defined by media outlets and the stories they chose to run and images they selected and deemed worthy of public viewership–particularly stories of dog fighting rings and photos and videos of Pit Bulls chained to poles, trees, sheds, and other objects, as they stared menacingly into the camera. What I did not know then is that in many of these cases, these dogs had been trained, coerced, or forced to survive under inhumane and unjust circumstances. Still, perception remains reality in the eyes of many, and media outlets attract heavy viewership and phenomenal ratings from such grotesque and sometimes misleading stories.

In light of some of our dominant culture’s views and portrayals of Pit Bulls, what is often overlooked is the rehabilitation of such dogs–while some Pits never fully recover or trust other dogs and/or humans, many Pits make full recoveries and seek love, affection, and basic needs, just like other dogs that we commonly adore. And the horrific accounts of Pits that we are frequently exposed to fail to recognize the thousands of Pit Bulls that exist among our nation and world in loving homes, as many provide playful and loyal affection for their owners much like a Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Boxer, Bulldog, or any other dog breed regularly recognized for its affinity for people and families.

Images below illustrate more moments from Season 4 of “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” and one cannot help but notice the innocence and desire for safety, love, and a consistent lifestyle that these dogs desire. From being rescued from adverse circumstances to undergoing medical exams and finally interacting with members of Torres’ staff and meeting potential adopters, the Pits of VRC have seen and experienced a lot.

While the highlight of this post has been the operations of VRC, its beautiful and redemptive mission, and of course the Pits the Center exists for in the first place, I would be telling only half of the story if I were to overlook the prerequisites for employment at VRC: must have criminal record. Come again? While most employers will explicitly note that potential employees must have a clean record, Torres seeks parolees in hopes of providing them a chance if they display a passion for the work and dedication to the job. Sensing a common theme?

Possibly the most refreshing element of this story is its faith. Torres and her staff transmit an energy that suggests they believe in the value of those left behind, those trying to make amends for past transgressions, and everyone in between. If this does not provide a sense of hope and faith in restorative justice and new beginnings, then little or nothing does. While I am cognizant of other rescue missions and noble causes, I could think of no other that touches my heart the way Torres’ operation and intention to stand up for and believe in a breed of dog and demographic of man that are all too often blindly judged and overlooked.

Certainly, and like anything else, not everything works out as planned at VRC–but Torres’ ongoing vision would not be an operation of profound faith and hope if its outcomes were predetermined. The vulnerability that she and her staff expose themselves to can be likened to that of the dogs they rescue, and it might be in that common bond that they forge understanding and resolve to push through the darkness that brought them together in the first place.

“What I absolutely want is to suggest that before it’s anything else, redemption is God mending the bicycle of our souls; God bringing out the puncture repair kit, re-inflating the tires, taking off the rust, making us roadworthy once more. Not so that we can take flight into ecstasy, but so that we can do the next needful mile of our lives.”

-Francis Spufford

For more information on Villalobos Rescue Center, including contact information, you can visit their website: Villalobos Rescue Center


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