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Gale Frey holds her 40-pound pit bull as if it were an infant, cradling the dog in her arms and rocking gently back and forth. The docile dog — Sir Reginald Farnsworth the Third — contentedly drops off to sleep.
Seated on a park bench across the street from the Humane Society of Missouri headquarters on Macklind Avenue in St. Louis, Frey explains that Sir Reginald wasn't always so friendly. He was one of more than 500 pit bulls seized by federal law enforcement officials on July 9, 2009. Scars on Sir Reginald's lips and front legs indicate he had a long career as a fighter before he joined the Frey household.
"The first time my husband started cheering on the Rams, he hit the floor," Frey says. "He thought the fights were about to begin. We had to let him know that no, there are no more fights."
Frey is the founder of Mutts-n-Stuff, a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis that serves as a halfway house for fighting dogs. The organization is part of the Pit Bull Rescue Alliance, five groups nationwide that rehabilitate and resettle dogs that were originally bred to attack other animals.
On the one-year anniversary of the 2009 raids, several dozen people who adopted rescued pit bulls gathered in St. Louis for a memorial service and reception. As their dogs munched on gourmet treats, the owners, many sporting T-shirts that read "Save the dogs, euthanize the men and women who fight them," discussed the personality quirks of their pets.
"She's basically the perfect dog," Beth Rastberger says of her small pit bull, Vienna. "She loves other dogs, she loves play. People freak her out though — she's kind of timid around them."
Frey says that with proper care and plenty of exercise, the pit bulls can make excellent companions. "They don't come out of the womb saying, 'I'm going to kick your ass,'" she notes. Still, reformed fighters aren't for everyone. Like the Humane Society of Missouri, Mutts-n-Stuff screens applicants seeking to adopt the dogs.
Frey says her group primarily assesses "the level of activity and energy of the home. Honestly, people who adopt abused dogs, I think, are a different classification. They are people who are willing to modify their life to accommodate the dog. If you have a household full of screaming children and people coming in and out constantly, you don't want to adopt a frightened, timid dog."
The groups screen the dogs as well. Undesirable behaviors are, whenever possible, addressed and eliminated, and potential adopters are warned of temperamental quirks.
Frey started her organization in 2000. Last year she took in 47 of the 500 pit bulls seized in the multistate raid. Five of those dogs remain available for adoption.
The Humane Society of Missouri found homes for about 250 of the 500 rescued pit bulls. Jeanne Jae, spokeswoman for the animal-welfare organization, says only two of the dogs they took in — Brownie and Bob — remain in their care. Both were born in the group's shelter in the months following the raids.
The Humane Society charges $110 to adopt a pit bull, Mutts-n-Stuff $150. The fee covers all vaccinations and a microchip, as well as neutering or spaying. For more information visit www.hsmo.org or www.muttsandstuff.com.
For the complete story of the 2009 dog-fighting busts, please see this week's feature, "Dog Beat Dog".
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