Like most people who volunteer in animal organizations, the founders of The Loveabulls Project wanted to do more for dogs. They decided that meant doing something different.
“We have a lot of rescues in this town doing really good stuff, and I didn’t want to just be another group that’s muddying the waters,” said Maggie Clarke, of Baton Rouge.
So, Loveabulls has been helping pit bulls and those who love them.
Although Loveabulls provides dogs for adoption, it is not primarily a rescue organization. Rather, the nonprofit group tries to lower the number of pit bulls who end up in shelters.
Clarke, 30, began volunteering at Companion Animal Alliance three years ago after she and her husband, Stephen, moved here from Reno, Nevada. She owned a Chihuahua and a Yorkshire terrier mix, but didn’t recognize a dog she saw while caring for CAA’s strays.
“Looked like a regular old dog to me — a tan dog, big head,” Clarke said. “I fell in love with her. I happened to look around and I realized a lot of the dogs had that same, similar look. It’s sort of a gut check when you realize the odds of all these dogs finding a ‘happily ever after’ when they all look the same. It’s not good.”
They were pit bulls, which seemed to be disproportionately represented in the shelter. Clarke adopted the dog, which she named Mary, and started working with Lafourche Parish Animal Shelter Manager Hilary Knight, Abby Knight and Joey Bunch to advocate for this breed. They formed a Facebook page, posted photos and made sure to bring the best-tempered pit bulls to pet adoption events. She also would bring Mary as an example of how good a pit bull could be.
Clarke didn’t realize how many people fear pit bulls based on stories of them attacking people.
“It wasn’t until I started taking Mary to adoption events and people would ask, ‘Oh, what kind of dog is she?’ And I would say, ‘A pit bull, a pit bull mix’ or whatever, and it was just almost immediately people would take two steps back, or people would kind of shoo their children around,” she said. “I wouldn’t have the dog here if she wasn’t a really, really good dog.
“That was sort of what fueled it, just watching … I think the need to help people see them as dogs, because they’re not always just seen as a dog. You can have a good dachshund or a bad dachshund. The same is true for a pit bull. They just happen to have a large head and a lot of muscles. … They’re a dog at the end of the day.”
Although Loveabulls still educates people about pit bulls and promotes their adoption, the focus has expanded to help pit bull owners keep their dogs when times are tough. Those in poverty can be forced to choose between keeping their dog and feeding themselves.
So, Loveabulls provides food, low-cost veterinary assistance, flea medicine, new collars and leashes to those in need. A grant from the state helps it offer free spaying or neutering to anyone on government assistance.
Loveabulls also provides free euthanasia. For those without transportation, Clarke uses her vehicle to take pets to the vet or pick up supplies.
“It’s a lot of people that live in these neighborhoods that we’re targeting,” she said. “They rely on the bus to get around. You can’t take Fluffy on the bus. So, if you don’t have a car, you can’t get them to the vet. While there are some organizations here in Baton Rouge that do spay and neuter, you have to be able to get to them.”
A recent Monday found Clarke picking up Rambo, a 2-year-old pit bull, in Tigerland to take him to be neutered. Later that morning, she delivered cat food to a woman near Plank Road and Evangeline Street. (Loveabulls doesn’t limit its services to pit bulls, or even to dogs.) Mark and Darcy Schaeffer took in Rambo in June when his owner moved and was unable to take him. Both are on disability, Darcy Schaeffer said, and they have no car.
“She has been sensational,” Mark Schaeffer said of Clarke.
All in a day’s work, Clarke said.
“Anything I can do to help somebody hang onto their pet,” she said. “These people, they want to do everything. It’s a matter of being able to afford it and being able to access it. … If I can be that bridge that gives them what they would love to have for their pet, that’s what I want.”