A few years ago, in the wake of harrowing treatments for a life-threatening cancer, North Bay resident Christine Del Ponte started volunteering with dogs in nearby shelters. "After all of my treatments, I was left feeling very depressed," she recalls. "I was looking for something to help me work my way out of that dark space, and I found dogs."
She was soon drawn to those who stood little chance of getting out alive—the shy ones, the terrified ones, the ones with medical issues, the ones who couldn't tolerate the shelter environment—and determined to help them change their fate, or, as she says, "make overlooked dogs appealing." Oso, a large, depressed pitbull shut down in the corner of his cage, was the first to go home with Del Ponte for some intensive one-on-one to discover who he really was, and what kind of family was best for him. After a lifetime of neglect, Oso blossomed into a guy who wanted his person all to himself, and was soon adopted. He was the first of many. "Dogs ended up being my savior," says Del Ponte today. "In learning how to rehabilitate dogs, I rehabilitated myself."
Along the way, Del Ponte founded The Tiny Pitbull, pulling dogs from crowded, high-kill shelters, placing them with a growing network of fosters, getting them the specialized attention they needed, and quickly networking them into loving homes.
In September 2015, TTP became a partner of Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, which had been a big supporter of their work. That's made a life-and-death difference to hundreds of dogs in the last year, as the two groups help each other out in many ways, especially spreading the word about each other's dogs. You don't have to be a pit bull, but it doesn't hurt.
Meanwhile, says Del Ponte, the group's dedicated fosters and volunteers, including some skilled social networkers, continue to offer a safety net to dogs in many shelters who, for whatever reason, are having trouble getting adopted. That's the story with Shea, who lost her home last year when the Valley fire devastated Lake County and was in peril when no one took her home.
Fortunately for this excellent family dog, TTP came to the rescue. Shea got much-needed heartworm treatment and is enjoying life in her foster home, but now she's ready for her own family. Her fosters report that she's good with other dogs and likes kids. She also likes cats, but not in a good way, so it's a no-kitty home for her. Are you the one for her? Check her out on Facebook and schedule a meet-and-greet!
Photo: Shea (left) with foster brother and TTP alum Jackson.