UPDATE, 2/25/2019: David McMurtrie and Kayli Sparks, the Detroit couple mentioned later in this article, are now facing charges of animal cruelty. Read more on the Detroit Free Press.
While you have probably heard of Tia Torres and the Villalobos Rescue Center (VRC) thanks to the hit Animal Planet series, Pit Bulls and Parolees, you may not know that the rescue existed 15 years prior to the reality show. In a more interesting twist, the rescue, which started in California, was originally conceived to care for wolves. As surprising as it is, it makes a lot of sense considering ‘Villalobos’ means ‘House of Wolves’ in Spanish. Over time, the rescue evolved to what you see on television – and into what Tia puts all of her passion into – a rescue dedicated to saving Pit Bull type dogs.
Pit Bulls and Parolees helped VRC gain attention and much-needed donations, but the cameras are not there for every ordeal the rescue goes through. From financial struggles to community outreach, Tia is constantly exploring new ways to adapt to the challenges before her.
On February 15th, 2016 VRC announced that the Pit Stop For Change Rescue And Rehabilitation would be the first rescue involved in their new mentor program. We had the opportunity to speak with Tia, as well as Kayli Sparks from Pit Stop, to get some insight on the program.
Kayli described Pit Stop’s original purpose as, “a way to help other local rescues or dogs that needed veterinary attention by selling t-shirts and donating all of the proceeds.” After reading an emotional story on Facebook about two dogs named Will and Grace that were struggling to get out of a neglectful environment, Kayli started working with more Detroit rescues.
She told us how she paired up with Dave McMurtrie (aka DavePitPrideScottishGuy), and what drove her to be more active in rescue:
I always heard of this guy, DavePitPrideScottishGuy and saw what he did for dogs, [I] reached out to him about a dog named Mr. Sweets (I named him that because he was so sweet). No one would help me. I tried everything in my power to get this dog, buying, trading, taking him to the vet. The owners wouldn’t take $500 for him.
Every time I left [him], I would cry. My heart broke and after 10 months of feeding Mr. Sweets, Dave and I joined forces and liberated our old handsome sweetness and that’s when we became Pit Stop For Change Rescue & Rehabilitation!
We will continue to help with mentoring as long as VRC is alive. If the cameras want to follow the story… great. If not, we’re doing it regardless.
Detroit and New Orleans share a lot of similarities with canine overpopulation and a struggling economy. These similarities give Tia insight into what Pit Stop is going through, which makes her the perfect mentor for them.
We know how easy it is to get overwhelmed ESPECIALLY in an area like Detroit, where times are hard and resources are minimal. So we want to help them not only find financial and physical support but emotional as well.
There are some differences though, like the brutal winter weather in Detroit. Tia told us:
Dogs are left outside in horrific conditions and I can only imagine how difficult it is to convince people to come out to adopt a dog in these types of weather.
But the majority of the problems are the same. Rescues have to be inventive to overcome their challenges. Tia has experience doing that.
Then there is the lack of resources in the immediate area so I’m exploring other options for them to expand their area for support as well as coming up with some unique marketing strategies.
Besides the frequent issues with weather and resources, Detroit also has a significant dog fighting problem. Tia intends to take that battle head on.
She told us:
Working with these type of dogs, is no different than dealing with other Pit Bulls. Although some fighting dogs can be “conditioned” to be “more dog aggressive,” they’ve been some of the friendliest dogs we’ve seen!”
According to Kayli, some of the biggest daily issues are coping with things like heartworms, Parvo, and Coccidia. These may seem common for rescue animals, but they are expensive to treat.
We are upgrading the kennels in the house so they are easier to clean and a little sturdier and the list is endless. A few problems would be solved with more funding/donations.
Luckily, Pit Stop has River Rouge’s Mayor, Michael Bowdler’s support. He’s an invaluable ally for the group and pups in need.
Pitbulls And Parolees has detailed, in part, the impact the incarceration of Tia’s husband (AJ Jackson), has had on their lives. The humans of Pit Stop are no strangers to that struggle. When we asked Kayli’s partner Dave about how prison life impacted what they rescue work, he made it clear that the experience left him empathetic to life spent in a cage.
Prison life is hard to understand. You really can’t until you experience it. I earned my way into a cage — these poor dogs didn’t. So, we try to make their life as enjoyable as possible… toys, treats, walks, lovins, and as much time out of their kennels as possible.
Having the space to house more dogs is a constant battle in the shelter and rescue world. Kayli told us that sometimes they are faced with the hard decision of turning animals away.
We don’t euthanize for space and usually don’t have an open kennel. We offer good places to board dogs like Dix Animal Hospital. They have great rates, it’s clean, the staff is very nice, and Dr. Chadha is amazing. We offer training and advise [people] of [which] shelters are better than others. If we see an animal in need while we are driving or running by the house, we never turn our heads away. You really can’t. They need help.
Pit Stop and VRC have already started their journey by running a successful fundraiser. The Villalobos Mentoring Program should open new possibilities for Pit Stop, and hopefully, give them all the help they need to continue to save animals.