Wendy Kennedy knows as well as anyone about the negative press pit bulls get.
When she’s upset about that, however, the one thing that comforts her the most is her scarred but resilient black pit bull named Gage.
In most cases, Gage’s story would have ended 14 months ago.
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He was found on fire by firefighters during a Gulfport house fire in October 2015. Firefighters called animal control, who then contacted the Humane Society of South Mississippi.
Kennedy said she and HSSM staff members first thought they would have to put the pit bull down because nearly 60 percent of the dog’s body had severe burns. The worst concentration of burns were toward the rear of his back. A burn pattern extended up around his neck and face.
At the shelter, however, Gage’s personality convinced Kennedy and staff to do everything they could to help care for the severely injured dog.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Kennedy said. “After everything that dog had been through, he was licking everyone despite all his pain. We all fell in love with him.”
Since that day, Kennedy and Gage have been inseparable. Besides treatment for Gage’s severe burns five days a week, she stood by the dog’s side through months of laser therapy and hydrotherapy.
She routinely unwrapped his bandages and treated his wounds. Gage also needed heartworm treatment, which is a three-month process. In Gage’s case, it was bad.
“He was one of the worst cases I’d seen,” Kennedy said.
Fourteen months later, and with Gage’s remarkable recovery, Kennedy faced a tough choice.
At first, she was going to let the shelter hold onto Gage and await adoption. But she changed her mind. Gage had suffered in a horrific fire, she thought, only to show love to everyone who saw him. Then it was very likely he wouldn’t be adopted. He wasn’t a puppy. He’s a pit bull, and he’s black — fewer black cats and dogs are adopted or bought from pet stores out of a fear or superstition.
So Kennedy said she decided to officially adopt Gage this week.
Opinions vary widely on pit bulls. Some people believe the breed is inherently unpredictable.
In recent days, a 15-year-old boy lost his leg after a pit bull attacked him and his 5-year-old brother.
Kennedy, who has studied up on the breed, said cultural issues often are a determining factor in the dog’s disposition.
Any dog or cat that is brought up in a certain environment can be scarred forever. In other cases, there are several instances of puppy mills where overbreeding in unhealthy conditions takes place. It’s in response to a “thug-market,” Kennedy said, and one of the biggest issues with the pit bull breed is irresponsible owners.
Animal cruelty is common in the underworld of pit bull breeding.
“Now it’s pit bulls,” she said. “Before it was Doberman Pinschers or German Shepherds. It has more to do with ownership than anything else.”
A new life
Now Gage serves as a way for Kennedy to educate the public on the role of the shelter.
Kennedy, Gage and shelter officials often visit elementary schools in the area. She lets the kids know where stray animals often come from and why they sometimes get a bad name. She tries to impart to them how to be responsible pet owners.
Kennedy advertises the animals on her own Facebook page and the Humane Society of South Mississippi website. It has proven effective in getting people to adopt the animals, especially older dogs who have trouble attracting owners.
The HSSM is the largest non-profit animal welfare organization in Mississippi.
Over the course of a year, the shelter will see up to 8,000 animals.