​Adopting a pit bull terrier with special needs

Pit bull with medical and behavioral (reactivity) challenges finds just the right home to continue her training and give her the guidance she needs.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Daphne out on a hikeWith her sunny disposition and beefy good looks, Daphne was one of those dogs lots of people wish they could take home. But very few could seriously consider it. That’s because the big, friendly pit bull terrier mix had both health and behavioral issues that required a very specific kind of home, as well as a person who didn’t mind a challenge.

Sarah Catletti wasn’t fazed by the obstacles facing Daphne. She knew she could help the good-natured dog, who deserved a loving home, overcome her challenges. Today, Daphne is living happily with Sarah in Las Vegas after getting some much-needed help at the Sanctuary.

Help for a dog with neck and tail injuries

When Daphne (then called Mariska) came to Best Friends from a small local shelter, her first stop was the Best Friends Animal Clinic. She needed medical care for a long list of health issues. The poor girl had head-to-toe problems that needed addressing by our medical staff.

She had a wound on her neck that needed time to heal, a lump that needed to be removed and a history of “happy tail,” which is when a dog’s tail wags so enthusiastically that it hits surfaces (walls, furniture, etc.) hard enough to cause injury. Daphne’s tail was so damaged that part of it had to be removed. Six-year-old Daphne also has arthritis, for which she takes medication and receives hydrotherapy at the Sanctuary to ease her pain and keep her joints mobile and strong.

As Daphne began feeling better physically, she began to show more of her personality. She’s a goofy girl who is crazy about water and car rides. Between the veterinary staff and Dogtown caregivers at the Sanctuary, she earned quite a fan club. People knew she was a good companion to take on leisurely strolls — away from the hustle and bustle.

Adopting a dog with behavioral challenges

Daphne also revealed that she has a high prey drive and can be reactive toward other animals — especially toward other dogs when she is on a leash. She would have to be the only pet in a home, and she would need someone who could handle her considerable size and strength. She also showed signs of anxiety in hectic environments, so she needed a calm and quiet home with a dog-savvy person.

Finding a home and a person to match Daphne’s needs would be no easy feat — or so it seemed until Sarah arrived on the scene. But as Best Friends adoption specialist Lauren Casterline points out, Daphne’s story is an example of how dogs who are a bit harder to adopt can still find great homes.

Adopt a pet from the Sanctuary

Daphne the pit bull terrier enjoys a little cat nap

Searching for a pit bull terrier with special needs

Sarah had known about Best Friends for years, ever since DogTown aired on the National Geographic Channel. She knew that when the time came, she wanted to adopt her next dog from Best Friends. After losing the last member of her doggie crew to cancer, Sarah suddenly found herself with no pets and a very quiet household.

“I knew I wanted to adopt a pit bull with special needs, because I'm in a unique position to be able to handle them,” Sarah says. “With no children, no other pets and the desire and knowledge to do it, I knew I could take on a challenging case.”

Sarah contacted Best Friends and described exactly what she was looking for in a dog. Daphne was on the short list, and Sarah was soon on her way to Dogtown, where Daphne charmed her, just as she had charmed her Sanctuary caregivers.  

“My decision was made not only by her personality, but also by the care and love given to her by the clinic staff,” says Sarah. “It was obvious that she was dearly loved and very special to them.”

Daphne enjoys a fun dip in the doggy pool

Making a difference in a dog’s life

None of Daphne’s challenges — the medical issues, her reactivity toward other animals, her strength, her size or the fact that she’s a pit bull terrier mix (a type of dog often facing breed discrimination) — made Sarah turn away. “I knew she would be a very unadoptable dog to most people,” Sarah says, “but not to me. I didn't know how many chances at a forever home Daphne would get, and I wanted to make a difference in her life.”

Learn what you can do to end breed discrimination

Now, Daphne is living her dream life. She settled into her new home and her new routine very quickly. She loves going on walks, hikes and other adventures. On walks, Sarah is helping Daphne by building up her tolerance to distractions and her responsiveness to her handler. The training is helping them build on an already solid relationship.

“She's honestly just a pretty chill dog most of the time,” Sarah says, “When I leave the house, I'm able to leave her out of her kennel. When I'm home, she just relaxes. We've had both men and women over to the house and she loves them all. She's very friendly with visitors.”

In the end, it didn’t matter that most people couldn’t adopt Daphne, but that the right person did. Sarah and Daphne, it seems, were meant to be. “I'm so pleased that I adopted from Best Friends and that I chose Daphne. She's a wonderful dog with a great spirit,” Sarah says.

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Daphne has made herself at home with Sarah

Photos by Molly Wald and Sarah Catletti