Heartworm-positive pit bull finds love

Family overcomes adoption obstacles, including heartworm and negative pitbull stereotypes, with courage and help from Best Friends and our partners.
By Christina Green

Betty the pit bull terrier with canine heartwormEach time Tim Fisher overcame one obstacle to adopting Betty, another one piled up — worry about pit bull terrier stereotypes, uncertainty about Betty’s history, a question about how she would act around his three young children, and then there was her heartworm disease.

Tim had every reason to walk away, except for one — those Bette Davis eyes. And Betty knew how to hook him.

As for the heartworm — well, Best Friends and one of our local No More Homeless Pets Network partners could help out with that. And that’s how Betty’s story ends with a love for the ages.

Canine heartworm problems

Betty’s heartworm disease was, unfortunately, pretty common in the Nashville Metro Animal Care and Control (MACC) shelter. Nashville’s humid weather makes it a hotbed for mosquitoes. And mosquito bites are how dogs get heartworm. So when longtime local network partner Pet Community Center approached MACC about how to best help increase adoptions, there were no second thoughts.

“They told us that so many of the dogs coming in would make great family pets, but they have heartworm. And they can’t get treatment for it,” says Natalie Corwin, president and CEO of Pet Community Center. She adds, “Then families learn the dog they picked has heartworm and they know they can’t afford the treatment, either.”

Help paying for dog heartworm medicine

To help the MACC boost adoptions, Pet Community Center applied for a Best Friends grant, one of the benefits available to network partners to cover the cost of heartworm treatment for dogs who need it. It’s a program called Have a Heart, and it was just right for receiving grant funds from Best Friends.

"Oftentimes our network partners identify a barrier to saving pets in their community and they devise creative solutions to address it,” says Melissa Lipani, network specialist who acts as a personal contact point at Best Friends for partners the region. “When Pet Community Center reached out with their idea for a grant, I knew it was a fantastic proposal with a lot of lifesaving potential.”

The Have a Heart project, she says, had all of the key pieces: identifying a need in their area, partnering with the local municipal shelter to provide treatment, and reaching out to the community to teach people about how to prevent heartworm disease in their pets.

“Heartworm disease is treatable and shouldn't stand in the way of giving wonderful dogs like Betty a loving home,” she says.

Seemingly endless hurdles for pit bull dogs

But there were plenty of other things standing in the way of Betty being adopted. Tim actually didn’t care for pit bulls because of the negative myths surrounding them — myths that Best Friends works hard to dispel. What made him even more worried was that he knew the side of town where she had been picked up. Illegal dog fighting is a problem in the area, and Tim was looking for a gentle family pet.

So, from behind her kennel gate, Betty had to convince Tim she wasn’t aggressive and that she could be good with kids.

Dog who is the perfect fit

“I had picked out a couple of dogs I wanted to meet,” he says, “but I kept thinking, ‘Man, Betty is a beautiful dog.’”

So he decided to meet her. “She was such a loving dog and so calm,” he says. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I just loved her.” But he couldn’t yet get past the bad reputation of dogs like her. The only way he could overcome it would be with a leap of faith. Then, there was a serendipitous moment where he watched Betty’s gentle reaction to a child standing in front of her kennel. He decided to take that leap of faith and adopt her.

As for her heartworm? Luckily, the Best Friends-funded program was well underway by then. And while the staff told him that Betty needed treatment, they could also tell him of a silver lining.

Bye-bye canine heartworm, hello love

Betty the pit bull terrier who has heartworm and TimWhat is heartworm treatment for dogs? Tim would soon learn all about it. He and Betty headed straight to Pet Community Center for the medicine — two injections 24 hours apart, an anti-inflammatory medication for five days, a recommended six weeks of crate rest and a monthly heartworm preventative for dogs in an easily chewable tablet.

After treatment, Tim says, “Betty slept a lot at first and snored so loudly,” he says. “I was worried if she was going to be OK.”

But she was. Gradually, Betty started blossoming as her heart healed. By the end of her six-week rest, she was outside playing soccer with the Fishers’ nine-year-old son.

“Her temperament is just the best. She’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Tim’s wife, Jessica. “I can’t see her hurting a fly. She’s my little love.”

Both Jessica and Tim say their hearts just melt watching Betty with their three children: Austin, nine; MacKenzie, three; and Tyler, seven months.

“They can roll around on the floor with her and she just accepts it,” says Jessica. “It’s almost like she knows it’s her job.”

If a car pulls into the driveway while the kids are outside, Betty heads straight toward them and stands watch to make sure everything’s safe.

Betty’s now living her happily-ever-after, and thanks to a little help from Best Friends, plus local organizations’ eagerness to work together to save more dogs like her, there will be many more stories just like Betty’s to come.

Get involved to help animals

About the No More Homeless Pets Network

Best Friends’ No More Homeless Pets Network comprises more than 1,400 animal welfare groups from every single state, all working to save the lives of pets in their own communities. Ranging from animal shelters and rescue groups to spay/neuter and trap/neuter/return (TNR) organizations, they collaborate with Best Friends to save even more lives in every corner of the country. Best Friends provides marketing help, fundraising events, information and webinars, guidance, grants and more, so that together, we can Save Them All.

Photos courtesy of Pet Community Center