Survivor of the Missouri 500 dog fighting bust finds true joy at the Sanctuary

Rescued as part of the Missouri 500 dogfighting bust, Joy is a joy. She needs to be an only dog in her adoptive home since she has babesiosis.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Joy the pit bull terrier mixJoy’s name couldn’t be any more perfect for her. The sweet pit bull terrier mix is one of the most happy-go-lucky dogs you could ever meet. It’s rare to see her without a big grin on her face. Within minutes, she turns strangers into devoted friends. Spirited, confident and full of energy, Joy takes a blissful approach to life. But as anyone who’s overcome a rough past knows, the road to happiness can be full of potholes.

Joy has traveled a long way to be able to enjoy her life the way she does today. And now she’s ready for the next big thing: a home of her own. One of the Sanctuary’s most eligible bachelorettes is living the good life, but she’s still never had a real home of her own.

What the babesiosis disease means for Joy

She was one of the dogs who came to Best Friends after the Missouri 500 fighting bust and rescue in 2009. More than 500 adult dogs and puppies were rescued and then cared for by volunteers from around the country.

Many of the rescued dogs were forced to fight, and one of them could have been Joy. That her abusers failed to make her aggressive or to break her spirit is a testament to her gentle, happy nature. But Joy couldn’t escape one devastating physical effect: She was afflicted with a blood-borne illness called babesiosis. While it is originally spread by a tick bite, the babesiosis disease can spread to from dog to dog through the kind of deep bite wounds common in illegal dog fights. The symptoms of babesiosis, which causes anemia in dogs, can be treated; however, there is no cure for the condition itself.

This diagnosis changed Joy’s life and reshaped her hopes for the future. For one thing, doggie play dates can be a great way to provide socialization and exercise for dogs with as much energy and friendly interest in other dogs as Joy does. In Dogtown, caregivers frequently match up dogs to give them this healthy interaction and an outlet for their energy. But babesiosis took away Joy’s chances of having canine friends and playmates. She can’t interact closely with other dogs because of the risk of spreading the illness to them.

Single dog adoptions

Even though 10-year-old Joy is still looking and feeling pretty great, her condition has extended her stay at the Sanctuary. That’s because she needs to find a person or family who’s happy to make her their only dog. And since most dog lovers already have dogs, so-called single dogs often wait longer for homes than those who can live with others.

Still, Joy has a lot to be hopeful about. Recently, a single dog named Pretty Girl, who was also rescued from a fighting ring and who also has babesiosis, found her perfect family. Finding a forever home is only a matter of time for Joy. But Dogtown caregivers are making sure that, while she waits, she has many reasons to keep smiling.

Meet some of the Sanctuary’s wonderful single pets

Joy the pit bull terrier mix getting a belly rub

Nose work training for dogs and dog agility training exercises

Joy loves to learn new things and try new activities. That makes it easy for her to get plenty of exercise and entertainment, even without canine playmates — especially when she gets to do cool things like nose work training for dogs (a fun search and scenting sport) and dog agility training exercises.

These fun dog activities are perfect for keeping a Joy’s body in shape and her mind active. And Dogtown caregivers knew that Joy would be great at these things. There was only one barrier to getting the games started. Treats are a big part of helping dogs learn to do agility and nose work, and Joy tended to guard her treats from people. Before she could try nose work or agility, she had to overcome her canine resource guarding issues.

Joy the pit bull terrier mix enjoying a car ride

Clearing the first hurdle

To leap over that first hurdle, Joy did some prep work. Dogtown caregivers and trainers began teaching her the fine art of trading. They would toss treats away from the food item she was guarding and then they would give her even more treats when she let them pick up the first one. Another option was that they would simply offer her something equally scrumptious in exchange for whatever she had at the time.

Joy got so good at these trades that she was finally ready to try nose work and agility. And once she started, she had no problem because she was more interested in learning new skills than in guarding the treats received when she did something well. Now, Joy is running up and down A-frames and finding treats hidden in boxes all over Dogtown’s large training arena.

On top of the world

While nose work and agility give Joy lots of extra opportunities to stay entertained and to have a great time, other perks such as golf cart rides, outings and sleepovers also help her lead a full, happy life. She was an overnight guest of Kim and Mark Spragg, Dogtown volunteers who enjoy working with all kinds of dogs — from the highly energetic ones to the shy and timid ones.

While hanging out with Kim and Mark in one of the Best Friends cottages, Joy enjoyed a snuggle session on the couch. “She's super sweet, snuggly, affectionate and, of course, her adoring smile is irresistible,” says Kim. Then, instead of demanding more attention, Joy entertained herself by chewing on a Nylabone while Kim and Mark relaxed nearby. "We love Joy!" says Mark, and Kim adds, “I'd nickname her Miss Congeniality.”

With all the fun, excitement and adoring fans in her life, Joy doesn’t dwell on the bumpy road she traveled in the past. She’s also blissfully unaware that life could get any better than it is now. Of course, when she does find a home of her own, she’ll be on top of the world. But for now, she’ll keep grinning from ear to ear, because she thinks she’s already there.

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Joy the pit bull terrier mix enjoying a sleepover