Scooter never did anything wrong. But last July when a father and his teenage son strolled with their bikes along the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., a robber used the gray and white pit bull to mug them. It worked.
“He knew that the public generally is scared of these dogs,” Angela Adams, who rescues pit bulls for a living, told TODAY.com. “He knew he could scare them because of the stigma. He just used fear.”
Officers nabbed the robber and Scooter was taken to animal services, where shelter workers quickly ascertained that the bandit’s best friend — his “weapon” — wasn’t aggressive. Today, Scooter is a deliriously happy family dog and a specially trained therapy dog — but her journey from a life of crime to a life of romps and belly rubs wasn’t an easy one.
It’s common for pit bulls to get passed over at shelters, and Scooter languished in a kennel for seven months. During her stint behind bars, the once-cheerful pup became depressed and frustrated. At one point Scooter even snarled when another dog sniffed her — a behavior that was out of character for the laid-back dog.
Shelter workers remained convinced that Scooter was a good dog who needed a foster home to prove herself. Whenever they took her out on walks, they’d see her happy-go-lucky side resurface. But finding a foster home for a pit bull deteriorating in a shelter wasn’t easy, and that prolonged her adoption.
“If somebody would have given her a spot in their home sooner, it would have been much faster,” explained Stephanie Collingsworth, who handled Scooter’s case at Multnomah County Animal Services.
Finally, in late January, a spot opened up at Born Again Pit Bull Rescue. Adams, 31, founded the nonprofit organization in 2007 after falling in love with a pit-bull puppy named Jasmine. Focusing on a breed beleaguered by a bad rap and over-represented in shelters, Born Again Pit Bull Rescue gives dogs a second chance “regardless of physical appearance.”
Merissa Micochero, 27, a dog trainer and owner of Paw n Hand K9, rehabilitated Scooter in her home and confirmed that the dog wasn’t aggressive, just a tad ecstatic about her renewed freedom.
Scooter proved to be extraordinarily loyal, never wanting to leave her foster mom’s side and even assisting as other dogs got groomed. It appeared she hadn’t played with kids before — but before long she was rolling over to welcome a belly rub from Micochero’s children.
So how did the robber use a nice girl like Scooter to mug those bikers?
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According to reports, he tugged on her leash, saying she would attack if he let go. The bikers perceived a real threat, giving up their bags to thwart being mauled.
Scooter, her trainer determined, was quite obedient — but, strangely, she responded to the command “sit” with a bark. After some straightening out, the dog once used to commit a crime was training for her Canine Good Citizen certification, which would allow her to become a therapy dog.
“She’s a pal — she is very much tied to you. If you are going somewhere, she’s going with you. She hates to be separated from you,” Micochero said. “She will do anything if you ask nicely. Everyone who meets [her] says she is beautiful and sweet and she loves to give them kisses. She loves to play with other dogs, toys and with people.”
It’s not clear whether Scooter ever lived in a house — (the man who used her in the mugging had been homeless) — but the dog quickly took to the comforts of Micochero’s home. Sometimes she even made herself too comfortable, pouncing on the couch and giving facials with her tongue. Her swift rehabilitation surprised her rescuers.
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“She sat in a shelter for seven months and within a week acclimated to Merissa’s pack,” Adams said about the mix of family and foster dogs under Micochero’s care. “She was rock solid. We thought it would take months to get her acclimated to the home environment.”
Knowing that Scooter got a second chance keeps Collingsworth, known as the “Dog Whisperer” at animal services, going. And not just her: Cheers filled the shelter when an intercom message informed everyone that Scooter was getting out.
“Scooter’s story is important because it highlights a lot of dogs who are misaligned because of what they are, what their breed is,” said Collingsworth, who keeps a video of Scooter’s rehabilitation on her computer’s desktop and enjoys watching it again and again. “From the very beginning, she just needed a chance to be a dog.”
Last month, a family living on 5 acres near the Oregon coast decided to give Scooter that opportunity permanently. The 4-year-old pit bull seemed perfect to Kris Beattie, a retired nurse who wanted a therapy dog to help cheer up nursing-home patients. So, she adopted Scooter and brought her home.
Beattie said she loves the way Scooter follows her around, gazes at her soulfully and intently watches her cook. Beattie, a 70-year-old widow, said Scooter is great with her two grandkids, who live with her along with their parents and an 8-year-old Rottweiler.
“My 5-year-old granddaughter loves to get Scooter to walk with her and sit and lie down,” Beattie said. “She gets her training reinforced all the time.”
On a nice day, Scooter loves romping around the yard — but she has issues with the Oregon rain. (Who can blame her?) Beattie got her an old treadmill so she can exercise inside where it’s dry.
“Oregon winter is wet season. Scooter isn’t thrilled about walking in the rain,” Beattie said. “She runs on the treadmill every day. She’s a character.”
Could Beattie imagine her loyal pooch instigating a robbery?
“I’m sure if I put a chain around her neck and yanked on her, I could intimidate anybody who was the least bit anxious about pit bulls,” Beattie said.
“But on the other hand, [given] the fact that she’s normally very calm, your biggest danger might be drowning if she licks.”
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