Precious is such a bitch. The compact young blonde struts the patio inside the iron gates just behind the Modernica furniture factory in downtown's Industrial District.
Precious is subtly clever, looking for vulnerability: She'll push your buttons, then put you in check just to let you know who's in charge. Everybody knows she's the shot caller.
They keep a cautious eye on her, but the only thing in her field of vision is her old man Clancy, a tore-up street fighter with cauliflower ears. He's retired but bears the marks of a violent past. The scars on his head are a lasting remembrance from his days in the blood sport. Just back from a visit to the doctor for a slipped disk, he's a little wobbly, still under the effects of the anesthesia.
Everyone here has a past, but somehow there is a collective harmony in the pit bull pack at the Downtown Dog Rescue. Everybody knows their place; Harley and Edwina are easy, but Cookie ... she's a little tricky.
Lori Weiss is a rare breed: half-human, half-pit bull. She founded Downtown Dog Rescue 15 years ago as a program to assist the homeless community of dog owners. Thin, with angular features and ancient eyes, she sits on the cement with Precious on her lap. "Our kennel is here at our furniture factory where we rescue dogs and work with the community," she explains. "We work in downtown, Skid Row, South L.A. and into Watts and Compton."
Weiss has about 30 pit bulls currently. She's up at 5:45 a.m. daily and doesn't stop until she's finished feeding and exercising the dogs at 7:30 p.m. "If I have the flu or it's raining ... I'm their leader. Having one person who consistently cares for them is part of how they overcome their aggression."
By now Weiss is an expert animal behaviorist. "Pit bulls, they have a tendency to have more one-on-one dog aggression when they're stressed out. The key is to keep them in a calm state, like Precious is now."
Precious tilts her head up, smiling wide as she is petted by Weiss. The best part of what Weiss does is getting a dog like Precious. "They're so closed and fearful. They have no emotions and they're blank. To see them play and see them enjoy themselves -- it brings tears to my eyes.
"We get dogs out of the shelter that have been held as evidence for a year, and to watch them run around and play and not worry about anything, it's rewarding. This should be just a temporary home to get all the quirks defined and work through the little problems ... but all these guys need a home."
Precious came in through Animal Control. Weiss got a call that a family at Normandie Avenue and 37th Street wanted to neuter its dog. When she got there, Precious was chained to a tree with a big padlock. She weighed 19 pounds and had two gaping holes on her hips, with maggots in her ears and wounds. She'd bitten off one of her toes.
Clancy was rescued on 76th Street in South Central. He fought one last time and didn't do a good job, so they threw him away. People have recognized him on the street when Weiss takes him to South Central. "An older guy was shocked. He said, 'Ma'am, do you realize you have a game dog?'
"I don't look at it that way. Every dog is an individual. A lot of dogs that have fought are dangerous dogs; I'm not saying that these dogs should be rescued and put out in the public. I'm against that. But Clancy took about six months before he opened up."
Weiss has been on steering committees for animal shelters and for the pet store giant Petco.
"If we could get the numbers down for pit bulls, most shelters would almost be no kill. People don't want the bully breeds. In the city of L.A., they do a fantastic job of promoting spay and neuter, but there are just too many pit bulls. There's too much breeding.
"Good people are buying them, but they're not prepared. They shower these guys with love and affection, and it's the last thing they need. They need to be dominated, have leadership, a job and a very structured life. That's what we do here, which is why they are so calm and are OK in a pack. In South L.A. and some poorer neighborhoods, people get to a point where they're embarrassed to ask for help or take the dog to the vet.
"Part of it is financial. They just want to forget the dog in the backyard. They can't deal with the energy and destructiveness. If you get a bored dog and you chain it to a tree, it's a recipe for disaster. It gets thinner and thinner, and [the people] just don't go in the backyard anymore or feed it, and the dog dies."
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Precious is up for adoption. Weiss says the perfect person to adopt her would be an experienced big-dog owner, preferably one who has had a pit bull, who can keep working with her and training her.
"She has some dog aggressing issues, and that will be the challenge. A lot of people want a sure easy dog. She's a wonderful dog, but not an easy dog."
Downtown Dog Rescue holds an adoption event every Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at Petco, 845 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.