Fact: Rescue is hard.
But rescuing pit bulls is harder. That’s why I was really excited to discover a pit bull rescue in my new hometown. And after I met Jessica, the founder and director of Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue, I was profoundly grateful that a rescue like this exists. I just wish there were more.
Traveling to shelters and rescues all over the south for the last four years, one thing has been consistent before, during, and after the pandemic: there are pit bulls everywhere and they are dying in the highest numbers.
Rescue coordinators always ask if we know of rescues who will pull pit bulls. Those rescues are few and far between. Sometimes shelter directors, veterinarians, and rescue coordinators will label a dog that leans towards the bully persuasion (which, to be honest isn’t even a definable breed group) as a lab-mix instead of a pit-mix. They know the difference is life and death. We saw that first hand a few years ago.
Jessica is inundated with requests from shelters all over the country. But Margeret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue is not a big rescue and they are foster based and don’t have their own shelter. That limits the number of dogs they can help at any given time. More foster homes would save more lives.
We met up with Jessica on a gorgeous, hot evening at a local park to meet a few of her fosters and learn more about the rescue.
The name, Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue comes from a very special dog in Jessica’s life who inspired her to start the rescue in mid 2019. Jessica has struggled with her own demons and when she realized that without Margaret she would never have survived them, she created and dedicated her rescue to saving more dogs like Margaret.
I’ve heard versions of that story from so many people – dogs truly do save us. I know that to be true personally.
I asked Jessica how she decides which dogs to pull and she shook her head and said, “It’s hard.” I imagine it is, but it is clear within minutes of meeting her that Jessica leads with her heart. And her heard has led her to save a lot of lives. She seems to gravitate to the dogs who need her most—the ones with serious medical issues, heartworm positive dogs, dogs who have been let down by humanity.
Dogs like Penny, a chestnut colored pit bull with a gentle manner, short badly cropped ears, and a smile despite the fact that most of her lower jaw is missing and the skin that held it sags downward. Penny came to MSGBR from Glen County, Georgia. She had been shot through the head and they believe the mutilated jaw is a result of a fence fight. She was heavily heartworm positive with a potentially infected uterus, having obviously had dozens of puppies. I can’t imagine there were many rescues who would have saved this girl. In fact, I can’t imagine any rescue but MSGBR doing it.
She greeted us warmly and settled down to listen to me interview Jessica. Penny is fostered by Caitlyn, a vet tech who takes on some of MSGBR’s hardest medical cases.
Caitlyn arrived with her latest foster, a spunky, heart-stealing, show-stealing 7 month old puppy named Tilly. Tilly has two herniated disks and is paralyzed. Her spine is so severely curved that the cart that was donated doesn’t work (and they are working on modifying it). Despite all that, Tilly scooted around greeting all of us with kisses and joy. She fell deeply in love with the fuzzy microphone cover on Nancy’s camera. When Tilly was turned in to the shelter, the people said she’d gotten her injuries because of a dog fight. Caitlyn guesses it is more likely Tilly was kicked really hard or thrown against something to cause her problems. Apparently, prior to the ‘dog fight’ she’d been a happy, mobile puppy. Without Kaitlynn and MSGBR, Tilly would likely have been euthanized at the shelter and never known what love and safety feels like.
Soon enough, Jessica’s husband, Brad, turned up with Bella Star and Mannie. Brad is also involved in the rescue extensively helping to care for the 12 foster dogs at their home, driving transports, and assisting with the shop, Piticorn, he and Jessica opened in nearby Front Royal to help fund the rescue. More about the shop in a minute!
Mannie is an enormous pitbull who definitely leans towards the bulldog side of the mix. He is a gorgeous blue color and as he lumbered down the hill to us, it was evident that something was off about his gate. When he got closer, I could see that some of his ankle joints bent the wrong way, his feet folding inward. It didn’t seem to bother him, though, as he hobbled around gamely like a little kid in high heels, his joints giving way every other step.
Mannie came to the rescue from Georgia. He’d been left tied to a pole with severe pneumonia that spread to his bones and created some neurological issues. He was unable to walk. After lots of medical attention, Mannie survived and is the biggest lovebug around – equally friendly with people, dogs, even cats. Maybe he has a grateful heart.
The last pup we met is a new addition to the MSGBR family. She also came from Georgia. She had found enormous puppies (30 pounds at 8 weeks!) who have all been adopted. Bella Star will soon be spayed so that she can undergo heartworm treatment before she can start looking for her forever people. Caitlyn described her as the perfect dog. She was just about as sweet and well-mannered as they come.
To date, MSGBR has saved 827 dogs (97% of them pit bulls). They are currently taking in about 1-2 dogs a day on average. Vet bills can be between 4 and 7 thousand a month. Their shop, Piticorn, sells dog and unicorn themed gifts and goodies. It’s a magical place in downtown Front Royal, Virginia, where everyone who works is a volunteer and every penny made goes to help dogs like Tilly and Mannie and Bella Star and the hundreds of other dogs who will be lucky enough to be rescued by Jessica and MSGBR. I recently dropped off a stack of my signed books for them to sell with 100% of the sale going to save more dogs and help fuel this amazing rescue operation.
I checked back in with Jessica since we visited three weeks ago. Mannie is now in permanent foster care with MSGBR so that they can assist with the care he will need as he ages. Bella Star has been spayed and is getting ready to begin heartworm treatment. (She was charming visitors at the store when I popped in.)
After visiting with specialists, the rescue had to make the heartbreaking decision that the most humane treatment for Tilly is to euthanize her. She is living in constant pain and her frantic movement is likely fueled by anxiety brought about by her immobility and her pain. Her prognosis is not good as her body grows, the pain will also and there simply isn’t much that can be done.
This is the really hard part about rescue –not that you can’t save them all, anyone in this business knows that truth all too well, but that too often it’s the senseless cruelty of humans that kills them, not time or space or money or even, shoddy shelters. I’m so grateful that Tilly didn’t die at the shelter where she was dumped, but that for a brief time, she knew safety and abounding love. She was cherished.
When asked how people can help, Jessica said that funding is always what they need. Beyond the huge vet bills, they have a donated van but it needs work, and they are in the midst of building a few enclosures for their two sanctuary dogs who will stay with the rescue forever. Beyond that, so many of their dogs are heartworm positive, so sponsoring a heartworm dog or donating preventatives would also help. Dog food (Purina One, but not chicken flavor because of allergies) is a constant need.
If you have the means and would like to help, consider donating:
Paypal: http://paypal.me/MSGBR or directly to their account at the Warren County Veterinary Clinic (4310 Rivermont Dr. Front Royal, VA 22630, 540-635-4176)
If you’d like to shop Amazon for them, here are two links:
You can best keep up with Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue on Facebook (where there are lots of videos of their gorgeous dogs).
We have so many stories to tell you of our 13 visits to rescue and shelter organizations in five states, so be sure to subscribe to the blog (link on the top right side of the page) and if you want to see these heroes in action, subscribe to our YouTube channel! Here is the beautiful video Nancy made about Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue:
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020) which tells the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired the author to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It also explains how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. The book is available anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is a short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It tells the story of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for ten film festivals (to date), it is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change.