Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pit bull ‘Spock’ breaks stereotype

Shelter foster parents help socialize pets

Express Staff Writer

Nancy Malko and Spock relax at their mid-valley home. Photo by David N. Seelig

Pit bull dogs have a reputation for fierceness. Originally bred from terrier and bulldog breeds to herd domestic animals, the dogs have been conditioned by some unscrupulous owners to fight one another for sport, a practice that is now a felony crime in all 50 states.

What many people don't know is that the pit bull reputation is more a result of conditioning than of inherited characteristics.

Just ask mid-valley residents Nancy and Michael Malko. They recently adopted Spock, a pit bull mix from the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley.

"I just had a feeling about him," Nancy said. "I used to think you had to get a pure-bred dog and raise them from puppies. I thought it was important who their parents were and how they were treated."

Though no one knows where Spock came from (he was found last year and wound up at the shelter), he was likely raised by a loving family.

"Spock had a wonderful temperament," said Nadia Novik, operations manager at the shelter. "But he became sad and depressed in the kennels because he was used to spending time with people."

In order to bring him around, Novik first called on "foster parents" Greg and Kathy Boylston to take him in for two months.

Spock is the fourth dog the Boylstons have fostered from the shelter.

Foster parents reinforce some of the animal shelter care, helping to socialize small puppies who are too young for adoption, nurturing cats and dogs with special medical needs and giving special attention to stressed or depressed animals that are having problems in the kennels.

"We need more foster owners," Novik said. "We also offer dogs to the public for walking and hiking."

The Boylstons' work with Spock helped him overcome a difficult time in his life and prepared him for his new home at the Malkos.

Spock has fit in well with the Malko's 6-year-old son and the family Lab.

"I've learned not to judge a book by its cover," Nancy said. "Now I call myself a 'shelter convert.'"

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