Mariah’s Promise

February 22, 2012  

A rescuer endures a hate campaign from neighbors in order to continue to save Denver’s banished pit bulls

By Toni Phillips

When I read the article about New Yorker Nick Santino’s suicide after some of his neighbors and his complex turned on him, it compelled me to share my experience with this type of hateful prejudice. But first, let me share how it all began for me.

A Rescue is Born

People ask me how I got into rescue, my response is that I saw a dog (or horse or cat or any other animal) in need – plain and simple.

After rescuing animals we came across in Texas and Missouri, work eventually brought us to Colorado Springs. There, we helped create a non-profit, no kill shelter in Teller County. It was a very small, rural shelter in a growing community, but there was a greater need than the 18-kennel shelter could accommodate. In general, foster homes were scarce.

One of the little darlings we fostered was named Mariah. This barely 5-week-old pup had crawled out of some bushes along the highway outside Cripple Creek. A little blue-eyed Aussie mix, Mariah had spunk and loved everyone!

Our house in Woodland Park couldn’t hold all the dogs that needed us. We were shown a house on more than 43 acres farther out in Divide. At the end of the road, the north property line bordered a National Forest. We sold our darling home and moved to Divide in September or 2003, and there, Mariah’s Promise was born.

Word spread fast. There was a large gap between need and availability that we hoped to help bridge. Military personnel deploying, animals abandoned at vet offices and court holds were all needs. A safe place for the pets of people in a domestic violence situation and the shelters that help these victims but do not accept pets was another problem. People passed away or were sick or hospitalized leaving pets behind. We continued to assist with medical needs, especially spay/neuter. We provided pet food and emergency medical services. Mariah’s Promise took on a life of its own, and we had to run to keep up!

Discrimination in Denver

We were one of few places that would take pit bulls.

In 2004, the situation in Denver came to our attention. Because of their breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL), the city had confiscated Cyan from Howard Margolius. The petition to save Cyan was heavily circulated. Mike and I were astonished that this was happening here in America, and only two hours away from us! We looked at the 14 pit bulls and mixes crashed out in our house. Dogs like ours were being confiscated and killed! It was mind blowing!

In Margolius vs. Denver, the conclusion was that Denver Animal Control could not properly identify breeds of dogs, so BDL was set aside. In tandem with the court case, a law was passed in legislation that Colorado could not have BDL. Hooray! But it was a short-lived victory.

When Howard had an offer to work in London, he searched for a place for Cyan. In December of 2004, Cyan came to Mariah’s Promise.

Because we worked with Max Fund’s outreach mobile program for the community spay/neuter/vaccine in Teller County, we were made aware of the pending return of BDL to Denver. Denver went into a civil court to claim their home rule status and thus override state law. BDL was coming back.

Denver posted a 30-day notice on April 8, 2005, that on May 9, 2005, confiscating pit bull type dogs would commence.

A Refuge for Pit Bulls

With Max Fund being the only true no-kill shelter, people were calling them in desperation. Max Fund is also located in Denver, so they couldn’t help. God bless Max Fund: They assisted us with donations so we could take the dogs being banished from Denver. Dogs started rolling in. Max Fund sent their mobile clinic to spay/neuter, and they trucked in tons of dog food, bedding, blankets and more down to us.

Again, the word spread. We opened Mariah’s Promise as a refuge to take these family pets. Puppies and dogs were abandoned in parks and on the streets of Denver. There were posters placed around Denver to contact Mariah’s Promise. One thing that came to our attention was that people would have friends call because they thought we were a sting operation to locate pit bull dogs in Denver and turn them in. How sad!

Neighbors turned neighbors in, and friends turned against friends. People watched as dogs were carried to animal control trucks. Children cried and screamed as their dogs were being carried off. It was frightening.

When people tried to fight back, law enforcement was called in or had accompanied animal control. If people refused to surrender their dog, animal control would step aside, and law enforcement would step up to offer to arrest them, take them downtown and charge them with harboring a pit bull – a charge that imposed a $999 citation. And animal control would get the dog anyway. Sigh.

Neighbors Against Pit Bulls

After two years of operating Mariah’s Promise with no complaints, we were suddenly the target of hate mongering from a handful of people around us because we brought in those “vicious, dangerous dogs from Denver that if they got out would maul their children.” Oh please!

The threats and false accusations were flying at us! We were issued 22 barking dog citations from six neighbors’ complaints over the next 10 months or so. I was accused of threatening to turn the dogs loose on a kid (I wasn’t even at home at the time). Mandatory court came after the third citation. It was nuts! Our animal control officers, along with the sheriff’s office, knew these accusations were trumped up, but there was no law protecting us.

On June 4, 2006, one of our dogs, Brindle, (photo right) climbed up the iron gate and meandered into the neighbor’s pasture where we shared a barbed-wire strand fence. The neighbor got his gun, stood over her and shot Brindle at point-blank range, killing her instantly. She was two feet off our property, trying to get back through the fence, but he cornered her. He claimed she was chasing his horses and his kids. I don’t think so. He and his wife were laughing when Mike picked up her body.

Outside our fence, these hateful people were bombarding us with lies. Inside our fence, we had people bringing in their beloveds for safety from the war on pit bulls in Denver, then Aurora. Men, women and children left crying and dogs confused. I was forced to pick my battles, and the battle I chose was on behalf of the dogs and the people who loved them enough to drive two hours or more one way for their dog to stay alive.

When I read the story of Nick Santino and Rocco, it all came back like a flood. How the media slant, prejudice, legislation against these dogs can be so horrible.

As an example of the media slant, in June 2005, CNN sent a film crew out. They spent seven hours filming. The film crew was excited and thrilled to watch the dogs run and play in the yard or laze in the house. They went into each kennel and filmed the dogs. The result: In a five-minute segment, they used about 45 seconds of the film of dogs at Mariah’s Promise playing. In the rest they preferred to use pictures of dogs fighting, the scarred faces of children, dogs terrified in shelters, etc.

People from 21 states have visited Mariah’s Promise. Some people had never met a pit bull before and have been surprised at how social and wonderful they are. Wow! What a difference experience makes! Their passion and loyalty have certainly won me over.

« « What My Shelter Means to Me: Liberty Humane Society | What My Shelter Means to Me: Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary » »


8 Responses to “Mariah’s Promise”
  1. You are blessing & reading stories as this is the reason we started The Pretty Chic with the Pits (Chic with Pits). How in the world did Mike remain calm as the neighbors laughed as he picked up Brindle I don’t know. God gives all of us strength & calmness in the midst of a storm. It is apparent that was Mike’s moment. Attempting to open folks closed minded minds is a difficult task in any situation especially when it comes to this wonderful bully breed. Thank you for your service and being an angel to those in need!

  2. woofslc says:

    Toni, thank you for all you and Mariah’s promise do, and we will never forget Brindle, she is watching over all of the creatures now at Mariah’s Promise.

  3. JulieBrown1 says:

    Oh my golly…so sorry about Brindle. Thank you for what you do…God has great plans for you for the love and compassion you show towards all animals. God Bless each of you as you struggle with the hype and lies about these beautiful animals. Animals are what humans make them…plain and simple. Treat them with love and respect and they will give it back 100 fold!!!

  4. AnnVanderlaan says:

    Welcome with open arms to Austin and Central TX

  5. Linda Aanestad says:

    Toni and Mike don’t just help dogs and other animals–they help people as well!  Imagine the relief for the poor people who love their pets deeply and are afraid for their lives, safety and well-being in situations involving death, illness, breed bans, deployment, etc!  Although they’re not pit bulls, two of my precious babies came from Mariah’s Promise–a Lab (Pepper) and a Blue Heeler (Sheila).  Mariah’s Promise deserves all the help and support we can give them, in any form we can manage.  Blessings to you, my friends Toni and Mike!  You are missed in Colorado, but we’re thankful you’re safe and happy in Texas!   

  6. MaryDegon says:

    Your undaunted devotion to help the dogs is awe inspiring! Words can not express the cheer thankfulness that you are there helping them, and all the others that you have inspired (myself included) in the fight against oppression, bias, racism, and inhumane treatment of animals. Texas Needs you – and Colorado will be a sadder place without you there! May God watch over their critters there now!