In Hiding

July 25, 2012  

Escaping a life in the dark when a town banned pit bulls

By Micaela Myers, first posted on July 6, 2011

Above: Otis in hiding. Below: Otis today

Imagine being locked in a dusty shed for months on end. You can’t go outside because people might see that you look like a pit bull and turn you in. If you’re turned in, you’ll be killed.

This is exactly how Otis lived after his hometown of Fayette, Missouri, passed a breed ban in Feb. 2009. The ordinance banned acquiring pit bulls. Pit bulls already in the town could be grandfathered in if their owners met certain requirements, including showing proof of $100,000 of liability insurance, muzzling their pets when in public (on a leash no longer than four feet) and meeting specific confinement requirements for dogs kept outside.

However, with a median household income in Fayette of only $32,925 (in 2008), many residents couldn’t afford to meet the requirements.

“He was told to either get rid of the dog or the dog would be killed.”

“These people can’t afford $1,500 a year for a rider on their insurance policy,” said Melody Whitworth, the Columbia, Missouri, area representative for Dogs Deserve Better , a non-profit organization dedicated to helping chained dogs.

“There are a lot of dogs in hiding [in Fayette], and Otis was one of those dogs in hiding,” said Kathryn Ward, the Fayette area representative for Dogs Deserve Better.

When the ordinance went into effect, Otis’s guardian couldn’t afford the insurance policy. “Otis ended up being hidden in a shed in his backyard and chained,” Whitworth said. “This went on for months and months. His owner would go out and feed him when he felt like his neighbors weren’t home and wouldn’t see him.”

When Otis’s guardian had to call an ambulance for his mother-in-law one night, the authorities discovered the dog, and his guardian was cited. “[He] was told to either get rid of the dog or the dog would be killed,” Ward said. The guardian contacted the local shelter, which luckily referred him to Ward, who had been working with the shelter, trying to save as many area pit bulls as possible.

“He worked directly with Dogs Deserve Better,” Whitworth said. “He signed a relinquishment form and allowed us to put Otis on Petfinder to try and rehome him in order to keep him out of a shelter situation.”

After months of being tied in the dark, Otis would growl when approached by strangers, but Ward and Whitworth saw this as a consequence of his circumstances rather than a reflection on his true nature.

Prior to the ordinance, Otis had fathered several litters of puppies. One of the first things Dogs Deserve Better did was to arrange to have Otis neutered.

A miracle was in the works for Otis. Unlike most victims of breed bans, he was about to get a second chance.

While Whitworth worked to find a new home for Otis, Ward tried to educate his guardian about pet overpopulation and the problems associated with chaining (including increased aggression).

“He said that he could see it was wrong to chain him,” she said. “My feeling is that education of the people is the only thing that’s going to change the way pit bulls are treated. That is where people need to focus their efforts instead of these stupid bans that don’t do anything but further harm the dogs.”

She said that according to her research, dog bites in Fayette have actually increased since the ordinance.

Through their collective efforts, a miracle was in the works for Otis. Unlike most victims of breed bans, he was about to get a second chance.

Jessica Murphy of Columbia was searching through the listings on Petfinder.

“I came across a picture of this dog in what appeared to be a barn, and he just looked pitiful. It was so sad,” Murphy said. “There was just something about him. When I found out about his story, it made it that much more heartbreaking. I had to meet that dog. I had to help that dog.”

Murphy’s husband agreed, and the couple went to meet the then 4-year-old Otis.

“His allergies were horrible, I guess from living in his barn that was so dusty. His eyes looked like they were popping out of his head,” Murphy said. “He came right up to me, and I fell in love.”

Jessica and Robert have two children, ages 6 and 7, and are expecting their third child.

“He’s very patient with the kids,” Murphy said. “He’s the best dog we’ve ever had.”

A year after his adoption, Otis now lives with three other dogs, including his son, whom the couple also rescued. Today, Otis has his own spot on the couch, inside with the family.

His transformation from a backyard dog in hiding to a beloved family pet illustrates both the tragedy of breed-specific legislation, which will sentence dogs to death just for the way they look, as well as the fact that all dogs, regardless of breed, are a reflection of how they’re kept and treated.

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27 Responses to “In Hiding”
  1. Anne says:

    Let’s keep hearing these great stories!

  2. mikey says:

    that my brother and sister in law lol

  3. Stacey says:

    This is a wonderful story ……I love all dogs!

  4. homie says:

    Good to hear this. Pit Bulls are great dogs, and deserved every chance to be house pets. I think the reason they scare people is because of “bred” attributes such as the jaw strength and jaw power.

    • StubbyDog says:

      Thanks for you comments. But did you know that German Shepherds have a stronger bite pressure:
      Here’s an excerpt from that site: Domestic dogs: 320 LBS of pressure on avg. A German Shepherd Dog, American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), and Rottweiler were tested using a bite sleeve equipped with a specialized computer instrument. The APBT had the least amount of pressure of the 3 dogs tested.
      So perceptions seem to go a long way and are not always based in fact. We agree with you, pit bulls ARE great dogs!

      • Mina McWhorter says:

        Wow, I too thought APBT had the most bite strength and now I learn that it is actually my Rottweiller that is second on the list. Thanks for this fact now if we can just get that out to thousands it may change things. Although if you look around there are more pits than Rotts and far less German Shapards which is probably why people don’t know this. They probably know someone that has a pitt but I can’t remember the last time I saw someone with a GS.

  5. Such a sad story. This kind of situation is exactly why Stubby Dog and us other pit bull advocacy groups are so important. Breed bans are a result of ignorance and fear sparked by media hype. We must work to get around the media and get directly to people. Perhaps in places with bans where existing pits are grandfathered in those who can afford to meet the ridiculous restrictions can begin Bully Walks like we’ve done here in Portland Oregon. We don’t have a ban and aren’t threatened with one but that is why we do what we do…so we’ll never be faced with these horrific choices forced on us by people who really don’t know anything about pit bulls or even dogs in general. Education is the way to overcome ignorance about pit bulls. It’s easy to organize a bully walk…

    • StubbyDog says:

      Thanks for your comments. We all have to do what we can to help change perceptions. If you would like to share your story about your Bully Walks, how they started, the camaraderie, the person stories of some pit bull owners and their dogs, please contact Thanks for your support and keep doing what you’re doing in Portland!

  6. Anita Silvers says:

    THANK GOD!!! This is one more story that proves the true nature of the pit bull. As I read this story, I started thinking, “Where the heck are we??” This is supposed to be America; Land of the free! Have we become communist? This is likw living dictatorship. BSL is simply BS!!! Education and awareness must continue to be spread far and wide!!! Bless this family!

  7. Encina Veterinary Hospital says:

    What a great story!!! I’m so glad I started my Saturday off by reading this wonderful happy ending 🙂

  8. Jessica Murphy says:

    I would like to thank you all for your kind comments. I was thrilled when I received a call stating that StubbyDog was interested in our story. I remember thinking “Otis has made an impact against BSL”. His story is very touching, and brought me to tears. Otis is a wonderful addition to our family, and we could not be any happier with him. He loves our kids and our other Fur babies. We welcomed our Son December 13th 2010, and Otis is crazy about him. The first days home Otis was very protective of him. Otis would come up to him, smell him, nudge him, and then lay down in the same area. It was almost like our son was his puppy. For this dog to be deemed aggressive only 2 years ago is absurd. His growling was what any breed of dog would do after being chained and closed in the dark for a long period of time. I thank DDB reps. Melody Whitworth and Kathryn Ward everyday for giving him a chance and seeing beyond his growling. Also, Thank you StubbyDog for sharing stories like this, and spreading awareness.

    • StubbyDog says:

      Thank you for writing this Jessica, it’s so great to hear about Otis and congrats on your new baby! It is so heartwarming to hear about people like you and your family who give dogs like Otis a chance at being the the very best that they can be. Thank you too, for your continued support of StubbyDog and sharing your story with us and our fans.

  9. mellonz says:

    This is such a wonderful story, and what a handsome looking boy! The constant prejudice that this poor breed faces is just so sad, People need to educate themselves and find out that this breed really is fabulous. Thank you for giving this gorgeous boy a forever home. Such a great story & lovely photos!

  10. mellonz says:

    This is such a wonderful story, and what a handsome looking boy! The constant prejudice that this poor breed faces is just so sad, People need to educate themselves and find out that this breed really is fabulous. Thank you for giving this gorgeous boy a forever home. Such a great story & lovely photos! Keep up the great work too Stubby dog!

  11. ruiner86 says:

    It’s the dog Holocaust, here comes the gestapo, better hide before they send the evil beings to the extermination camp. As a Jew and a dog lover, this REALLY bothers me and reminds me of the Jewish Holocaust, almost the exact same context!

  12. StubbyDog says:

    @mellonz thanks for your comments, he is a gorgeous boy, happy and safe now in a loving home.

  13. StubbyDog says:

    @ruiner86 Thanks for commenting, that’s an interesting comparison, disturbing in its similarities.

  14. GemmaZanowski says:

    @ruiner86 My boyfriend practices Indian Law, and there are disturbing similarities to our historic — and current — treatment of American Indians as well. It’s a topic I hope to write about soon.

  15. StubbyDog says:

    @GemmaZanowski @ruiner86 Thank you for your comments. Very interesting.

  16. laurieburton says:

    What a transformation! From the first picture, where he looks so suspicious, to the last one where he’s smiling with his little girl. Thank you for giving him a second chance.

  17. NikkiKeating says:

    Great story.