From Denver, With Love

August 22, 2012  

A pit bull escapes Denver to find love, trust and a new best friend

By Stephanie Gabarik, first posted on July 27, 2011

I adopted Ellie on Sept. 12, 2006. Although I grew up with dogs, I wasn’t planning on getting one. On that day, I had signed a lease for a small one-bedroom apartment in a dog-friendly complex in Boulder, Colo.

While out to lunch that afternoon, I heard a woman calling out that a dog needed a home. Curious, I glanced to my left and caught a glimpse of a small, gray pit bull. I can still remember what my heart felt like when I first saw her. It was love at first sight.

I asked the woman why the dog was homeless, and she said, “Pit bulls are illegal in Denver County. She belonged to my neighbor and lived with her litter – 15 puppies total. But they were caught by animal protective services, their whole litter was split up, and I am trying to find her a home before 2 p.m. when I have to go back to Denver. If I can’t, I’ll take her to a no-kill shelter in Boulder because if I take her back to Denver, they will put her down.”

It was about 1:15 p.m., and I knew I had to make an immediate decision.

I asked a few more questions.

Dog’s name? Didn’t know.

Age? About a year.

Spayed? Shots? No clue.

Any signs of aggression? Only time will tell.

I asked for a way to get in touch with her and get more information. I took her cell phone number, the purple leash and the tiny blue pit bull, and began my life with my new best friend.

When I first took the leash and the woman walked away, the dog did what came to be known as “the stiff leg.”

She locked all four legs and refused to move until you let her do whatever it was she wanted.

In the first minute of the first time I walked her, she stopped in the middle of Pearl Street in Boulder (on the east side of the mall), locked her legs and immediately pooped in the crosswalk. Cars were heading toward us, and I struggled to drag her out of the middle of the street.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel ready to raise a dog.

Moving in Together

We spent the afternoon together on the Pearl Street Mall, observing people. I named her Eleanor Rigby, after the Beatles lyrics “Ah, look at all the lonely people.” She and I were each lonely, and we found each other. I was dedicated to saving her.

Around 4 p.m. I took her to the vet, where I boarded her for a night so I could return to my house and make plans to move.

Although I had signed the lease in Boulder, I wasn’t supposed to move in for a week. I was living in Denver and needed to find another apartment immediately. I looked at temporary housing options online and found a week-to-week rental in north Boulder. I packed everything into my car and said good-bye to my friend’s couch.

The next day, the vet declared Ellie to be 14 months old and in great shape. She was not spayed yet. Her coat and teeth were healthy and her demeanor was good. There was no evidence of any aggression. They gave her back to me and told me to check back in every six months.

I rented an apartment in Boulder by the week and moved in with Ellie that day. From the beginning, she was standoffish to me. When I tried to come toward her, she would turn the other way. When we entered the house, she would run under the futon and stay there until I fed her. She used the bathroom in the house and didn’t have any interest in playing.

I was working as a waitress at an Irish bar in Boulder, but I didn’t want to leave Ellie in the new apartment all by herself, so that first night, I left her in my car. She chewed up my seat belts and charging cords out of anxiety. She seemed to know simple commands like come and sit, but she didn’t know her name and was clearly used to being around a big pack of dogs. Only when we passed another dog did her tail start to wag. She kept it tucked between her legs for the first three days we were together.

Becoming Friends

On our third day together, I left her in my car while I ran into the house to grab something. When I came back, she was gone. My first thought was that she had been taken by animal control. I hoped that if I called her name, she would pull away from whomever she was with and come to me. After two or three shouts of her name, she came trotting back to me, with her head down and ears back. Her eyes looked guilty but her tail gave her away. She ran right to me and I gave her a hug, and her tail wagged for me for the first time.

At first I let her sleep under the futon, but after that incident, I wanted to her to know she could sleep cuddled next to me. I crawled under the futon and coaxed her out with a piece of meat. Then I picked her up, put her on the bed and covered her with the blankets, and gave her the meat.

She was shivering with fear.

I curled my torso around her and hugged her until she stopped shivering, and we fell asleep. To this day, she sleeps under the blankets, behind my knees, every night.

Our relationship had a lot of time to flourish when I was fired from my job and was forced to sell my car.

From the Mountains to the City

We were living in a mountain cottage at 9,000 feet altitude, and without a car, I was unable to leave except to hike. Ellie and I spent hours hiking through the mountains of Colorado during our first month together. Around Halloween of ’06, we made plans to move to Chicago, but I knew Ellie would miss the freedom of the mountains.

Eventually I moved to Chicago, but it was hard to find a pit-friendly place to live. I searched the Internet for people who wanted a roommate with a dog and finally found someone. Andy and I lived together for two years, and he helped me take care of Ellie every single day. I owe him more than I can ever repay for making her a happy girl.

Because of the trouble I went through to find Ellie and myself a good home, once I found it, I did not leave. But I did use people’s reactions to her— and vice versa — to help choose my friends and boyfriends in Chicago.

I loved walking a pit bull around the city because people tend to be frightened at first, but then they were overcome by how beautiful she is, and they would ask to meet her. She is the good ambassador for her breed. She gets a lot of compliments and she always makes me feel safe.

She’s extremely smart, too. I only have to teach her something once, and she will remember it forever. She never takes anything – from a treat to a cheeseburger – unless I give her permission. She doesn’t beg for table food, and she doesn’t steal toys from other dogs. She barks at loud noises, but in a city the size of Chicago, I’m happy to have that kind of alarm system. People who don’t like dogs say she is their favorite dog.

And after all of our work together, she is in consideration to be a therapy dog for people in nursing homes.

My life would not be complete without my Ellie Belly. Between January and September of ’08, Ellie had operations on both of her knees. Her medical bills cost me more than $6,000, but she was 3 years old, and I couldn’t bear to put her down. And it was worth it. She’s a champion now. She stands tall for treats, and she jumps to catch balls and loves to swim.

I adopted a younger brother – Chuck – for her in December of ’08. He is a Lab/terrier mix.

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20 Responses to “From Denver, With Love”
  1. skreidle says:

    What a sweet story. 🙂

  2. woofslc says:

    What a beautiful story, I always love to hear about how people honor their commitments to their pets through moving, BSL, medical bills, behavior challenges, etc, you never gave up on Ellie, and that is what family is all about!

  3. GildaShortt says:

    What a touching story. I am proud to say that when I meet Ellie She lay snuggled next to me on the couch. A sweet and gentle dog.

  4. StubbyDog says:

    @woofslc Thanks, Stephanie was truly committed to giving Ellie the best life possible!

  5. StubbyDog says:

    @GildaShortt Aw, thanks Gilda for sharing that.

  6. fi4sh says:

    As someone who adopted a pit mix from a shelter south of Denver and who used to live in Boulder, I love your story and can relate…only my dog never got to visit the stadium!

  7. She has such beautiful coloring! I love reading stories like these. Wishing them both many happy years to come. 🙂

  8. StubbyDog says:

    @fi4sh Haha, yeah, seems Ellie gets to go lots of places we wish we all could go to.

  9. StubbyDog says:

    @annedreshfield Thanks Anne, Ellie is quite a beauty.

  10. GinaTomaselli says:

    What a wonderful story. Thank you so much for rescuing these two lucky pibbles!

  11. blazer says:

    Fantastic story. I can relate to the shredded car as we’ve been through a few seat belts… but seem to be beyond that now! Hoorah! 🙂 I really love seeing a committed owner who takes responsibility for her pet. Way to go!

  12. StubbyDog says:

    @blazer Thanks, you will see lots of committed owners on this site in our stories and on Facebook. It’s just wonderful 🙂

  13. auto lease says:

    A very fantastic story.

  14. NikkiKeating says:

    What a great story!

  15. kcorn71 says:

    Great story! The world needs more people like you.

  16. RebeccaLovelandAnastasio says:

    Thanks for posting your story — love it, makes my heart sing to hear happy adoption tales.  Ellie is truly a “good karma” dog for you.

  17. adoremydogs says:

    What an awesome person you are, to hang in there and show your Ellie Belly that there is love to be had!  It’s too easy for our throw away society to give up on dogs that need that little bit extra.  Time, perserverance, and tons of love go a long way with awesome returns, tenfold.

  18. willowwonderbull1 says:

    Thank you for sharing. And more importantly Thank you for your dedication to Kellie.

  19. willowwonderbull1 says:

    Thank you for sharing. And more importantly Thank you for your dedication to Ellie.

  20. DannyEasterling says:

    Wonderful story.  Great to read that the little lost puppy has prospered.