Rooney in Amsterdam

December 27, 2011  

An American couple living abroad adopt a former bait dog and discover the trials and tribulations of breed discrimination

By Becky Lipscomb

While living in Amsterdam, my fiancé and I decided it was time to add a third member to our family and adopt a dog. As we headed to the dieren stichting (animal shelter), we had every intention of adopting a small breed puppy; a dog that would be easy to travel with. Fortunately for us, we ended up with the exact opposite type of dog.

At the shelter we were given a book filled with pictures and bios of the available dogs. No puppies and no small breeds, but lots of bullies and even a purebred Dogue de Bordeaux (it took all of my common sense to say no to the Dogue, which had always been my dream dog!). I’ve worked in pet care for a more than five years and have always had a huge soft spot for pit bulls and other bullies. I just can’t resist their class clown attitude and undying loyalty. Then we saw the picture of Bentley, a beautiful 1.5-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier. When we noticed that he had the same birthday as my father, who had recently passed away, I knew we had to meet him.

He was quite the handful! But who could blame him after spending seven months in the shelter? The volunteers told us his story: He had been brought in by the Amsterdam police as part of a dog-fighting bust – yes, it’s an international problem – and he had been used as a bait dog. But he was good with other dogs and absolutely loved every person he met. He was just a little – OK, a lot – unruly, and he was in desperate need of some boundaries in his life. We knew we were up for a challenge and agreed to give this passed-over pup his forever home. The volunteers were all happy for him, and I even saw a few tears of joy being shed.

Close Encounters

The first few weeks were tough. To start with, he had to learn English! But we refused to give up on our boy, now named Rooney. Holland only repealed their nationwide ban on pit bull type dogs in 2008, and I was determined to make Rooney a model bully citizen.

For the most part the Dutch are a nation of dog lovers. Dogs are welcomed pretty much everywhere except the grocery store, and Rooney was a frequent patron at many of our neighborhood shops and cafes. The owners and employees were always happy to greet him with a treat, and if we walked into one of Rooney’s places without him, there would be questions about his whereabouts. We were often sent home with treats in our pockets!

We lived in the middle of Amsterdam, right next to the zoo, which really helped get Roo acclimated and taught him to ignore distractions. As I said, Holland had only gotten rid of their ban on bullies in 2008, and while many people around our neighborhood adored Rooney and saw him as just another dog, there were still plenty of people who would buy into the negative stuff about pit bulls. As you can imagine, living next to the zoo meant we often took walks in close proximity to large groups of children, and whenever there was a big group coming at us, I knew we were in for some sort of experience. A teacher jerking a child away as he or she tried to pet Rooney and giving me a dirty look or reprimand in Dutch for allowing my “vicious” dog to be near her innocent charges was a common occurrence. Little did she know that, while Rooney loves all people, he adores the small and sticky ones, and he will often walk up to random children and start licking them!

Once, a group of teenagers were leaving the zoo and walked right into our path. As we stopped to stare at the flamingos, Roo’s favorite part of our walks, a girl in the group took one look at Rooney minding his own business and being very good and let out a scream that sounded like she was auditioning for a horror movie! She then proceeded to jump into the bike lane, barely missed being run over, and yelled something at me in a language I couldn’t understand. Part of me wanted to cry. How could this silly little girl be so terrified of my sweet boy who was more interested in those tall pink birds than he was in her anyway? My feelings were hurt. But there was a bigger part of me that couldn’t stop laughing! We walked away quickly, embarrassed to have caused a public scene, but with a new understanding of what discrimination feels like. Thankfully, encounters like that were few and far between, and never again has someone reacted so dramatically to the sight of Roo.

Homeward Bound

By far the most difficult thing about adopting a bully overseas was getting him back to the U.S. There was no way we were coming home without our boy, but getting him here was one of the most stressful things I’ve gone through.

There are several European airlines that allow pit bull type dogs to fly in cargo, but they have no nonstop flights, and I wasn’t about to stress Rooney more with a layover, so it had to be a U.S. company. United Airlines was the only airline that flew direct internationally and did not have a dangerous dog restriction on pit bull type dogs. (Now that they have merged with Continental that’s no longer true.)

The term dangerous dog is horrible! It is also a phrase that is used much too easily by far too many airlines to describe their pet restrictions. It took a long time to figure out that we could use United because the information on their website wasn’t very clear. I came away crying from several phone calls to airlines, as I tried to explain what was wrong with their policy and why they shouldn’t just discriminate against a whole group of dogs! We were so desperate at one point that we considered taking the Queen Mary, but the boat would have to dock in England, where there is still a nationwide ban on pit bulls.

I was so happy when I finally spoke to someone at United who told me we could get him home! It felt like a ton of weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I’m pretty sure I cried again! Everyone at the airport loved Rooney and even made sure he had a personal escort to the plane. He had a great flight and when we met him at baggage claim, he was happily wagging his tail and looking like he’d had a normal day! I, however, was a ball of nerves. I swear I had a mini panic attack every time the plane made a loud noise or went through any turbulence. It was a long nine-hour flight to Washington, D.C. I’m so glad that I will never have to fly with him again – I don’t think I could take the stress!

Rooney has adjusted wonderfully to life in South Carolina. As it turns out, he is a great traveling dog, often accompanying Jesse and me on trips to Florida to visit Jesse’s grandparents. Now, though, we take the car!

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5 Responses to “Rooney in Amsterdam”
  1. Rooney is gorgeous and I love the last picture. He reminds me of my Sasha who loves picking up branches bigger than her prancing as if she’s a dinosaur. It’s disheartening to see how foolish people react to “nothing” literally “nothing.” Rooney was minding his own business and heaven only knows she probably scared him.

  2. NancyCrossman says:

    I so understand your problem with discrimination of the bully breed.. My pit “Bouncer” loves going to parades and functions going on around town. He loves getting petted and licking sticky things of kids fingers and faces.. everyone always says” oohh what a beautiful dog what kind is he”.. As soon as you say he is a pit, they grab their kids and take two steps back and ask” he doesnt bit does he?” I’m like, ok you havee been petting him for 5 mins now..When will people get it through their heads, it is not the animal, it is the owner and how they are raised. You get hit, teased and straved to death, eventually you will fight back too. I have been snipped at by more small breed dogs, then any other dog out there. Thank god for people like rooney’s new owners that gave him a second chance to a have a great and loving life.. You give love and respect, you get back love and respect a million times over.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @NancyCrossman The best way to deal with the discrimination is exactly what you are doing, showing a loving, sweet dog. Bouncer is quite the ambassador!

  3. hawkshug says:

    Loved reading your story and thank you for making sure Rooney made it home with you! He is gorgeous!