Fresno dog rescuers used to call Enzo a walking skeleton made of stone.
When they scooped up the abandoned American bully — a pit bull/bulldog mix — from the backyard of a vacant home a year and a half ago, it was a scorching summer day and Enzo was without water, was starving, and was covered in open, bloody sores, the result of a skin disease called mange caused by parasitic mites.
Water had been turned off at the empty home for at least a week, and Enzo’s dog bed was on top of a garbage can, said Bridgette Boothe, director of Fresno Bully Rescue.
“The state that he was in was sickening,” Boothe said. “I don’t know how he lived.”
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The dog’s owner, Carlos Xavier Marron, was sentenced in May of 2014 to 10 days in jail and three years probation for his treatment of Enzo.
But today, thanks to Fresno Bully Rescue, Enzo is thriving. He’s also still awaiting adoption at the no-kill shelter near the San Joaquin River along the city’s northwest edge.
Enzo is now at a healthy weight of 75 to 80 pounds after gaining more than 40 pounds since his rescue. His skin has mostly healed and his mange is being treated. He has a bucket of toys, friends to play with, a wardrobe of clothes, and unlike the other 45 dogs who live in kennels outside, Enzo occupies half a laundry room within Fresno Bully Rescue’s main office.
“He is a character,” Boothe said with a laugh. “He is very vocal, he talks. He plays like a puppy. He just always makes his presence known and he is not shy. We just call him a spoiled little guy around here because he definitely knows how spoiled he is.”
But Enzo’s story of survival is the exception. Boothe said an abandoned dog getting a spot in a no-kill facility like Fresno Bully Rescue is akin to “winning the lottery.”
On average, Boothe said the nonprofit receives 400 requests a week to take dogs. But with only 45 kennels available — and, on average, just 15 adoptions a month — more than 1,000 dogs in need of homes are typically turned away every month.
Most never find homes.
A widespread problem
Fresno euthanizes more animals than all but two other cities nationwide, according to the latest SPCA data available from the summer of 2011 to summer of 2012, said Walter Salvari, spokesman for Central California SPCA.
That year, Salvari said, about 26,800 animals were killed at the Fresno shelter — more than 70% of about 37,550 animals that were dropped off during that period. The Fresno SPCA shelter in west Fresno can only hold around 600 dogs at any given time.
While the shelter has taken fewer animals since 2012 — when Fresno County contracted with Liberty Animal Control to take animals outside city limits — Salvari said Fresno’s euthanasia rate remains high. SPCA data is still being compiled for 2013 and 2014.
“I hope the community bands together and realizes it’s a big issue and we need to fix this,” Salvari said.
Helping Fresno’s dogs
Spaying and neutering pets is a big step towards solving the problem.
Fresno Bully Rescue recently received a grant that will provide funding to spay or neuter up to 150 pit bulls or pit-bull mixes for free in the 93722 zip code of west Fresno. Boothe said the location was chosen because the shelter received a majority of its calls for help from that area.
A $35 spay and neuter is also available for low-income families through the SPCA.
At a veterinarian’s office, dog owners might spend up to $200 to spay or neuter their pet, said Becky Holly, a board member for Fresno Bully Rescue. But for those just struggling to buy groceries, Holly said, even a low-cost spay or neuter is “pretty pricey.”
“We can blame the public only so much,” Holly said of many who haven’t spayed or neutered their pets. “We need to offer them more avenues to get it done.”
Another takeaway: Don’t dump dogs.
“Nothing good comes from dumped dogs,” Holly said. “Usually they die before they are found.”
Holly said the same is true of dogs who are left abandoned at vacant properties, like Enzo.
Boothe and Holly said the way pit bulls are widely perceived — and the poor care they often receive from neglectful owners — also needs to stop.
Boothe recalled her family’s reaction to bringing home a pit bull: “Oh no, you got a pit bull — they are going to snap and turn on you.”
There is some cause for fear: Pit bulls are responsible for more injuries than most other breeds. Salvari said that of about 130 dogs who came to the Fresno SPCA shelter after biting another animal or person from the summer of 2012 to summer 2013 (the latest data available), the vast majority were pit bull terriers.
But Boothe said the problem isn’t pit bulls, it’s people.
“They are people dogs, they want to be with their people,” Boothe said of pit bulls. “So when they are separated from the family and not treated as part of the family unit, then you start to see behavioral issues pop up.”
As for Enzo, Boothe said the 6-year-old is well-socialized and ready to find a “forever home.”
The abuse of his abandonment caused long-term health issues but didn’t damage everything.
“His personality sure isn’t affected by it, because he is full of personality,” Boothe said. “He is kind of the king of the castle around here.”