It started five years ago.
Kayte Mulligan, who recently married Fairield veterinary technician Tom Zowine, adopted pit bull "Precious," who had been found tied to a tree in Stamford.
"Dr. Lazarus at Rippowam Animal Hospital in Stamford did a reconstructive surgery. Precious weighed 28 pounds at the time, she was in such bad shape. She's about 60 pounds now," Zowine said with a smile.
And so Zowine's rescue organization was born.
Project Precious Rescue, which Zowine runs with co-director Christy Morrell, is an incorporated non-profit that they hope will soon acquire 501(c)3 status. The pair pull desperate dogs from Bridgeport and Waterbury animal control facilities.
"These days," said Zowine, "Precious just rolls her eyes when a new dog comes home to their apartment in Bridgeport. 'Who's this to play with?'" Zowine asked, mimicking what her white pit bull Precious might ask.
BALOO - ENJOYING THE BARE NECESSITIES
Enter Baloo, named after the easy-going and fun-loving brown bear in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. This big blue-gray pit bull is, in fact, delighting in the bare necessities.
With room to stretch his legs, and a warm room at Highway Animal Hospital in Fairfield where he is being boarded, Baloo is responding to the care and attention of Zowine and the affection staff members shower on him.
In fact, but for his mutiliated ears, puncture scars, and bald spots on his tail from years of confinement in a small cage, Baloo, who is approximately 8, is as eager to please as a smart young puppy.
"He'd never been walked on a leash," said Zowine of Baloo. "But he learned that in two days. He mastered 'sit' in about two minutes," she boasted. "He needs to gain about 15-20 pounds."
The matter-of-fact telling of Baloo's story, and that of the 40 other dogs Zowine has rescued and placed since August, is indicative of her optimism. Vet staff pieced together enough clues to surmise that Baloo, who had just been neutered at Highway Animal Hospital, had been used by dog fighters primarily for breeding purposes rather than fighting. His scars are minimal, though his ears were cut off, "because that gives less for them to sink their teeth into," said Zowine, and Baloo has two large puncture wounds on his leg.
"The owner probably dumped him as he grew older and became less useful," guessed Zowine. "He has mild arthritis. And he has callouses on his legs consistent with being kept in the box. He's skinny, his skin is bad." But Baloo appears to be healing, happy and apparently forgiving, though Zowine is not.
Her mantra is "Rescue like a rock star," and her instinct is not to cry. Zowine reserves her emotion for irresponsible dog owners. "These dogs suffer, and suffer, and suffer. They are more forgiving than I am," says Zowine. "I'd be in jail if I met the person who did this to him (Baloo)."
"All these dogs are my kids and I'm fiercely protective of them," said Zowine. "Pit bulls are the current breed being abused and demonized. Every time I take one in I'm taken aback by how sweet and forgiving they are."
Asked why they have a bad reputation, Zowine says, "There are a lot of inaccurate statistics. The fact is, any dog can bite your kid. I have three pit bull mixes at our apartment at any given time and zero percent are aggressive. If they're such agressive dogs, why are they all so sweet?"
LIKE HARRY POTTER - SCARRED BUT BEAUTIFUL
Beyond scarred bodies and mutilated ears, Zowine sees potential, and dogs like Potter respond with love. Named after Harry Potter for being scarred but beautiful, "Potter" had been used as a bait dog. He has razor cuts and scars from bites all over his face and body.
Asked about the razor cuts, Zowine explained, "They do that to the bait dogs to get the smell of blood to entice the other dogs." Potter, younger and more rambunctious than Baloo, is covered in scars, yet, Zowine says he got off easy. "A lot of bait dogs get their mouths taped shut."
Indeed, what young pit bull Potter lacks in manners, he makes up for in joie de vivre. "Unfortunately the laws are on the side of the criminals," explained Zowine of Potter's owner, who kept multiple dogs in crates in the woods before they wound up at animal control in Waterbury.
Highway Animal Hospital boards Project Precious Rescue dogs, including Potter and Baloo, for a reduced rate. "The entire staff is just so compassionate, caring and smart," said Zowine, who is looking forward to bringing home Baloo and Potter.
Zowine's "Project Precious Rescue" is always looking for potential foster families. But for those who'd like to help but aren't in the position to foster, Zowine says, "Sharing is a huge thing. Like us on Facebook. Send the link to a friend. Spread the word. That helps a lot."