As Cinderella stories go, a recent soiree in Bethel Park tells an extra-special "tail," featuring a pit bill named Hazel and many fairy godparents.
The event at the on Fort Couch Road Saturday was made possible by a young woman who canceled her wedding, and then donated the reception to a local pit bull advocacy group, Hello Bully, to raise funds for its new shelter in Cranberry. The party was dubbed “There’s No Place Like Home.”
Hazel was a guest of honor because she represents the kind of rescues that Hello Bully and the Humane Society of United Statesperform. She arrived in a feminine frock that hid her distended nipples—an indication she had been repeatedly bred—and with paws still slightly swollen from fire ant attacks in the North Carolina dirt yard where she had lived, chained, most of her life, according to Janette Reever, a humane society worker who helped rescue her and more than 50 other dogs in August.
“To think she went from an alleged fighting ring to wearing a little pink dress is pretty wonderful,” said Reever, who adopted Hazel and traveled from her home in Baltimore to attend the Oct. 1 event.
It was a chance to meet Caitlin Stroop of Monongahela, the would-be bride and pit bull owner who donated the party, and her mother Karen Stroop of Finleyville, who had paid for it. Reever also got to reunite with Pittsburghers who took part in the North Carolina mission with her, including Hello Bully founder Daisy Balawejder of Cranberry, Mary Kennedy Withrow of Highland Park and Meghan Solida of Monroeville.
A full-time banker, Solida uses her vacation days to participate in pit bull rescues. Giving abused and exploited dogs the chance at a normal life helps her get past the heartbreak she encounters, she said.
“Pit bulls are really resilient. They’re people dogs. My own two ‘rescues’—Fitz and Miikka—are everything to me," Solida said.
Chris Schindler, manager of dog fighting investigations for the Humane Society of the United States, traveled from Washington, D.C. to attend "There’s No Place Like Home." He praised Hello Bully and the Stroops.
“I was sitting with Daisy in North Carolina when she got the call that (the Stroops) were making this possible,” said Schindler. “It blows you away because getting funding for rescue missions is hard.”
Schindler estimates there are 40,000 organized dog-fighting operations around the country, not counting street-level fights. But he said the Humane Society and its partners are making a sizeable dent.
“Law enforcement is becoming more active, and we’re keeping the pressure on,” he said. “We know that when we shut down one fighting operation, word gets out and others shut down, too.
"Large-scale rescues can cost $50,000 to $100,000,” Schindler said, indicating facilities, veterinarians, and rehabilitation, or enrichment, may be needed for weeks or even months before dogs can be placed for adoption.
And while finding permanent homes for rescued "pits" may be getting a little easier, it still is a struggle, according to Karen Tredway of Allison Park, who was introduced to the breed as a volunteer at , the “no kill” shelter off Camp Horne Road in the North Hills.
“Once I was exposed to pit bulls, I saw how wonderful they are, and how misunderstood,” said Tredway, who brought Honey, her two-year-old pit bull, to Saturday's party. “I started delving into their history, and learned they were once called ‘the nanny breed’ because they were so good with children. I have two granddaughters, (ages) two and five, and Honey’s great with them.”
About 100 people attended "There’s No Place Like Home" at $50 a ticket, according to party organizers.
Among them were Caitlin and Karen Stroop and their friends, including Kristen Margie of Fallowfield.
“This was wonderful,” Margie said at the end of the evening. “Katey didn’t have to do this, but she loves pit bulls; she loves all animals. Instead of sobbing around about calling off the wedding, she turned it into something positive.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Margie said.