Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Beyond Pit Bulls and Parolees

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How could anyone resist all the sweet faces looking for their
forever homes with Villalobos Rescue Center. 

My sweet pup, Holly is a pit bull mix. She is goofy, loving, a little bit stubborn sometimes and my best pal. I adopted this sweet girl from a rescue who saved her life after she was dumped with her litter-mates on the side of a rural Texas highway. Her smiling face is the reason I work so hard to promote rescue dogs, particularly pit bulls, who unfortunately get an undeserved bad rap. I love the breed and fully believe they make amazing pets, but like any pet, you need to be prepared to offer them love, structure and boundaries (much like children). Holly in particular LOVES kids, despite our decision not to have kids right away, she is incredibly gentle and adores her 'short friends' very much.

As a pit bull mom, I fell in love with the T.V. show Pit Bulls and Parolees. The rescue, Villalobos Rescue Center, featured on the show quickly became one of my favorite organizations to follow. Not only do they work hard to promote pit bulls, but they truly care about the people involved in rescue, as well as their staff of parolees, who are also given a 'second chance' with this rescue. 
Pet Studio Art's Cheech and Chong
paintings hang in the Villalobos lobby.
Nearly four years ago, I reached out to Tia, founder of Villalobos to offer a fundraiser to help promote their organization and raise funds for their rescue dogs. After reviewing what we had to offer and setting out a goal, we ran our first fundraiser, which was a huge success. Fast forward three years and we have raised over $15,000 for this rescue during our annual fundraiser! We have run fundraisers with countless organizations and hands down, Tia and Villalobos has been the most gracious and appreciative organization to work with. 

Tia and myself showing off a painting
before our fundraiser last year. 
Of course, the T.V. show is amazing, but after spending some time getting to know the individuals behind the scenes, I am even more amazed at the work they do. In addition to the rescue program, they work within their community to help individuals that may need a helping hand.  These behind the scenes staff members are the 'parolees' that you see on the show, but while we spent time talking with them, I completely forgot that they have a rough past; we all share a common goal of providing homes for the pets and all share a passion for saving lives. 'Parolees' are just people, and the people that work at Villalobos are absolutely some of the kindest and most compassionate people I have ever met.  

Aaron, Matt and myself showing off a few of the items that
will be available to purchase in the Tahyo store.
This past weekend, as my husband and I arrived to New Orleans, we had the pleasure of seeing some of the lesser-known Villalobos programs and passion projects first-hand. One of these new adventures includes opening a store front in the New Orleans French Quarter to help earn money for the organization. Upon arriving to the Tahyo, we were greeted by Aaron and Matt, two of the VRC team members who have spear-headed both the Tahyo Tavern and now the Tahyo store. They showed us around their store including the office and clinic area, where they are going to be offering basic veterinary care to the many pets belonging to the homeless community within the city of New Orleans. 
Stoney - isn't he gorgeous!?!
While we were visiting the store, we stepped out front and were introduced to Stoney, a beautiful blue and white pit bull that belongs to a homeless woman in the area. Villalobos will be providing Stoney with the necessary vaccinations as well as tags and food until his owner is able to get back on her feet. VRC plans to offer these services to the many other homeless families who care for their pets. It's a truly amazing program and shows how humble this rescue truly is. 

During our visit to the Tahyo, we were able to set up our display for Pet Studio Art, so as soon as the store is open, visitors can grab a few original pieces of art, necklaces and tote bags featuring Villalobos Rescue pups! 

Live music at the Tahyo Tavern.
After visiting the store, we took the opportunity to visit the Tahyo Tavern, a bar which the Villalobos family took over and now use as a creative way to raise funds for the dogs. Each drink ordered feeds a dog for a day. We can drink all night to save puppies! (Although, we didn't because we had to get up early, so we just drank for a few hours to save puppies).

Early Sunday morning, we woke up for our VIP tour of the rescue. Aaron and Matt were so gracious to meet us at the facility and gave us a one on one tour, which included the rare introduction to a few of the dogs. Happily, we were the only visitors allowed in on Sunday, so we didn't have to fight a crowd and got to say hello to a few of our favorite VRC employees, including 'Country Matt' and Tony Converse. Both were incredibly friendly and took a moment to say hello, we didn't want to take up too much of their time, as they were obviously busy working to keep the kennels in order. 

Ally gets a case of the Zoomies.
We took a few moments to chat with the staff, then met sweet Ally, a beautiful pit bull. True to pittie form, Ally was eager to say hello and had a moment full of zoomies in the play yard. Ally is a wiggly, sweet girl who seems to just love life. She is incredibly treat motivated and LOVES attention. 

After spending some time with Ally, we met Reese, one of the happiest dogs I have ever met (photos below). Reese suffers from a neurological disorder called Cerebellar Hypoplasia. Due to this, he is special needs, although he doesn't know it at all. Reese walks a little differently than other dogs and has a hard time keeping his balance. This doesn't slow him down one bit though, he was super happy to say hello and was loving every second of the attention we gave him. 
Snowball, available for adoption.
After meeting Reese, we took a quick walk through the kennels and met a few other pups and chatted about the partnership that Villalobos has made with a rural shelter about 3 hours away called Assumption Parish. This shelter is in rough shape as it is located far from the major cities and up until recently really had no support. Villalobos has reached out to help in many ways, including pulling dogs into their own facility to offer them a chance at adoption. This shelter reminded me a lot of the New Braunfels shelter which I visited a few weeks ago to do a photo shoot. A small shelter that wants to do better, but needs help to get started. 

Living in Austin, I am a bit spoiled at the number of rescue organizations that work hard within our community to save every homeless pet. Over the last several years, we have achieved No Kill status in Austin and while sometimes our rescue organizations disagree, generally, every member of our rescue community agrees that saving lives is number one on the list. Visiting a city like New Orleans, where the rescue community is not quite as large or involved really is an eye opener. Where we have low cost spay and neuter programs, New Orleans and Villalobos are in the beginning stages of starting those programs. Where we have free vaccination and spay/neuter programs for pit bulls, Villalobos is working to convince the public that spay/neuter is a positive thing. The programs that Villalobos is bringing to their community as well as the positive image they are promoting for rescue dogs is just incredible to watch. We, of course, wish them the absolute best in all of their upcoming endeavors and look forward to our next fundraiser (and our next visit to New Orleans)!

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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Ally, the cutest pup ever!
I could just squeeze him forever! Reese is truly the happiest dog in the world!
Aaron obviously adores Reese - just goes to show how much the VRC team really loves the dogs! I think this photo is incredibly beautiful and one of my favorites from the trip!
I'm ready for a treat now please!
Giving Reese some love! This boy never stopped moving, I am amazed even one photo came out!
Treats and toys we left for the pups!
The Tahyo store sign.
Loving on sweet Ally.
My husband Chris and myself at Villalobos Rescue Center.
Earlina, available for adoption.
Ally again - I just love this sweetie!
Those faces! 
Just another reason to adopt - these guys all deserve an amazing home of their own!
This litter of puppies (several others not pictures) just went up for adoption after surviving Parvo.
The gorgeous Villalobos gate.
How can anyone resist that face?!
Posing with my Cheech and Chong original pieces that hang in the VRC lobby - I love running across my own work in the real world! 
So beautiful!

Beads grace the entrance to the rescue. Adorable, mardi gras themed!