TODDVILLE — Tina Hughes has saved and found homes for over 700 pit bulls since 2008. She manages to take damaged dogs and make them whole. Almost without exception, the problem lies not with the dogs but with their owners. She calls her pit bulls her love bugs. After the dogs are rehabilitated, she is super selective about to whom she adopts. No renters need apply. Homeowners with stable lives are preferred.

“You have to pass a background check. You have to have a vet reference, and you have to have your own property. I don’t take apartment rentals, only houses. And I have to have a note from the landlord stating that it is OK. Basically I need to talk to that person face to face so I can see what kind of a person you are. If I don’t like you, you are not going to leave with a dog. Maybe I have been hard on people, but it works,” Hughes said.

“Toddville has been good for the dogs because we have almost eight acres of property. I could put their kennels up and then when they were ready to run, I could just let them out and not bother anybody,” she said.

“A lot of the dogs that have been sent to me have issues. Most of the issues are caused by people. You can get a bad dog that had a bad owner or was in a bad situation. I have had a couple down there that have been kind of fierce. But I keep them for about a year and I work with them and socialize them. I take them to get ice cream and cheeseburgers. Those two particular dogs were adopted. One went to a special needs child in Delaware. The other one went to family with four kids,” Hughes said.

“If you can’t love a dog like you love your family, then you don’t need one,” she added.

Hughes will take dogs of any age but prefers them younger. The training kicks in better with the younger dogs, she said. Even though there are very real costs to what she gives to these dogs, it is not a business. Hughes calls her drive to help these pups a calling. She is on partial disability for arthritis and muscle damage, which pays some of her bills.

“I love these dogs, always have. And for some reason they relate to me. I have gone to places where people say, ‘Oh, be careful. We can’t even get him out of the kennel.’ Really? I spend a few minutes with the dog and bring him out put him in the car and take him home. I think dogs know when they are with someone safe,” she said.

According to Hughes, pit bulls are extremely intelligent. She relies on the dogs themselves when it comes to placement. She puts ads in the paper and gets word or mouth. She has had adopters come back to adopt again.

“I have had a few that knew bad people when they showed up. It didn’t matter if they passed the background check or if they had a pet reference. If my dogs didn’t like them, they weren’t getting one. I want to know about you. Your lifestyle. What you do. How you react to things, and then I will fit you with the dog that is best for you. That has worked for the last 15 years,” she said.

Nearly 100 percent of her dogs have been pit bulls. She has had a couple of Labs and basset hounds. She insists that all of her dogs have had their shots and been spayed. It is sort of a trade. If you have the dog fixed, wormed and vaccinated, she will take on the effort of training your dog. When she first started, she had 10 dogs — 357 people applied and only 10 got a dog.

“I kept one too. He was the real deal. No dirt in him, but you had to know what you were doing with him. I just felt like they were the greatest dogs and were getting a bad rap. If I can just change one person’s mind, that is like a domino effect,” she said.

Pit bulls do have a reputation as aggressive, but she thinks there is a reason for that.

“The stigma surrounds the media, because they feed off of a story thinking ‘Oh this dog killed somebody.’ A lot of people don’t understand there are almost 15 breeds that fall under the pit bull name. Pit bull is not a breed; it is a name. Like is it a Dogo Argentino?” she said. They look like pit bulls but are even bigger. She thinks if you want to change your mind about how safe pit bulls are, you should get one.

“These dogs need to be socialized just like a child. If you don’t teach your child nothing, they will know nothing. If you want a good dog, then you work with that dog and you teach that dog. They are not bred to fight. They are taught to fight,” Hughes said.

Some people do abuse these animals.

“People mistreat these animals and it makes me mad. A guy just got 10 years in Florida for killing a Pitt bull puppy. He should have gotten 20. Because if you don’t hold these people accountable, nothing is going to change,” she said.

They were bred to lead bulls to slaughter in England. A 35-pound pit bull can tow 1,500 pounds. She has a 98-pound dog named Zeus that she is looking to give away for free. If someone was trying to buy a pit bull like Zeus, that would cost about $800, Hughes noted.

“Zeus is just a love bug,” she said.

She has been at this for awhile and is ready to retire. In the beginning, Hughes said she adopted out 127 dogs in a year, which was two or three a week. So she is down to four kennels and only has a few more adults to place. Because of the work involved with the kennel, Hughes said she has not had a vacation in years. She wants to spend more time with her grandchildren.

“I am tired. I don’t regret anything I have done these last 15 years or for these dogs and I do feel like the stigma surrounding these dogs is changing. Almost of my dogs have gone to families with kids on farms. I have had one come back. She bit the man because he was beating his wife. And I told the woman, ‘You got rid of the wrong dog,’” Hughes said.

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