Life is strange sometimes, in the way small acts can change your life unexpectedly.
Julie LeRoy, now a Cottekill resident, wasn’t expecting much that day five years ago when her job as an animal control officer called her to a home in a bad neighborhood in Durham, N.C. It was a pretty standard call, for a “stray aggressive,” in reality it was the neighbors fighting and involving their dogs.
This was a scene LeRoy was all too familiar with, which she finally subdued by threatening to have the police come and arrest the people. But it was nothing new. Working in Durham doing animal control was rough, she says — a very different situation than what she was used to in New York.
The violence of the neighborhoods play out the lives of the dogs, specifically pit bulls, as they are in many cases overbred and raised in hostility, chained to barrels in drug-infested neighborhoods where they are chips in the neighborhood dynamics, not valued members of a family.
“I took people to court, but there was little you could do, social media has done a lot to change this, but it’s still pretty hard form many of these dogs,” and pit bulls take the brunt of street violence. It made LeRoy upset and she felt powerless.
That particular day, LeRoy followed protocol. Once she had separated the neighbors, she moved onto dealing with the licensing and papering of the dogs. It was during the exchange that one of the owners let her know they were trying to get rid of a pit bull — they had to flee town and could not take the dog with them. Leroy had four other dogs at home already. The last thing she needed was a new one. But when the woman brought Cuda out, leashed with a piece of twine, her heart broke.
She was just a puppy of five months, but no ordinary looking dog. Her tiny body was curled and shortened, with long spindly legs and an extremely shortened spine. She had a white coat and a wide mouth. She was one of the stranger dogs LeRoy had ever seen but in the moment, she felt compelled to take action. Later that afternoon she came back and got the puppy.
LeRoy came up with the name Cuda because her wide mouth was reminiscent of the carnivorous Caribbean fish. A trip to the vet later, and it was confirmed that the dog was in fact healthy, with normal organs. But her spine was about one third the normal size, curling her body, giving it a baboon-like effect. While the cause of it is unknown, inbreeding is suspected.
It wasn’t long after LeRoy and her husband adopted Cuda that they noticed the amount of easy attention that Cuda naturally drew to herself. The dog began having fans. A Facebook page was made and she exploded. LeRoy has used the attention to bring visibility not just to Cuda, but to ask questions about the current situation and status of the breed.
“I feel driven to tell her plight, to draw attention to what can happen to dogs and most specifically pit bulls,” said LeRoy. “The laws are so lax for animal protection, with offenders often getting little more than a fine, even in cases of abuse.”
It bothers LeRoy that there is a stigma that follows the breed. She wants pit bulls to be seen as just dogs. She feels the press exploits the situation and it allows these cruelties to persist. Pit bulls, she said, are unique in what they are used for and there is a stigma that follows. Cuda herself was bought from a backyard breeder for $50.
Cuda’s mild celebrity and her ability to draw attention have become an opportunity to address this, said LeRoy. Her story of love rescue and recovery serves as way to rebut the negativity surrounding pit bulls. With her wide smile and her cheerful nature, giving a fun and silly grin to all her encounter her, Cuda disarms people and wins them over. During the past five years, Cuda has become an unlikely advocate her breed, showing pit bulls can be more than their hard stereotype.
Cuda has thousands of followers on Facebook, she has competed to be the world’s ugliest dog and has been pictured in the Pin Ups for Pit Bulls calendar, as well as several newspaper and magazine articles. LeRoy has even had her certified as a therapy dog.
Not bad for a dog from the wrong side of the tracks.