If wearing a bonnet doesn’t strike you as the most effective way to end breed discrimination, then you haven’t heard of this pup: Abigail has gone from a former bait dog near death to winning this year’s American Humane Hero Dog Award for her the work she’s done to fight the pitbull stigma. Her piece de resistance is bonnet—or rather, the bonnets she wears that have become a symbol for surviving (and hopefully ending) dog cruelty. We talked to her human, Megan Steinke, about how Abigail recovered and has made such an impact on the canine community.
How was Abigail rescued?
Abigail was found in November, 2016 as a stray in Miami. She was taken to Miami Dade Animal Services, a high-kill shelter. Her picture was posted on a Facebook page called Urgent Dogs of Miami, and caught the attention of Victoria Frazier, owner of Love Is Fur Ever dog rescue. The right side of her face was completely torn off, including her right ear. She smelled like road kill from the infection and was covered in fleas and ticks. When they shaved her, the doctor saw old scars and new wounds all over her body. It was the first sign she’d been used as a bait dog in a fighting ring.
When did you decide to adopt her?
I was working as a TV news reporter in Fort Myers, and started following her journey based on my station’s coverage. From the get-go, something about her eyes spoke to me. I could see pain and suffering, but I also saw this glimmer of hope. After seeing her picture, I just knew what we had to do and remember saying to my husband “I want to be this little girl’s mommy.” At the time, we lived in a townhouse that had a one dog limit and we had another rescue dog, Tala. Seeing Abigail lit a flame under me, so when we finally decided on a house, my husband went behind my back and surprised me by applying to adopt Abigail. On her adoption day, she came right to me from the front and ran and wrapped her paws around me like a hug. It was like she knew why she was there.
How did the Bonnets for Abigail movement begin?
Abigail had weeks of very intense surgery to save her life and repair her wounds. During one of her bandage changes, her rescuer said it looked like she had a bow on top of her head. That sparked the idea of dressing up her bandages with bonnets. After Victoria bought Abigail a few, the Facebook page started with the purpose of raising awareness about animal cruelty and dog fighting. People constantly asked how they could send Abigail bonnets—they came in from all over the world! Abigail is now 100% healed, but she still wears the bonnets because they have become a part of her symbol for change.
How has she changed since you adopted her?
Watching her grow into her own skin has been such an immense joy. When she came to us, she couldn’t catch or even chase a ball but now she can catch one in mid-air without a second thought. Before she was slow, but now she keeps up with Tala. She’s doing all these things she never could do before. She has a sassy yet sweet personality, and we’re just so excited to watch her learn and grow over the course of our lives together.
Why do you think so many people see Abigail as a hero?
We get Facebook messages from people that share things like, “I have severe depression and seeing pictures of Abigail gets me through the day,” or “my daughter with autism lights up whenever she sees videos of Abigail.” Abigail defines hope, love, bravery, and forgiveness. She is a survivor and inspires others to do the same. Abigail is also a hero because she raises awareness about dog fighting. We get asked all the time what she went through as a bait dog, and it’s our chance to educate people about her experience. Pit bulls have a negative stigma that surrounds them and Abigail is showing the world that they are not vicious, it’s the humans who train them that are to blame.
What can people do to help end dog fighting and contribute to the Bonnets for Abigail mission?
I want people to look at Abigail, see a Pit bull and understand that she is not scary, she is the ideal family dog. I always say, the most vicious thing about Tala and Abigail are their kisses! If you hear something, say something. If you suspect something, report it. Even if you’re not 100% sure. You could be potentially saving lives. And for younger kids, it starts with education and telling your friends why it’s important to treat animals nicely!
We know this is a tough question but.... what is Abigail's absolute favorite bonnet?
I can’t say she has a favorite one! That said, my husband and I both agree that she loves the most extravagant ones… the big, fluffy, hey-look-at-me bonnets. And you know, it’s a bit like a celebrity, you can’t be seen in the same bonnet twice, so we go through them all… she typically has a new bonnet on every day. She even has a bonnet designer now and has them made for special events! But no matter the style, shape, or color, she wears them all with pride because of what they represent: putting an end to dog fighting once and for all.
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