Rescued dogs can’t tell us where they’ve been or what they’ve gone through. Often, adopters are left to piece together a dog’s backstory based on shelter records, and in the sadder cases, from scars. Penelope the Pit Bull is different from most rescue dogs — her history is as clear as HD video.
Her journey from desperate stray to pampered pet has been recorded every step of the way. The subject of three documentary shorts available on YouTube, Penelope was not quite a year old when she was rescued from the streets of Detroit. She was very sick and likely would have died if she hadn’t been spotted that day.
Filmmaker and executive director of the World Animal Awareness Society (WA2S) Tom McPhee let the cameras roll as volunteers participating in its American Strays Canine Census moved through a Detroit neighborhood, collecting data on stray dogs. That’s when Cathy Gray, formerly of Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan (RPSM), approached poor Penelope, offering treats and making a call to the Michigan Humane Society. The dog needed urgent help as her skin was obviously infected and deteriorating.
“She had a pretty severe case of mange,” says Misty Kosmerick, current president of RPSM.
The organization would later place Penelope in its Correctional Companion Program at Coldwater Prison Complex and eventually in her forever home. Each milestone in Penelope’s amazing rescue story was captured on camera in WA2S’ American Strays series (previewed below).
“I really didn’t see any of the documentary until after I had adopted her,” says Sheri Prielipp-Falzone, who adopted Penelope (and her fellow RPSM dog, Barkley) after the Pit Bull’s stint in prison.
Although Prielipp-Falzone has more than 20 years of experience rescuing dogs, she was still moved to tears when Penelope’s former foster person showed her images from the dog’s first contact with RPSM.
“The scars are still there from being out on the street, but once you get to know her she is a baby doll,” says Prielipp-Falzone.
According to Kosmerick of RPSM, that baby doll of a dog wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for the three months she spent behind bars.
The RPMS dogs who participate in the Correctional Companion Program work with teams of two inmates who are responsible for every aspect of the dogs’ care, from feeding and grooming to potty breaks. The positive training techniques that make up the program help dogs like Penelope develop self-esteem. The inmates have to apply to work in the program, which helps both the people and the pups learn valuable skills that can help them transition to life on the outside.
“For a dog like Penelope, it’s a very structured, consistent routine. Every day, it’s the same thing at the same time. It really helps if you have a dog like her, who is unsure or fearful, to have that structure,” says Kosmerick.
“When she came out of prison and went out into her foster home, she seemed to adjust much easier. She seemed to have the confidence to adjust to going back into a home environment versus a very regimented environment.”
After her foster home came her forever home, and once again, Penelope’s big life event was captured on camera, when Prielipp-Falzone (along with her husband and two teenage sons) adopted the dog who was once so close to dying on the street.
“A girlfriend from high school had gotten me in touch with RPSM,” Prielipp-Falzone explains. “My previous pup, Thelma Jane, was coming to the end of a long battle with cancer, and [my friend] knew I couldn’t be without a dog.”
The Prielipp-Falzone family fell in love with Penelope at first sight, and they were just what RPSM had been looking for in a potential match. A family experienced with dogs and with older, teenage kids was exactly what RPSM felt Penelope needed. The match was made even more perfect when the Prielipp-Falzones asked to take Penelope’s best bud Barkley, too.
“We felt she probably would do okay in a home by herself, but if she could have him with her, because they were so bonded, it would definitely help,” says Kosmerick of RPSM.
Penelope and Barkley have now been in their forever home since 2012. Penelope gained a middle name, and is officially known as Penelope Louise, but unofficially known as Penny. According to Prielipp-Falzone, Penny and Barkley are like her kids and definitely deserve the pampered life they’ve been living since graduating from prison.
“They play together, they run around together. I just love them,” she says, adding that while Penelope is still scared of strangers who enter her house, she’s more than happy to cuddle up with her human family members.
It’s obvious that Penelope has come a long way since the camera first zoomed in on the unwanted pup who was covered in mange. She had to go to prison in order to learn how good people can be, and now Penelope’s story is teaching people all over the world that every stray can be rehabilitated and rehomed.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.