The Unlikely Reverend Ambassador

Sometimes what counts is not how you fall, but where you land. 

A black-and-white beauty of a Pit Bull had been languishing in an industrial lot in Morgan Hill when he was discovered by Animal Control. He had a twisted and useless hind left leg from an old injury and was clearly suffering. Sadly, any stray animal needing surgery is typically euthanized, but one of the Animal Control officers caught the spark of something special in this particular dog. He then did something he had never done before. He called our non-profit animal shelter and hospital in San Francisco, Pets Unlimited, and asked us if we’d be willing to take on a lost cause a Pit Bull needing surgery.

Shelter veterinarian Chris Anderson’s initial reaction was tough but realistic. “Injured and a Pit: two strikes on him already,” she recalls. However, if the dog was going to have patron saints, they were clearly going to be Dr. Anderson and Lisa Gunter, the dog behaviorist at Pets Unlimited. Their belief that all dogs are individuals, combined with the unusual request from a trusted source, prompted  Chris and Lisa to go out and assess the desperate dog’s potential for adoption – not to mention existence.

When the Pets Unlimited team approached the dog, they were surprised at his friendliness. “Despite his pain and adversity, he thumped his tail in greeting,” reports Kaleda Walling, the shelter’s administrator. The team performed an evaluation, checking the dog’s responses to handling, arousal, and reprimand, as well as his behavior around other dogs. They were impressed with his skills and his calm and affectionate nature. Choosing his new name proved easy: the veterinarian dubbed him Reverend Lovejoy.

Lovejoy was transported to the hospital at Pets Unlimited for further examination and X-rays. Unfortunately, the injured leg would have to be removed. . Lovejoy healed quickly from the surgery, and the Pets Unlimited team guided him through swim therapy to help build strength in his remaining hind leg. Because the hospital includes a Holistic Veterinary Medicine Center, they were able to add weekly acupuncture to his recovery regimen.

As Lovejoy’s body recovered, so did his spirit, and it didn’t surprise anyone when he became a favorite of the staff. As time went on, he charmed all who encountered him, regardless of the initial misgivings so often prompted by his breed. A passerby encountering Lovejoy being walked around the neighborhood might stiffen at the sight of him, but the dog’s wagging tail and happy attitude quickly defused the situation.

“We aren’t able to rescue as many Pit Bulls as we would like,” says Kaleda. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and they have this hard-to-adopt status that’s really unfair.” But Kaleda sees hope in the example that Lovejoy is setting. “He’s our Ambassador Pit,” she explains. “We’re hoping to replace the negative reputation set by the mistreated members of the breed with the idea that Pit Bulls can make wonderful companions and loving family members.”

So far, so good. Lovejoy has proven himself worthy of the task. At the 2nd Annual Bay Area Pet Fair in San Rafael, he grabbed first place in the Underdog category, then went up against the winners in all other categories. There he was, the junkyard dog left for dead, a three-legged pit bull competing with many other dogs who had led relatively easy, maybe even pampered, and definitely less-controversial lives. This dog with the friendly nature and endearing gait, rescued from the brink of disaster by a team of smart, passionate, and intuitive canine professonals, was out there audaciously trying to win top prize in a dog show.

You don’t really need to be told who won, do you? Like I said: It’s all about where you land.

Ed. Note: As of press time, Reverend Lovejoy was available for adoption or foster-adopt from Pets Unlimited at 2343 Fillmore Street (at Washington) in San Francisco.   If you are interested in more information about the organization’s foster care program, please contact Shelley Smith at 415-568-3065 or
Jen Adams is the Development Director of Pets Unlimited in San Francisco (

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