A young woman who grew up terrified of big dogs has revealed how she was able to conquer her fear and adopt a 30kg American Staffordshire Terrier.
Lauren Irvine, 28, spent most of her childhood and teens believing bully breeds such as Pitbulls and Bull Terriers were unpredictable and often attacked people.
Her father bought her a tiny Maltese Shih Tzu named Ted when she was in high school but it wasn’t until years later that she came face-to-face with one of the breeds she had feared all her life, a Pitbull called Yoda that her partner was looking after.
‘The dog had been really badly abused,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘You could pull out a flip flop and he would hit the ground and wet himself.’
Lauren Irvine and Mocha have been inseparable since she adopted him in June of 2020
Ms Irvine was applying for dogs ‘left, right and centre’ before she found Mocha (pictured)
Ms Irvine, who grew up in Sydney but now lives in Brisbane, said just one weekend with the calm and sweet-natured Yoda transformed her long-held perceptions of bully breeds.
‘I realised these dogs were really sweet. Yoda slept a lot,’ she said.
The former personal trainer and freelance writer said Yoda had a positive effect on her anxiety, something she has struggled with all her life.
‘He would lay his head on me or in my lap, and I found it really calming,’ she said.
She and her partner, a builder, started applying for dogs ‘left, right and centre’ after finding out how many bully breeds were living in shelters, with many on death row.
Through a contact at the Sydney Dogs and Cat Home, they heard a litter had been born inside the shelter whose parents had been abandoned by their owners.
‘We didn’t know if the puppies were going to survive. We had to wait eight weeks and at that point I wanted a dog so badly,’ Ms Irvine said.
People on the streets assume Mocha is aggressive due to stigma surrounding bully-breeds
Mocha (pictured) has helped Ms Irvine overcome her long-standing fear of bully breeds
Mocha, and the couple’s other dog Ted, have grown to be best friends and roommates
The couple were vetted by the centre about their income, lifestyle and living arrangements before they made sure a Staffordshire X Labrador puppy called Mocha could get along with Ted – Ms Irvine’s Maltese Shih Tzu.
They adopted Mocha in June 2020 and got straight to work, spending thousands of dollars on his training and working with a dog behaviourist.
‘We were responsible from the get go, we had the training lined up because we knew he was going to be a big dog,’ Ms Irvine said.
Life quickly changed once Mocha was fully grown, who now weighs 30kg.
The couple soon started noticing people would cross the road when they saw Mocha coming.
Another time, Ms Irvine overheard a mother telling her five-year-old son that ‘dogs like that cannot be trusted’ and urging him not to touch them.
In their communal garden at their apartment block in Randwick, a neighbour started screaming and yelling when Mocha approached her for a pat.
The couple have had to adopt several tactics in response to people’s reactions.
The couple use a long lead to take Mocha on walks where he chases balls and goes swimming
Ms Irvine said her experience of bully breeds is that they are sweet, loving, and calming dogs
She says communication is key when speaking to other dog owners about Mocha
They tell people that Mocha is part Labrador which ‘calms people down’ and that even though he can be nervous, he’s not aggressive or violent.
Ironically, it’s their 12-year-old Shih Tzu Ted who’s more likely to bite – another anecdote they tell dog owners they see looking warily in Mocha’s direction.
‘He has issues with his back and can be wary of people,’ Ms Irvine said.
‘We often have to step in and say that Ted doesn’t like to be patted, but Mocha does.’
However due to the stigma surrounding bully breeds, the couple can no longer face going to the dog park.
Instead, they take Mocha on ‘adventures’ where he can go swimming, complete agility courses and chase balls in large open fields without as many dogs.
Mental stimulation is also extremely important, with the couple hiding treats around their home and creating puzzles and snuffle mats.
Mocha is now three-years-old and has become an deeply-loved and important family member
Ms Irvine takes Mocha for walks alone and has never had to worry about restraining him, or keeping him under control.
‘I feel like it’s my responsibility to advocate for my dog,’ she said.
Her biggest tips for people curious about adopting a bully breed like Mocha include doing their research and investing in training.
‘My advice would be to go down the line of working with a trainer,’ she said.
Ms Irvine said fostering was also a good way for wannabe pet owners to ‘try before they buy’ and see how a new dog or cat fitted in with their home and lifestyle.
Ms Irvine comfortably takes her 30kg canine for walks alone, and has never had to worry about not being able to restrain Mocha or keep him under control
‘The best way to find information is online, there’s so many educational blogs about fearful dogs or bringing a rescue dog home,’ she said.
‘I’m a real advocate for adopting rescue dogs.’
American Bulldogs, American Staffordshire Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers are the top three breeds most commonly found in shelters, according to Cuddle Clones.
These breeds are followed by Pit Bulls, Boxers, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, Chihuahuas, Beagles and finally, Labrador Retrievers.
One in six Australians believe that pets in animal shelters don’t get along with other pets or humans, with common stereotypes of rescue animals and certain breeds being difficult to handle, aggressive and even violent.
If you are interested in adopting a shelter dog, click here.
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk