Remembering Van Gogh

All of us who share life with the Pit Bull know that tales of their loyalty and courage abound. On this page, we will share with you a few accounts of valiant dogs whose lives have inspired us. As time permits, we will be adding more stories about “America’s Favorite Dogs”. Please visit us often, and let us know what you think.

Recently New York State’s Capital District newspapers and TV stations ran an account of a fire in Copake, NY in which Lydia Bulger, a longtime Copake resident perished. The tragedy further deepened when it was learned that the fire had claimed another victim, Lydia’s Pit Bull Terrier, “Van Gogh”. I’d like you to read my brief account of Van Gogh’s life, a true hero-one whose presence changed lives– the seven-year-old dog who stayed with his 77-year-old friend, Lydia, to the very end.

As part of a rescue organization, I had been rescuing Greyhounds from New England dog tracks a few years back when I and Valerie Lennie of Bar Mike Kennel, the kennel that helped us with the greyhounds, began to learn of another breed being badly exploited in this country, the American Pit Bull Terrier. It was then when we began to learn of a very special brindle Pit Bull being held in the Dutchess County SPCA in Hyde Park, NY–one who, according to a shelter volunteer, “just has something that goes right through you when he looks at you.” He had been waiting for a home for months, and had been dubbed “Van Gogh” by shelter staff because of his very short ears (crudely cut off by someone.) Finally, after hearing about him over and over again, we called the shelter and told them that we would pick him up and find him a home, just as we did with Greyhounds. They were delighted, as he was very special to everyone, even though 40% to 60% of their large facility was occupied by Pit Bulls or crosses. The staff was especially delighted because some “suspicious-looking” visitors had looked him over more than once. Like most urban shelters, this one tries very hard to keep Pit Bulls out of the hands of those who would abuse them for fighting or drug-guarding purposes.

The day before we were to pick up our new charge, we got a distressed call from the shelter telling us that the night before, someone had broken into the outside kennel runs and stolen Van Gogh and another Pit Bull, Pinkie, who had been spayed only the day before. Everyone was devastated; police were contacted; newspapers and TV stations ran stories and pictures; shelter staff walked the streets searching. Animal Control Officer Kathy Thorpe joined the effort, and volunteers began to stand guard at the shelter nightly. We were haunted with the knowledge the Van Gogh and Pinkie were now almost certainly living a hellish life.

Three months later, on a frigid January morning, an auto mechanic at a Poughkeepsie, NY repair shop climbed into a customer’s car to drive it into the garage. As he sat in the vehicle, two dogs leaped onto him from the back seat. Terrified, the mechanic jumped from the car and called police. The police in turn called Kathy Thorpe, who later told me; “I arrived and these two skeletons all slashed up were jumping up on me tails wagging like crazy. Only after I saw the stitches on her belly did I understand that this was Pinky. Never have I wanted to have a cell phone as much as I did during that drive back to the shelter. Van Gogh and Pinky were back!”

Van Gogh’s wounds were such that he had to be hospitalized before coming back into the shelter. But as soon as he did, shelter staff called us and asked if we would take both dogs. They were afraid that the individuals who had stolen the pair, would be back. We drove to Hyde Park that afternoon, and brought back the two skin and bone creatures. Van Gogh was still torn up and bumpy with deep abscesses; Pinky’s white face and black body was a road map of nasty red gashes. Within a couple of months both were somewhat recovered, and Pinky was adopted and adored by a local family. Van Gogh was being fostered by member of the Greyhound rescue organization and her twelve Greyhounds. With her, Van Gogh began attending all of the New York Capital District Greyhound Adoption Clinics. Everybody there could feel the power of his presence, and what Cydney coined the “all-knowing” expression in his eyes as he looked onto the world. Glossy brindle now and imposing, he not only represented his breed magnificently, he had a dignity that was almost spiritual.

Some time later, we were very happy when an old friend, Phil Luning, decided to take Van Gogh home and make him his own. This was so clearly what Van Gogh wanted and needed, that within weeks his total devotion to Phil and his mom, Lydia Bulger, was almost palpable. Out in public, Van Gogh’s eyes never left their faces and Lydia began calling this majestic creature her “baby”. For Van Gogh, it was a well-earned paradise at last. The Bulger home was part of a family compound and every member of the family was a dog lover. Van Gogh loved, and was loved by, an extended family that included Lydia’s grandchildren which he delighted in pulling through the snow on a sled. When Phil’s mother fell and broke her hip, Van Gogh became her constant companion.

Last March, just over four years from the day Van Gogh finally found his home, Lydia and Van Gogh were alone in the house when a fire broke out. Due to her broken hip she was still an invalid. True to the legendary loyalty of his breed, Van Gogh stayed by her side to the end. Many at Lydia’s funeral mourned the great dog’s passing, and tried to comfort Phil who had lost not only his mother, but also his best friend.

Van Gogh did not live and die in vain. It was he who provided the original inspiration for Out of the Pits Inc.

He showed us what a Pit Bull was meant to be. Without him this website would not exist, and more importantly, hundreds of Out of the Pits adoptions would never have taken place. Each of these now-beloved dogs would have completed their already-started journey to an early death.

Van Gogh will stand forever in our minds and hearts as the quintessential Pit Bull–a dog that continues to offer only love and loyalty in spite of mankind’s brutal treatment.