In an area populated with purebred dogs — including the most Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in the city, according to one 2015 survey — Rebecca Ascher-Walsh is passionate about pit bulls.
The author and Upper East Side native has opened her home and dedicated her time to championing and saving the lives of the often unloved and controversial animals.
She didn’t feel one way or another about pit bulls until she met a young man at an adoption event who couldn’t keep his dog after his mother had died. Desperate to help, she took home Dino, who turned out to be one of the funniest and most delightful dogs of her life.
Nearly a decade later, she’s three more pit bull adoptions in, an avid volunteer, and co-founder of a “scholarship” fund to help make it easier to rescue shelter dogs.
As a longtime volunteer at Animal Care and Control, the city’s shelter, her work includes helping to socialize new arrivals, writing dogs’ bios to be posted for adoption, and taking dogs on the “euth list” for what might be their last walks.
“I just try to go there with an open heart and give everything I have, whether that’s special time and treats and tucking them in the night before not knowing what will happen, or extra time with me in the morning. I want to make their lives as comfortable as possible while they are there.”
As rewarding as the work at ACC is, the city shelter is required to take in every dog surrendered — most by owners — and there can be as many as fifteen dogs between the boroughs on the euth list daily.
She and some other volunteers felt like they were constantly losing ground, so, in 2012, they started Deja Foundation, a 501c3, named after Ascher-Walsh’s third adopted pit bull, a former bait dog — in essence a punching bag for aggressive dogs training to fight. Deja offers “scholarships” to help cover costs like vet bills and training costs, encouraging rescue groups or adopters to pull dogs off the euth list by alleviating some of the financial strain.
“Instead of being focused on the high cost of adopting the dog, they can focus on bonding. We want to make the transition of a potentially traumatized dog into its forever home go smoothly,” says Ascher-Walsh. “The reward is getting the “after” pictures of these dogs, many of whom I’ve known from ACC and loved, but not known whether the dog would make it out or not.”
She says her affinity for pit bulls is something hard to pin down since as with people and animals and things we love, it’s something that’s largely unconscious.
“Maybe it’s the way they lumber in such a goofy way,” she says. “They are the laziest dogs I’ve ever met, who want nothing more than to be on the couch with their human. And I love how they’re big dogs with the temperament of a lap dog.”
Ascher-Walsh’s affection and advocacy for pit bulls and rescues runs in the family.
Her eight-year-old twin girls lecture people not to “shop” for a dog when so many in shelters need homes, and are mystified at guarded reactions to Buddy, the family’s 11-year-old rescue pit that they’ve been inseparable from since they were brought home as preemies.
One of their favorite make-believe games is “shelter dog,” says Ascher-Walsh. “One poses as the adopter and the other acts as dogs seeing if they can charm their way into the adopter’s heart and home.”
“Loyal,” the second installment of Rebecca Ascher-Walsh’s dog book trilogy, will be published in March 2017. The first volume, “Devoted,” came out in 2013.
To help rescue dogs on the euth list, go to Urgent 2 on Facebook.