‘Something in her eyes like hope’
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Calista’s journey from victim of dogfighting to therapy dog

Elizabeth Medora


PHOENIX – Sometimes miracles have four legs.

When Calista the pit bull was found on the streets of Phoenix, she was so weak she could barely walk and had barely survived years of horrific abuse. Today, Calista is a happy, healthy pup that is sharing her love of life with the world as a therapy dog.

Calista had her first official therapy dog visit on May 18, at the SHARP School for children with special needs. Her therapy dog certification confirms what everyone who meets Calista feels: she embodies love, forgiveness, and hope.

Jeannette Goldsberry and her husband John described the first time they saw Calista. Even when Calista was so weak she couldn’t walk, was covered in ticks, had an external ear so badly wounded and infected that the tissue had rotted away, Calista hadn’t given up.

“There was something in her eyes like hope,” Jeannette said, petting Calista as she spoke.

When she was first found, Calista must have been surviving on hope.

In July 2013, a Phoenix Police officer found Calista on the streets. She was deathly ill, filthy, and terrified. Judging by her wounds, she had been a victim of dogfighting. The officer who found her brought her to Maricopa County Animal Care and Control in hopes she could be saved. She was then put in the care of Mayday Pit Bull Rescue & Advocacy. 

“They (Animal Care and Control) reached out to Mayday,” Jeannette said. “ She needed care immediately.”

“We picked her up out of County and brought her straight to Vetmed,” John said. Vetmed, an emergency and specialty animal hospital, offered all the treatment Calista would need in the coming months.

“We named her at Vetmed,” John commented.

“When you take a dog that’s in that condition, you want to name them before you leave, just in case they don’t make it that night,” Jeannette said.

Jeannette and John saw beyond the dirt and disease to the dog underneath.

“We named her Calista because it means ‘most beautiful,’” Jeannette explained.

John and Jeannette had lost one of their dogs just a month earlier.

“We had been in the vet hospital grieving,” Jeannette said. “This time, we were in the vet hospital rooting with hope. For us, she was the most beautiful thing we’d ever seen.”

Calista had a long way to go to regain her health.

She was emaciated, weighing just 32 pounds.  One of her external ears was missing. The other earflap was damaged beyond repair.

“She had been hurt and then left for so long that all of the tissue was infected,” Jeannette said.

Despite the outer damage to her ears, Calista can hear, thanks to the Vetmed surgeons’ reconstruction of her ear canals. Her ears are now fully functional and pain-free.

Calista is up to a healthy pit bull weight now, too.

“She weighs 57 pounds now,” John commented, rubbing Calista’s tummy as she flopped beside him in the grass. “We try to keep her right under 60 pounds.”

Calista’s road to healing has struck a chord with people all over the world. At her fans’ urging, Jeannette and John created a Facebook page for her, Facebook.com, Calista the Pit Bull. She has almost 10,000 Facebook followers.

“Ever since we rescued her, there was a huge outpouring of community support,” Jeannette said. “It was really amazing. Since she was cleared to be in the public, she’s been in the public.”

The next step was getting Calista certified as a therapy dog. She joins multiple other Mayday alumni as a certified therapy dog. Calista is also part of the Mayday rescue’s anti-dogfighting education program. Calista has now visited the Sharp School as both a therapy dog and an ambassador for humane treatment of pets.

“Adolescents are the most at risk for engaging in dogfighting,” Jeannette reported. “When you bring a dog that has been a victim of dogfighting and they can empathize with that dog and they can see a lot of themselves – a lot of the similarities between themselves and the dog – it increases their empathy and decreases their risk for engaging in that behavior.”

Dogfighting involves training dogs to fight each other to the death. Dogs in these illegal rings often die horrific deaths, sometimes directly at the hands of their owners. Some dogs are used as ‘bait dogs,’ to train the fighting dogs. Calista’s injuries indicate that dogfighters used her, possibly as a bait dog. Since she was found wandering, no one knows where she came from, and police haven’t been able to charge anyone for the abuse she suffered.

Jeannette and John’s first pit bull was thought to be a victim of dogfighting, like Calista.

“We became involved with Mayday because we became advocates of the breed and also for victims of dogfighting,” Jeannette said.

Pit bulls aren’t forced to fight just because of their strength – they’re misused due to their loyalty and willingness to please.

“That’s that loyalty and commitment that they were originally bred for,” Jeannette noted. “Then they’re exploited for that loyalty and for that willingness to do what humans want.”

Jeannette related that a dogfighting ring in Arizona was recently busted, thanks to a witness who reported the crimes. Anyone who suspects a dogfighting ring should call 911 or the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office animal cruelty hotline at (602) 876-1681.

Calista’s healing process has been mental as well as physical. Jeannette described her as “resilient” throughout.

“She definitely needed a lot of support,” Jeannette said. “She was nervous but brave.”

Calista came into John and Jeannette’s lives when they were grieving the loss of their first dog, and she brought healing with her.

Jeannette called rescuing Calista “one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”

“She definitely healed us as much as we helped her heal.”

See more about Mayday Pit Bull Rescue & Advocacy at www.maydaypitbullrescue.org. Follow Calista’s journey: Facebook.com, Calista the Pit Bull.