A young woman who grew up with a fear of big dogs has revealed how she overcame her fear and adopted a 70lb American Staffordshire Terrier.
Lauren Irvine, 28, spent most of her childhood and teenage years thinking bully breeds like Pitbulls and Bull Terriers were unpredictable and often attacked people.
Her father bought her a little 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 who took care of her partner.
“The dog had been badly mistreated,” she told Daily Mail Australia.
“You could take off a flip flop and it would hit the ground and wet itself.”
Lauren Irvine and Mocha have been inseparable since she adopted him in June 2020
Ms Irvine applied for dogs ‘left, right and centre’ before finding Mocha (pictured)
Ms Irvine, who grew up in Sydney but now lives in Brisbane, said just one weekend with the calm and gentle Yoda changed her long-held perceptions of bullying breeds.
“I realized these dogs were very 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’s struggled with all her life.
“He would put his head on top of me or in my lap, and I found that very soothing,” she said.
She and her partner, a builder, began requesting dogs “left, right, and center” after learning how many bully breeds were living in shelters, many of them on death row.
Through a contact at the Sydney Dogs and Cat Home, they learned that a litter had been born at the shelter whose parents had been abandoned by their owners.
“We didn’t know if the puppies would survive. We had to wait eight weeks and that’s when I wanted a dog so bad,” said Mrs. Irvine.
People on the street assume that Mocha is aggressive because of the stigma surrounding bully breeds
Mocha (pictured) has helped Mrs. Irvine overcome her long-standing fear of bully breeds
Mocha and the couple’s other dog, Ted, have become best friends and roommates
The pair were vetted by the center on their income, lifestyle and living arrangements before ensuring a Staffordshire X Labrador puppy named Mocha got along with Ted – Mrs Irvine’s Maltese Shih Tzu.
They adopted Mocha in June 2020 and immediately went to work, spending thousands of dollars on his training and working with a dog behaviorist.
“We were responsible from the start, we had the training ready because we knew he was going to be a big dog,” said Ms. Irvine.
Life changed quickly when Mocha was fully grown, who now weighs 30 kg.
The couple soon noticed people crossing the road when they saw Mocha coming.
On another occasion, Mrs. 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 community garden near their apartment building in Randwick, a neighbor started yelling and screaming when Mocha approached her for a pat on the back.
The pair have had to employ different tactics in response to people’s reactions.
The couple uses a long leash to take Mocha on walks where he chases balls and goes swimming
Ms. Irvine said her experience with bully breeds is that they are sweet, loving and calming dogs
She says communication is key when talking to other dog owners about mocha
They tell people that Mocha is part Labrador, which “calms people down” and that while he can be nervous, he is not aggressive or violent.
Ironically, it’s their 12-year-old Shih Tzu Ted who is more likely to bite – another anecdote they tell to dog owners who see them looking warily in Mocha’s direction.
“He has problems with his back and can be wary of people,” said Ms. Irvine.
“We often have to step in and say Ted doesn’t like being petted, but Mocha does.”
However, due to the stigma surrounding bully breeds, the couple can no longer handle going to the dog park.
Instead, they take Mocha on “adventures” where he can go swimming, take agility courses, and chase balls in wide open fields without so many dogs.
Mental stimulation is also extremely important, with the couple hiding treats around the house and creating puzzles and sniffing mats.
Mocha is now three years old and has become a much loved and important family member
Mrs. Irvine only takes Mocha for a walk and has never had to worry about restraining or controlling him.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to advocate for my dog,” she said.
Her biggest tips for those curious about adopting a bully breed like Mocha include doing your research and investing in training.
“My advice would be to work with a trainer,” she said.
Ms Irvine said fostering was also a good way for aspiring pet owners to “try before they buy” and see how a new dog or cat would fit their home and lifestyle.
Mrs. Irvine comfortably takes her 70lb dog for walks alone, and has never had to worry about not being able to restrain or control Mocha
“The best way to find information is online. There are so many educational blogs about anxious dogs or bringing a rescue dog home,” she said.
“I’m a big supporter of adopting rescue dogs.”
American Bulldogs, American Staffordshire Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers are the three most common breeds 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 pets in animal shelters don’t get along with other pets or people, 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.