WORDS Kim Newth PHOTOS Sarah Rowlands

Sapphire is a tough-looking pit bull in need of adoption.
She has been waiting a long time for the right ‘forever home’ but, at Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue there are no plans to give up on her just yet.

“Sapphire is our longest stayer,” rescue centre founder Abbey van der Plas says.

“She arrived here in December 2016 as an 11-month-old puppy from the pound.” Abbey has no regrets about saving Sapphire from the canine equivalent of death row but admits it’s hard to find potential owners for ‘menacing’ breeds like this that have to be kept muzzled while out in public.

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“Of course, we see the other side and know what a lovely dog she really is.”

Being a guardian angel to neglected and rejected dogs like this in life and death situations is challenging, but Abbey has long had a soft spot for muscular mutts.

It was while volunteering with Dogwatch some years ago that Abbey first became aware of how many such dogs were falling through the cracks.

“So many were winding up in pounds through no fault of their own and were being put down because of how they looked – no-one would adopt them. Education is a big part of what we do,” Abbey says.

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She set up Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue a decade ago, initially running it from home before going the next step and establishing a rescue centre in Woolston. It can accommodate nine dogs at a time in comfort. The goal is to provide temporary shelter, food, and vet care with the next step being foster care and ultimately adoption. The centre has a network of people who foster dogs and the team works closely with councils and pounds throughout New Zealand.

“I always say ‘this is the shelter the community built’ because everything that comes into this place has been donated. We don’t get any funding but we have an amazing following on Facebook so if we are ever in a tough spot, we can ask for help.”

De-sexing is a top priority for Abbey and her volunteers because every unwanted litter adds to the problem of neglect.

“We offer heavy discounts on de-sexing; the benefits are immeasurable. We don’t get anywhere near the same number of mother dogs and puppies as we once did. We can’t take all the credit as the SPCA has de-sexing programmes too but I do believe we are making a big difference,” Abbey says.

Every dog that comes into the centre is assessed for temperament and colour coded on behaviour. A lot of work goes into rehabilitation and creating a quality environment. Close observation of dogs over time in different situations feeds into that final picture of what kind of home and owner would be a good fit.

Abbey along with her partner Travis and their three children have three rescue dogs of their own, but every rescue dog is special to her. She has seen many transformations, such as Ragnar, who had spent his entire life chained up and hungry before being rescued.

“Our volunteers put a lot of time and energy into showing him that the world was not such a scary place. He was in the shelter for a good six months before we put him into a foster home, where he really flourished. He ended up being adopted by a lovely rural couple who have four other dogs – today, he has the most beautiful life.”