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‘The Tiny Pitbull’ gives dogs a second chance

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It’s been a little over a year since Christine Del Ponte launched a Facebook page to save Tilly, a pit bull who had spent more than a year being constantly overlooked an area shelter. Within days of the online campaign, the 40-pound dog had been adopted and the larger effort called “The Tiny Pitbull” in honor of the small dog was born out of the success story.

Now, Del Ponte is at the helm of the Petaluma-based rescue organization, a volunteer effort that helps give canines that are having a difficult time in shelters or whose owners have to surrender them a second chance to find a loving home through a robust foster program as well as promotion on social media.

Del Ponte said she’d been volunteering at the Sonoma County Humane Society as a form of therapy for dealing with cancer when she started “falling in love with dogs that needed a second chance more than others.”

“I just knew that there had to be a better market than what was going on,” she said of promoting animals that may be difficult to place in homes. “Most shelters are overwhelmed and don’t have the time … but I thought ‘I’m a volunteer and I have plenty of time.’ So it just kind of took off.”

Del Ponte called the organization, which is headquartered at the Petaluma Animal Shelter’s Hopper Street facility, a “matchmaking service,” where she takes the time to get to know both potential candidates for fostering and adoption, as well as the canines before placing a dog in a home, often spending the afternoon with animals to get “real life experience.”

The Tiny Pitbull, which is funded solely through donations and fees associated with surrender and adoption, also organizes transportation for dogs if necessary, she said.

Since its launch, about 150 dogs of varying breeds have been adopted, though a focus on pit bulls and Chihuahuas has emerged, Del Ponte said.

“We break the stereotype every single day we come to work,” she said. “People think pit bulls and Chihuahuas don’t get adopted, but we sell out all the time.”

The Tiny Pitbull has also held several successful adoption events, including a Super Bowl-themed event in January where six dogs were taken home after a crowd of 50 people and 25 volunteers turned up.

“It’s kind of funny, I came up with this idea three years ago to save these dogs that were overlooked and I thought there was no way I could do it,” she said, adding that she gets dozens of calls each week from people who are interested in lending a hand. “Now, I’m laughing inside myself and it blows my mind every day to think that there are so many people that want to help us and want to be involved — there are more volunteers than I have positions for.”

Del Ponte currently works with a foster network of about 25 people to provide temporary care for about 10 to 15 dogs at a time. Each canine is sent home with all the necessary supplies, and usually spends about two weeks in foster homes before being adopted, she said.

Others who can’t offer a foster home have donated money or supplies, including a women who noticed the effort online and stopped by during a visit from Texas to donate $20 and a bag of dog food, she said. Others have pledged to support dogs, with about 90 percent of canines leaving the organization through a sponsored adoption.

Petaluman Amy Taylor, who’s one of seven volunteers that help with transportation, facilitating fostering and social media, said there’s a new Facebook post for every dog, with updates about every three hours, which allows the community to connect with the organization.

“People just come though and they want to help, want to be a part of it,” she said. “Especially in Petaluma, people are such animal lovers.”

Del Ponte said the organization keeps her busy, but she said it’s worth it to be able to make an impact.

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” she said.

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com. On Twitter @hannahbeausang.)