When Cora Palma stumbled upon an abandoned Pit Bull puppy roaming the streets of South Los Angeles, keeping the dog was the furthest thing from her mind. Palma, like many, feared that Pit Bulls were aggressive creatures and not lovable household pets. Little did she know that the puppy she found would not only change her perspective on Pit Bulls but would single handedly help to challenge the stigmas associated with the breed.
Palma, a school psychologist, was on her way to work one morning when she found a filthy and abandoned Pit Bull puppy running down the street. Falling victim to the common stereotype of Pit Bulls being aggressive and unpredictable, she was hesitant to approach the dog.
“When I first saw her, my initial instinct was to go pick her up because she was clearly too tiny and young to be running around alone,” she says. “But then I thought, ‘What the heck am I going to do with this dog? She’s clearly a Pit Bull.’”
Palma almost drove away, but after witnessing the puppy trotting up to people passing by and begging to be scooped up, her heart broke for the young dog, and she pulled her car over and got out.
“She ran right up to me and almost leapt into my arms when I bent down to pick her up. At first, I stood on the sidewalk while holding her, looking around to see if she belonged to anyone. I waited for about 10 minutes until I began talking to one of the residents, asking if he knew who this dog belonged to. He responded with, ‘From the looks of it, you,’” she says.
Keeping the dog never crossed Palma’s mind, and decided to find a no-kill shelter that would take her in.
“I sat in my car, still on the side of the road with the puppy curled up and asleep in my lap […] The only no-kill shelter I found was closed on Mondays, and it happened to be a Monday, so I took her home for the night with the intention of taking her to the shelter in the morning,” Palma recalls. When she got to her apartment, she gave the starving pup some food and cleaned her up in the bathtub. “She was so grateful for the food and so petrified and cold after the bath that she licked my face then fell asleep trembling in my arms.” At that point, Palma knew that this puppy was meant to be her dog.
She still had her doubts about keeping her, however, and was worried about her breed, thinking that she’d have trouble handling the dog as she got bigger. As Palma battled with her decision, she realized she was growing more and more attached to the puppy. She began purchasing dog beds, toys and treats, then decided on a name for her, Gioia (pronounced Joy-a), which is Italian for “joy.”
“She was my first dog so this is what made me even more intimidated that she was a Pit,” Palma says. “I grew up around dogs, but never had the sole responsibility of one.”
Overcoming Pit Bull Stereotypes
Several days after finding Gioia, Palma took her to the vet to have the dog examined and to address her concerns about the breed. The vet relieved her fears and says that her professional opinion was that Gioia didn’t have an aggressive bone in her body. The doctor did suggest that Palma spend time socializing and training Giola.
“I was hell bent on making sure that if I was going to keep this dog, I would do everything right,” she says. “I followed every bit of advice that I got. I socialized her immediately, I let her play with every dog she encountered and corrected her when she would play too rough. I also took her to puppy school, and worked a lot with her one-on-one.”
Rescuing Gioia has completely changed the school psychologist’s views on Pit Bulls. “Gioia is truly the sweetest dog I have ever met,” says Palma, who is very pleased with the name she picked out for her dog. “It’s very fitting considering the fact that literally every person who sees or interacts with her gets a huge smile on their face.”
Everyone who encounters Palma’s lovable pup comments on the fact that she is such a positive role model for Pit Bulls, including Palma’s friends and family, who initially urged her to give the dog away.
“One of my friends, in particular, told me a story about a neighbor’s dog – who she thought was a Pit – attacking her cat. She was scared to death of Pits and was very vocal about this and about me not keeping Gioia,” Palma says. “Just the other day, she says to me, ‘wow, Gioia has proved us all wrong, hasn’t she?’”
Life with Gioia Now
Palma considers rescuing Gioia one of the best things she’s ever done and is thankful that she pushed her reservations aside and took a chance. Although she did a lot of work to make sure Gioia is the well-trained dog that she is today, Palma also believes she had it all wrong about Pit Bulls in the beginning.
“Gioia is so sweet and loving by nature. She loves people and other animals, and this was her personality from the get-go. She has a lot of energy, which if not channeled in the right way could have led her to be difficult to handle,” she says. “But she is and always was a very sweet-natured dog.”
In her time with Gioia, Palma has encountered many other Pit owners and lovers who feel the same way about their dogs, and is now a full-on champion for the breed.
“I honestly don’t think I will ever own another type of dog. There are so many Pits that need to be rescued, and who are euthanized because no one wants them. If it weren’t for me, it is very likely that this sweet, happy, loving dog would be dead,” she says.
When asked if she could imagine her life without Gioia, Palma says absolutely not. “I’ve never really understood the connection humans had with their dogs until I met Gioia. I probably saved her life, but she also has brought such joy to mine.”
You can follow along with Giola’s life on her Instagram account.
All images courtesy Cora Palma