Pam Maxey never expected to become an advocate for pitbulls. In fact, had you asked the Camas paramedic 20 years ago what kind of dog she envisioned living in her home, her last response probably would have been “pitbull.”
“I’d heard about their reputation, that they were aggressive, and I told my husband, ‘I don’t want one,'” Maxey said.
But then she met Niko.
“Have you ever seen a pitbull puppy?” Maxey asked recently, smiling. “Yeah, you fall in love.”
Raising Niko changed Maxey’s perception about dogs known as “pitbulls” — the common name for dogs descended from a breeding mixture of bulldogs and terriers, which typically includes dogs that are American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American bullies, Staffordshire bull terriers or a combination of those breeds.
“They have such a bad reputation,” Maxey said pitbulls. “The general perception of pitbulls is that they’re mean, they’re aggressive. When I got Niko, even my mom was leary.”
What Maxey discovered with her first pitbull, Niko, and now with her pitbull rescue, Joey, is exactly the opposite of the general perception.
“They’re loyal and smart and goofy,” Maxey said, pointing to Joey, a 4-year-old pitbull who was, at that very moment, rolling on his back and waving his feet in the air with a huge smile on his face. “Nobody has not liked Joey.”
After Niko died at 13.5 years old, Maxey knew she wanted another goofy, loyal dog. She saw Joey on the Saving Huey Foundation site, a nonprofit rescue organization in southern California named after Huey, a pitbull thought to have been used as a bait dog by dog fighters found badly injured, wandering the foothills of Moreno Valley, in 2014.
Joey’s story also started in California, after two young girls found him on the streets. He was only about eight weeks old and very ill, and the girls tried to take him home and hide him from their parents. Eventually, the parents found the puppy and he wound up at the Saving Huey Foundation. Covered in scabs and lesions due to a skin disease known as “mange,” Joey’s odds of finding a stable home weren’t great. But Saving Huey found him a new rescue shelter that specialized in pitbulls — the Woods Creek Pit Bull Rescue in Silverton, Oregon.
Joey had already won the hearts of Saving Huey and Woods Creek fans on Facebook and other social media sites, and had built quite a following by the time Maxey adopted him at the age of 9 months.
She decided to keep his social media fame going. Joey, now 4 years old, has a Facebook page with more than 4,700 friends.
But Maxey, who moved to Camas in 2000, wanted to share Joey’s story with others who may not be on Facebook or linked into the dog-rescue scene.
Last year, she decided to write a book about her lovable pitbull rescue.
But writing proved more difficult than Maxey anticipated. She found herself stuck, knowing Joey’s story could help break through people’s stereotypes about pitbulls, but not able to actually write his story.
“I was writing and rewriting, but then one night it came to me: I need to write this from Joey’s point of view,” Maxey said.
After that realization, the book almost wrote itself, Maxey said. Together with Susan Krupp, a Canadian illustrator who made Joey come to life with her vibrant, realistic images, Maxey created a children’s book, “A Pitbull Named Joey.”
The story tells Joey’s journey from the dog’s point of view and is meant to help educate youth about the positive traits found in breeds like the Staffordshire terrier — Joey is 87 percent Staffordshire terrier, Maxey said — American pit bull terrier and other breeds commonly called “pitbulls.”
Eventually, Maxey would love to see her “Joey” books become a series for children. She envisions the next book as something that could help comfort children who experience bullying.
“Joey could go to the dog park and not be allowed in because of how he looks,” Maxey said, dreaming of new ways her friendly dog might help youngsters.
For Maxey, education is key to winning people’s minds when it comes to pitbulls.
“A lot of people need to educate themselves about the (pitbull) breeds,” Maxey said. “Terriers, for example, have a high prey drive and can be aggressive toward other dogs.”
When pitbulls do show aggression, much of the time it stems from how they were raised, not how they were born, Maxey said.
“I want to educate people about pitbulls in a positive manner,” she said. “And a lot of that starts with educating the children, who can then teach their parents.”
Joey makes a great ambassador for young children and pitbull-shy adults to learn more about these types of dogs, Maxey said, pointing to Joey, who was, by this point in the interview, moving between wiggling on his back and chasing a number of tennis balls around the room.
“These are loyal, smart, just goofy dogs,” Maxey said.