By Nicole Pajer
When Cora Palma stumbled upon an abandoned pit bull puppy roaming the streets of downtown Los Angeles, keeping her was the furthest thing from her mind. Palma, like many, associated pit bulls with being 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 change the stigmas associated with pit bulls.
Palma, a school psychologist in South Central Los Angeles, 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, Palma was extremely hesitant to approach the dog. “When I first saw her, my initial instinct was to go pick her up because she was so tiny, but then I thought, “What the heck am I going to do with this dog? She’s clearly a pit bull, and I’m in the middle of South Central,” she explains. Palma almost drove away but after witnessing the puppy running up to people passing by on the street and begging to be picked up, she pulled over the car. “She ran right up to me and almost leaped 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 one of the residents started talking to me and said, “It looks like you found yourself a dog.”
Keeping the dog never crossed Palma’s mind. “I decided I was going to find a no-kill shelter to take her to, so got on my phone in search of one. The only one I found was closed on Mondays, and this day 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,” explains Palma. Upon arriving home from work, Palma gave the starving pup some food and cleaned her up in the bathtub. “She was so petrified and cold and fell asleep trembling in my arms. At that point, I knew that man was right. I had found myself a dog.”
Palma still had her doubts about keeping her, however. “I was petrified. I kept thinking, she’s a pit bull. I can’t handle a pit bull.” As Palma battled with whether or not to keep the dog, she realized she was growing more and more attached to her. She began purchasing dog beds, toys, treats, and decided on a name, 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. I grew up around dogs, but never having the sole responsibility of one,” explains Palma. 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 said that her professional opinion was that Gioia didn’t have an aggressive bone in her body. The vet did warn Palma, however, that raising a pit does come with a certain responsibility and it was essential that she did her best to educate herself on necessary measures she’d need to take to train and properly socialize Gioia.
Following the veterinary appointment, Palma made one final attempt to find a new home for Gioia but she admits that it was with lackluster effort. At the end of the day, she had over 10 offers from people that wanted her but just could not part with her.
“Once I decided I was going to keep her, I read everything there was to read about raising pits. I googled all kinds of articles. I bought Cesar’s book “How to Raise the Perfect Dog,” and read it cover to cover. I was hell bent on making sure that if I was going to keep this dog, I would do everything right. 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,” Palma says.
Rescuing Gioia has completely changed Palma’s views on pit bulls. “Gioia is truly the sweetest dog I have ever met,” explains Palma who says that she is very pleased with the name she picked out for her; “It’s very fitting considering the fact that literally every person who sees or interacts with her has 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 “aggressive” dog away. “One of my friends, in particular, told me a story about a neighbor’s pit bull attacking her cat or something. She was scared to death of pits and was very vocal about this and about me not keeping Gioia. Just the other day, she said to me, “Wow, Gioia has proved us all wrong, hasn’t she?” exclaims Palma.
Palma considers rescuing Gioia to be one of the best things she’s ever done and is so thankful that she pushed her reservations aside and took a chance on raising her. 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 amazing, happy, loving dog would be dead.”
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.”