Ziggy Dog Fund

Pictured left to right, dog trainer Alex Everhart holds Dezel on a leash with Meg and Casey Nice behind the 4-year-old pit bull. Dezel is a recipient of the Ziggy Dog Fund, a new scholarship for dog training that was the set up by the Nice family in memory of their beloved dog Ziggy. It helps support shelter dogs medically, socially and behaviorally so they can become ready for adoption.

For more than 18 months, 4-year-old pitbull Dezel has watched dozens of dogs at the Orange County Animal Shelter come and go. He’s even been adopted out a few times, but always winds back up at the shelter. 

When Meg and Casey Nice lost their pitbull Ziggy last year, the couple began volunteering at the Orange County Animal Shelter. They soon learned that pitbulls and the other “bully breeds” often were the longest inhabitants of the shelter. Many of those dogs have medical or behavioral challenges that inhibit their adoption. The couple consulted with shelter director Gina Jenkins and decided to create the “Ziggy Dog Fund” to help support these dogs medically, socially and behaviorally so they can become ready for adoption. The goal of the Ziggy Dog Fund is to help reduce the number of pitbulls in shelters.

“We really wanted to do something in memory of Ziggy,” said Meg Nice. “These are the dogs we especially want to help. Our Ziggy could easily have been one of these dogs had we not been there for him. We want to help reduce the number of pitbulls in shelters. After losing Ziggy, we would go to the shelter to walk dogs, but we wanted to find a way to help even more.”

Shelter life is hard for dogs; many end up there because they have gotten away and are lost, others are surrendered because their owners are moving or unable to care for them anymore or because the dogs had trouble adjusting to their new homes. Many of the surrendered animals have little to no obedience training, making them even less desirable as companion animals. Certain breeds, like pitbulls, and pitbull mixes are even more difficult to place because of the public perception that they are dangerous. Shelter workers and volunteers don’t necessarily have extra time to devote to a dog’s special needs or training.

Casey Nice said he and Meg were looking for a meaningful way to help and met with shelter director Jenkins to brainstorm.

“We met with Gina last May and talked about some of the reasons some of these dogs were long-term shelter residents,” he said. “For the most part, these dogs weren’t getting adopted because of behavior issues.”

Dezel is one of those dogs. Despite being adopted out several times, Dezel always found his way back to the shelter. His exuberance and lack of basic training made him difficult, if not impossible, to permanently place. Since June 23, Dezel has been in the care of dog trainer Alexandra Everhart learning how to be a good citizen.

Everhart has been pleased with the dog’s progress. In the short time he’s been with her, he has learned to walk calmly on a leash, sit on command and come when called—all skills that should help him land a forever home.

“Dezel is doing really well,” said Everhart. “ When he first came, he needed to decompress. He had to learn about being in a home with a family. Dezel needed to learn how to work with people. Dezel is very eager to please. This really will improve his chances of getting a permanent home. Instead of waiting for the first person to come along, now the shelter can choose from a group of applications and find the best fit for him. There are already several applications in for his adoption. All the thing he’s learning will help him get adopted. Before, Dezel could only have gone to a family with older children. Now, he has learned how to interact and can be part of many different types of families.”

Everhart is hopeful that Dezel will be able to be placed in his new home soon after he finishes training.

“Hopefully Dezel won’t have to be at the shelter very long,” she said. “I would like to be able to work with his new family to teach them how to work with him so he continues to learn.”

The Orange County Animal Shelter is located at 11362 Porter Rd., Orange and is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 672-1124 or contact shelter director Gina Jenkins at gjenkins@orangecountyva.org.

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