December 2011: Our Town - Malachi: The Miracle and the Messenger
Author: Debbie Szpanka | Photographer: Photography by Anne
A COMMUNITY FIGHTS TO STOP LOCAL DOG RINGS
When Margaret Mead said, “A small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” she probably didn’t imagine a group of Bluffton residents surrounding a toothless, tortured pit bull being smothered with wet, sloppy kisses. But that’s exactly how the scene unfolded as concerned citizens rallied to raise awareness and money for abused dogs held hostage in local dog fighting rings.
“If found by someone else, this dog would have probably been put down immediately,” said Holly Zusack, co-owner of the Bluffton kennel, Three Black Dogs. “He was aggressive, trained to fight and suffering from severe health problems.”
Zusack, her business partner Shelly Wine and their employees were determined to help this dog. They had no idea that the dog, now named Malachi, would become a symbol of hope and a living example of what one dog can do to change the world from which he came.
It all started on August 2, when one of her clients, Christine Wroebel, brought in a white pit bull after finding the dog wandering on Highway 46 during her morning run. “The dog had a fat leather collar with an attached rope, nearly 20 abrasions all over his body and a huge piece of his ear missing,” Zusack said. “I knew immediately this dog was a fighting dog. I then saw most of his teeth were missing and the few remaining were filed down by some sort of industrial grinder, and I knew this dog was a ‘bait’ dog or a practice toy used by other fighting dogs. I was horrified humans would do this to a defenseless animal, yet I know it happens all the time. And this horror is happening in the backyards of Bluffton.”
Danny Capers, the dog groomer at Three Black Dogs, named the dog Malachi, which is a biblical name meaning “messenger.” Capers said he gave Malachi his name because he believed God showed favor upon him for being in a position where he was forced to do wrong and wrong was done to him. Capers said he had no idea when he named the dog Malachi that the dog would actually become a messenger to the community about what is happening in local fight rings.
Pictured from Left to Right: Shelly WIne, Malachi, Danny Capers and Holly Zusack
Zusack knew she needed thousands of dollars to rehabilitate Malachi medically and behaviorally. She set up a fundraiser at Montana’s Restaurant and Grizzly Bar in Bluffton for September 24 and started getting the word out. What happened next, Zusack said, was nothing short of a miracle.
“The story caught fire in the media, locally, statewide and out of state. I got calls from Tennessee, Georgia and one even from England,” Zusack said. “Three Black Dogs became an old-fashioned switchboard. Calls were coming in faster than we could answer them. Cash and silent auction donations poured in. Malachi touched people’s hearts, and they were moved to correct this dirty little secret in our community and communities all over.”
As Malachi’s medical bills mounted from severe heartworm infection, complications from his neutering surgery and behavioral training, the community met the need and more. “The Montana’s event was amazing; more than 300 people came out in the pouring rain to meet Malachi and to rally against dog fighting. Together, this community raised more than $11,000,” Zusack said. “People were in awe of him, touching him and letting him give them messy kisses. The support was just amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Zusack and Wine have now established a non-profit organization called Malachi’s Foundation and are building little cabins in the back of Three Black Dogs to house other so-called “bully breeds” which have been rescued from abuse and neglect.
“Malachi came into our lives, we believe, so we can be equipped to save others,” Wine said. “Our mission is two-fold: pit bulls need to realize all humans aren’t bad and humans need to realize all pit bulls and other breeds aren’t bad.
“Malachi has shown this community you never know where you can find hope,” Wine continued. “Malachi found it here, and we found it in him.”
Malachi has come a long way since early August; however, he has a long way to go on his path to health. “Once he is released from veterinary care, he and his behaviorist will walk 30 miles together over four days, camping in a tent overnight,” Zusack said. “This primal therapy is used to bond human and animal and wash away the memories of his past,” she explained. “Once Malachi learns someone has his back and he’s not literally fighting for his life alone, he can rely on his human and relax. It will be wonderful to see him lose that responsibility and just be a dog.”
Zusack and Wine have already planned the first 5K walk/run through Bluffton on January 28 to raise more money and awareness for Malachi’s Foundation.
“Just guess who will be leading the pack of dogs and humans,” Zusack said.