As humans, we tend to spend so much time focusing on what we can train our animals to do that we sometimes forget just how much they can teach us in return. Angel, a beloved pit bull who became an icon, was one of those animals who had valuable lessons to teach us all. Through her Mom, Rebecca Corry, Angel taught us lessons of forgiveness, love and acceptance; about education over discrimination; about how to make a positive difference in animal welfare, stating often that by doing nothing, we are condoning the mistreatment of animals; they taught us how to be a “voice for the voiceless”.
Angel was found wandering in the streets of South Central Los Angeles with obvious signs of having suffered severe abuse (chemical burns down her back, ears that were likely cut with scissors, signs of over-breeding and puncture wounds all over her body). You can read more about Angel’s incredible story of survival here. Rebecca adopted Angel in 2008 and the two of them accomplished more in 8 years together than most humans do in a lifetime. Rebecca often said that Angel gave her life purpose and that connection drove an entire movement that has left the world a better place.
While I never had the privilege of meeting Angel in person, she and Rebecca definitely made a big impression on me. I would go so far as to say that they changed my life. When my own pit bull Bella first came into my life (you can read more about Bella in my first blog entry here: “Don’t Ever Tell Me it’s Just a Dog”), I had no idea about the discrimination that was faced by her breed. I took the time to learn about the plight of pit bulls and was disturbed into action. Living in Ontario, a province with Breed Specific Legislation (BSL – something against which Angel and Rebecca advocate fiercely), my motivation for positive advocacy for pit bulls was propelled even further. The more I researched about pit bulls, the more horrific and depressing things I learned about the fate of so many of these dogs. And yet, amidst all of the doom and gloom, were Angel and Rebecca: a beacon of hope and inspiration.
Source: Rebecca Corry Instagram
An actor and comedian by profession, Rebecca often used humour to get her positive messages about pit bulls across. One of my favourite stand-up bits is where Rebecca tries to describe what it’s like having Angel in her life (YouTube). Even though it is hilarious, when my husband and I first watched it, we were moved to tears because we understood the depth of their connection. Rebecca’s photos of Angel always brought a smile to my face – some of my favourites include Angel’s hippo-like stature sitting on Rebecca’s tiny 4’11” frame, or the endless public search for Angel’s neck! Other times, Rebecca would post powerful messages on bristol boards around Angel’s neck, such as “Born Inherently Good” or “End Discrimination and Abuse”. Like so many others, I felt like I got to know Angel through Rebecca’s active social media presence. Rebecca helped me to feel secure in how very much I loved my own “pibble”, an affectionate term for pit bulls that Angel truly embodied. Rebecca often said that she loved Angel “so much it hurts” and the harder I fell in love with Bella, the more comfort I took in the fact that someone else understood how I felt. She referred to herself as Angel’s Mom and that paved the way for me to know it was okay to relate in that way to your dog, which is something some people seem to frown upon. I am proud to be Bella’s Mumma.
Now that I am a “pit bull” advocate myself, I thank Rebecca and Angel for teaching me so much about advocacy for these amazing dogs, including that it is okay to use the label “pit bull”. So many advocates shy away from using the label and while I understand why this can be detrimental (such as in a shelter setting, where statistics show it can lengthen a dog’s stay), on a personal level, in my advocacy work, which includes my own social media postings of Bella and my infant daughter’s inseparable bond, which I post to prove a point, I intentionally sometimes “label” Bella as a “pit bull” because I am trying to abolish stereotypes with positive imagery. Angel taught me that. I have had so many people tell me that seeing my girls together in these photos has changed their perspectives about pit bulls. By not using the pit bull label, we are wasting an opportunity to try to reverse some of the damage that has been done to the reputation of these dogs by the media and members of the misinformed public.
Angel was the entire focus of Rebecca’s social media presence (which has thousands of followers from all over the world) and she was the inspiration and mascot for Stand up for Pits – a foundation dedicated to raising awareness about pit bulls, dog fighting and offering financial support to rescues and education programs. Even though I knew Rebecca could never bring her Stand up for Pits event to Ontario (because BSL prevents pit bulls from entering the province), I had always hoped we would travel to see them somewhere. I wanted my turn in the kissing booth with Angel, which was present at every show!
One of Angel and Rebecca’s greatest accomplishments to date was the Million Pibble March on Washington DC. On May 3rd, 2014, nearly 5,000 people marched and then rallied on Capitol Hill, in support of ending discrimination against pit bulls and raising awareness about BSL and dog fighting. Regrettably, my husband and I were not able to attend the March as we moved into our first house that weekend (but we got our t-shirts!). But on the Facebook page and through the many Instagram posts leading up to the event, I forged friendships with many fellow pibble-parents and advocates who shared the same admiration for Angel and what Rebecca’s March stood for. These are some of the same people with whom I have grieved this past week as we try to come to terms with the devastating loss of Angel.
I was checking my Facebook on April 2nd when I was stunned to come across the following post on Rebecca’s page:
After a long hard battle with cancer, my Angel has passed peacefully. May she rest in peace and continue to inspire us today and always to be the voice of the voiceless. Celebrate her beautiful life by saving one just like her. There are millions of Angels among us.
Most of us had no idea how sick Angel was but I think Rebecca didn’t want us to know, so that we wouldn’t remember Angel that way. Instead, I think she wants us to remember Angel for what she was in life: An inspiration, a beacon of forgiveness and love, a teacher to all humanity and an unforgettable example that pit bulls are born inherently good.
I cannot begin to imagine the pain that Rebecca is feeling. There are no words for her loss. I loved Angel very much and I miss her every night, as I look through my Instagram photos where I used to see Angel on her nightly walks, usually to the cookie store. The photo diary of Angel’s day/night was like my bedtime story. As I snuggle in bed at night with my own velvety pibble, I think about the legacy Angel has left behind and about how I will honour her through my own work that is further inspired so very much by Bella. In another life, Bella and Angel would be the best of friends.
Thank you Angel, for all that you gave to us all.
P.S. I thought there were no words to describe the devastating loss of Angel, but I was wrong. Rebecca’s farewell letter to Angel is simply put … beautiful. It was just posted as I finished this Blog. Please read it here. I would like to note that within one hour of Rebecca posting this moving tribute, the Stand up for Pits website crashed due to the extreme volume of traffic. What a tremendous testament to the number of lives they touched and to how many people, from all over the world, from all walks of life, heard Angel’s voice.
The featured photo at the top of this blog post is from the Show Your Soft Side campaign in which Rebecca was the first female to be featured. Their tribute to Angel is a beautiful one. You can read it here.