In and Out of the Dog House
Amber Prejean, president and founder of Cajun Paws Rescue in Scott, dedicates her time, energy and money toward finding permanent residences for misunderstood breeds
The “monster” dwells atop a couch most nights, not some dark, dungy, Scooby Doo cave. Her teeth are menacing, her jaw strong and fierce, though those attributes are wasted considering all this creature wants to devour is an unwrapped Kraft single or a stick of string cheese. She’s more pillow than predator, often offering Amber Prejean — the tamer of this not-so-savage beast — a soft place to rest her head for naps.
Izzy, the “monster”, is one of what Prejean calls her “misunderstood pit bulls.” To subdue her take her outside on a sunny day and she’ll roll over on her back and soak up all the rays and Vitamin D she can.
“She’s my companion animal,” Prejean says of Izzy. “I’ve had her for almost 10 years now, and she’s been there when I’ve gone through ups and downs. And she’s got a sense about her. She knew when I was upset, knew when I had a bad day. Not only did I rescue her, but she rescued me.”
That bond is the foundation on which Prejean created Cajun Paws Rescue, an independent shelter service created in 2012 for unwanted pit bull type breeds. The not-for-profit extends the stay of pit bulls about to be put down at the pound by shepherding them into a temporary foster situation while diligently and proactively finding suitable long-term owners via social media or pop-up public appearances.
“When you boil it down, I wanted to save the lives of dogs that were the most discriminated against and most neglected and the most misunderstood,” Prejean says. “They have a bad stereotype. People think that they’re (these) big, mean, vicious, severely aggressive dogs — like they’re these monsters. Really, they’re just another dog like every other breed out there. There are no facts or proof that they’re more aggressive than any other breed.
“They’re big love bugs, basically,” Prejean says. “Izzy isn’t the only one. So many of these pit bull breeds are great family dogs, and so the fact that these dogs weren’t being given a chance, to me that was nonsense. It had to be fixed. Too many were suffering, and it wasn’t their fault, so I wanted to save the lives of as many as I could.”
That Prejean remains this devoted to this particular cause isn’t a shock considering her past. As a child, she cried many evenings because her father wouldn’t let her dogs sleep inside the house — including Scooby, her first pit bull.
Funded entirely by private donations, Cajun Paws Rescue generally handles 10 to 12 dogs at a single time, though that number can swell to 25 when puppies are present. Though Cajun Paws does have a temporary shelter, the dogs are generally placed in a foster home when available.
This happens after the shelter contacts Prejean, informing her of pit bulls it is ready to move out. In order for Cajun Paws to “tag a pit bull for rescue,” Prejean inquires with shelter officials about the dog’s back story and behavior while housed there to determine whether she believes the pit bull is adoptable. Prejean, or someone else on the Cajun Paws team, then conducts a thorough in-person temperament test. The purpose is to determine whether the dog understands commands as well as to monitor the manner in which it interacts with both animals and humans and if its demeanor changes in certain environments such as feeding time.
Once in the Cajun Paws system, many of the dogs join Prejean and “show out” to prospective owners. All of those dogs are current on vaccinations, spayed or neutered, heartworm tested, dewormed, microchipped and receive specific medical treatments addressing any pre-existing ailments. Beyond answering frequently asked questions, Prejean tends to think of herself as a vocal advocate for all pit bulls, quick to clear up misconceptions that many out-of-the-know consider truths.
“They need boundaries and they need structure just like any other dog, and sure, without that they can get out of control just like any other dog,” Prejean says. “We try to bring education out there to people about the breed. And the best way to do that is through events. We’re in the public eye often. Because they’re just like any other dog. They’re not these crazy, horrible, want-to-eat-you dogs. They’re just another dog. They’re born as innocent as any other puppy.”
Speaking of puppies, Prejean notes that those are usually the first to go and attract potential owners from as far away as East Texas. For the rest of the dogs, Cajun Paws actively seeks a permanent placement — partially because it’s best for the canine but also because there is only so much room at the facility. Therefore, every Cajun Paws newbie is promoted tremendously on social media, links are shared on Facebook and every animal receives a profile on petfinder.com. Beyond traditional measures, the Cajun Paws crew isn’t averse to getting creative putting some extra shine on a pooch’s coat when necessary.
“We’ll actually do photo shoots with a professional photographer,” Prejean says. “It seems crazy, but professional photos definitely up the adoption rate. It softens the dogs, eliminates that stereotype when you see them in the right light and right setting. We’re very proactive. Whatever it takes.”