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A secret plan finds perfect home for overlooked dog

Vinny Marano and his fiancee, Heather VanDette, went from zero dogs in their Cheektowaga home to three. And Maggie, a 70-pound red pit bull, who frightened VanDette when they met, is now her favorite.

“It was crazy,” said VanDette. “We went from having just two cats to having two cats and three dogs. It was overload!”

Marano had two dogs when the couple met five years ago: Lincoln, a mix of Cane Corso, pit bull and mastiff adopted from Arkansas, and Basha, a pit bull-Cane Corso mix from Texas. The dogs became ill with different diseases and died within a month of each other.

Marano and VanDette put off adopting another dog until late winter, when they decided they were ready. “Heather was the driving force behind getting a dog, but I made the point that it should be a dog that we thought was unadoptable – I didn’t want a dog to get put down,” Marano said.

Marano loves the large, muscular breeds – pit bulls, mastiffs, bulldogs and Cane Corsos because, he said, “They are very athletic dogs, very strong, very smart, easy to train, they are loyal, have an almost complete devotion to their owner, and I show them the same kind of devotion they show me, so it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship.” VanDette, whose only previous family dog was a beagle, was more hesitant.

In February, VanDette spotted a photo of a pit bull mix named Mocha on the website of a group called Pixie Mamas Rescue.

This 30-pound fawn-colored dog with some black stripes and horizontal bat ears “has pit bull features but also delicate features,” said Marano. This reduced her appeal. “People who are not experienced with pit bulls go on guard when they hear that she is that breed, and among people who like pit bulls, she wouldn’t be their first pick, although you can tell she is part pit bull.”

Marano said the couple contacted Pixie Mamas “and waited for a response.”

One day, on impulse, they stopped in at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter on Oak Street. There they saw a Cane Corso-mastiff mix and another dog named Ramona, a red pit bull with possibly some mastiff mixed in. Ramona “had been in the shelter for a couple months, and I could see that she was withdrawing a little bit,” Marano said. “Heather was a little intimidated by her, because she was a little bit bigger and was a pit bull.”

Marano wanted to adopt two dogs, but when he walked the Cane Corso-mastiff near Ramona’s kennel, “she barked a little aggressively,” he said. So although he felt he could safely handle the dogs’ introduction, they left without adopting any dog.

“We did not want to make a rash decision. It’s important that both of us are comfortable with the decision,” Marano said.

A week later they returned. Ramona was still there, but instead they adopted Redford, a goofy, playful red and fawn pit bull and mastiff mix with some brindle stripes. Although he was large, VanDette was comfortable with the happy dog, whom they renamed Logan.

Although he had been returned to the shelter after a run-in with another family’s cat, Logan got along fine with cats Fordham and Ava.

Then, said Marano, Pixie Mamas contacted the couple and brought Mocha to their house. Although she was timid and frightened of things, such as the feel of kitchen tile under her feet, Mocha got along well with Logan, he said. “I think it’s good that she is with another dog, and Logan is kind of fearless.”

They had their two dogs, but Marano had not forgotten about Ramona. He stayed in contact with Suzanne Laba, a senior volunteer at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter, who continued to work with Ramona to keep her spirits up and make her more appealing.

“I had no idea that was going on,” said VanDette, laughing. “I was a little sneaky with it,” said Marano. “I used Logan as an introduction. and I knew that if she was OK with Logan, who was also a large dog, I could kind of talk her into the other dog.”

In early April, the couple, who plan an August wedding, visited the shelter again. “I convinced Heather that we should foster her,” Marano said of the dog they renamed Maggie. “I didn’t think it was good for Maggie to be in the kennel any longer; you could tell she was in a depressed state. I asked Heather about fostering her and just getting her out of the shelter until she found a home.”

The couple brought Logan to the shelter to meet Maggie, and while “they didn’t hit it off right at the start, they weren’t fighting, either, so that was a good sign,” said Marano. “In the shelter, usually the best doesn’t come out; their true personalities aren’t seen because they can be stressed out.”

Maggie went home with them on Thursday night as a foster dog. During the weekend, VanDette found herself saying, “I don’t know if I can let her go with somebody else.” On Tuesday, Marano returned to the shelter to adopt her. “She was ours,” VanDette said.

Today, Maggie, the dog VanDette feared when she saw her, is her favorite. “Maggie just clicked with me,” she said. “She smiles – when you look at her or call her name, she gives you a really big smile, especially when she is doing something bad. If you tell her no, she will lay down on the ground, roll over and just look at you and smile.”

And VanDette is now a full-fledged pit bull fan. “They are very loving,” she said. “My family beagle loves people, but she just likes to do her own thing. Pit bulls, like Logan and Mocha and Maggie, they just need to be around you, playing with you. They are caring, and they know when you are upset.” A family member has been ill recently, and, said VanDette, “Maggie just sits by me and wants to comfort me.”