Abbey and the Bull Breeds


Runtime - 9:14

For the love of a bull breed dog

By Sally Blundell of Frank Film

Dimples, Mocha and big headed, slobbery-tongued, muscular Booger – Boogs for short. Just three of the thousands of bull breeds – bulldogs, pitbulls, bull mastiffs, bull terriers, rottweilers, and, like Boogs, XL bullies – that have been taken in by Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue over the last 15 years.

Behind a six-foot fence on a corner site in industrial Woolston, the dogs receive assessment, medical care, behavioural training, pats by the bucket-load and, hopefully, a new home.
“A lot of pounds around the country won't rehome bull breed dogs but they will send them to a shelter,” says CBBR founder and director Abbey van der Plas. “So for a lot of the dogs we are taking from pounds, we are literally their only chance – if they can't come to us, they get put down.”

Some have been bred as fighting dogs, some have never seen the outside of a gang house, some have been tied up for most of their lives, some abandoned. But almost all, she says, have been sentenced by a reputation for being scary and aggressive.

“At the end of the day they're dogs. And there’s no one breed of dog that is more inherently
dangerous than any other breed of dog,” she tells Frank Film. “The misconceptions around these dogs are false but false narratives get pushed and believed. One of the things we like to do is educate people and if we can change a couple of people’s minds, we’ve won that day.”
She gives Mocha, a Cane Corso (Italian mastiff), a shoulder rub. Mocha and her sister Chino were 10 months old when they were picked up by CBBR. “They had never left the yard that they were in and never seen the world, so everything’s new for her. She is still a really nervous girl but the people she knows and trusts, she is all smooches and all loves.”

Chino was adopted out a few weeks ago. “And Mocha, you’re still looking, aren’t you girl?”

Van der Plas wears her dog-rescuing story in three beautifully inked portraits on her arm. There’s Syd, an old gang dog who had never been inside a home and was about to be euthanised.

Then Linx, a staffy, and Papa, her current dog – “I call him my soul dog”.

The CBBR was set up 15 years ago, initially from the van der Plas home in New Brighton. As numbers grew, the father of one of the many volunteers who feed, walk and train the dogs gave the charity use of its current site close to the Heathcote River.
“One of the things I hear all the time is, it’s all how they're raised, but that’s not necessarily true. We’ve taken dogs that are eight, nine years old, that have been raised horrifically in horrific homes and then they have come to us and had a complete turnaround and turned into social, happy, loving dogs.”

Some dogs are too damaged to be safely rehomed. Each of the large potted trees in the CBBR yard is a memorial to a dog that has had to be euthanised. “There’s probably 15 max – and we’ve had thousands of dogs.”

To keep this number low, CBBR offers education on caring for bulldogs, runs a community food bank for dog owners and supports other charities caring for dogs.
But it is a hard job, financially and personally.
“One time a guy posted a picture of my family online and said, ‘It’s a beautiful family you’ve got there, Abbey – it would be a shame for anything to happen to them’. My heart was in my throat.”
The police had a warrant out for his arrest and the man was subsequently apprehended but van der Plas was not stopping there.
“I went to the gang that this guy was spouting the name of and said, this guy’s using your name to threaten me – I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m just trying to save dogs. The guy said, hey look, you don't have to worry about this guy. He doesn't represent us, you're good’.”

The CBBR is on the lookout for larger premises but in the meantime, the kennel doors remain open. In early May, van der Plas is at Christchurch Airport, taking ownership of a dog sent from the Whakatāne pound. Two-year-old Georgia, she says, “has come from a shit life of being chained up and a puppy machine.”
She peers through the door of the plastic crate. “Are you ready to start your new life? Let’s go.”