By Jeff Fatheree
I was raised with the thought that pets were family, so the idea that there are dogs that are abused and abandoned is foreign to me. Having watched “Pit Bulls and Parolees” I learned that many of the dog world are abandoned, abused, deserted, and otherwise treated as if they have no worth in our society. Parolees often must feel the same things as these animals when they attempt to return to society.
They experience what it is like to be judged by appearance and past rather than looking for the beauty within. Tia Torres and her family and crew are not the normal society people and they choose to give both animals and humans second chances. Villalobos Dog Rescue in New Orleans was an outcropping of this idea. Tia began in California rescuing wolves and wolfdogs in the area she grew up. She made a trip to Sri Lanka and learned what it meant to truly be a community of man. The blending of religions from all over and the love that the people there had for each other spoke to her and she spent a year studying the different religions. She was raised Catholic but came to appreciate the beliefs of all types of spirituality. Sri Lanka left her with a love for all things of creation but particularly the animals.
Tia told me that when she returned from Sri Lanka, she had a vision to minister to the outcast of society. The wolfdogs she started with do not belong to either the wolf world or the dog world. Captured somewhere in-between they often are put down rather than rehabilitated as neither rescue center wants to house them. When they moved to Louisiana, they found a large population of Pit Bulls, labeled as a vicious breed. Most of them end up being put down when they no longer have a home and family to care for them or they have begun to lose in dog fights. The parolees in Louisiana, much like the dog population, were outcasts and found themselves living on the edge of society. Tia saw the beauty of both beneath the surface and the Villalobos (Village of Wolves) was born.
Having done animal rescue in Louisiana during Katrina, Tia and crew went back to California. Louisiana continued to call to them and in 2011 they spent a year transitioning to “The Big Easy” and working with the parole system to give the dogs of New Orleans and the men re-entering society a chance to work together to change both man and beast. Taking care of and learning to be responsible for something other than oneself is a giant step in returning to society. The animals rescued from the streets of New Orleans, like the men, had trust issues and had spent time relying on and worrying only about themselves to survive. This mix has helped heal man and beast and resulted in adoptions all over the country of the animals from Villalobos. Tia, her family, volunteers, parolees, and crew have truly formed a “pack” with the dogs of Louisiana.
In 2017 they expanded the operation to include a rural property in Assumption Parish. They work with the animal shelters in some of the smaller areas to help with resources and taking in animals that are unable to be cared for locally. They have some hounds and other pups that flourish better in the rural environment there and it also acts somewhat as a retreat and healing area for the staff. They live “down the road” from another Louisiana legend, Troy Landry of “Swamp People” fame. Troy has spent his life making a living off the swamp. Being the person Tia is, when she received a call for help from Henderson County Texas, she was on the way. Some wolfdogs had been abandoned when their owner took his own life, and the Sheriff needed assistance to capture them or he would have to put them down. She planned to be there two days capturing and getting housing for 40 wolfdogs.
A lady in Athens had purchased the property several years prior, but the previous owner never moved so she could take ownership. Finding that only fourteen of the animals would cooperate, she said before her brain could stop her, her mouth asked well what if we just buy the place? The lady said certainly she would sell as she loved the idea of the animals remaining in the location they had called home. Sheriff Botie Hillhouse said, “Tia, you just bought the ugliest piece on the block.” Tia told me she saw it as an almost enchanted healing forest and envisioned what the future might hold. She has gathered volunteers and family to begin cleaning the property and has a caretaker that stayed through the Winter Storm of 2021 to make sure the wolfdogs had food and water.
They have also begun working with the animals to reacquaint them with human contact and the changes in the animals’ demeanor have been nothing short of miraculous. The long-term goal and plans are to build cabins on the property for female parolees and their children, if they have them, to live and work with the animals. Wolfdogs react better to females than males as pack animals often do. She would also like to have additional cabins available for religious teachers to stay in and teach the parolees and minister to their needs.
They intend to teach life skills as well as concern for something other than themselves to the parolees. They can certainly use volunteer help, as well as donations to allow for feeding and housing, and Tia is always grateful to have assistance. Her target date for completion and grand opening of Villalobos Dog Rescue Texas, is June of 2021. Check their Facebook page for updates and ways to volunteer at Villalobos Rescue Center - TEXAS. We plan on being there to let you know what is going on. We will likely be revealing a new name for the Texas location that will still include VRC in the title but reflect the healing nature of the forest.