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  • Kelly Luttinen

Great Lakes Bully Brigade takes in the tough rescue cases

Cassius, one of GLBB's rescued dogs, awaits his forever home.

One of the saddest things a dog rescuer sees is the grieving process of an abandoned animal.

“They sit at the door and wait for their owner to return,” said Sarah Luttinen, a board member with the rescue organization Great Lakes Bully Brigade (GLBB). “They get more and more anxious, and eventually become depressed when they realize their human is not coming back. It breaks my heart.”

When dogs come to GLBB, Luttinen said they try to help them “decompress” as much as possible. “We give them toys and comfy beds, but it is a tough situation.”

Foster families who serve the organization see abandonment much more than they would like. The most recent case is a dog named Evelyn. She had been with her adopted family for three years when they returned her to the rescue.

Evelyn waits by the door.

“She has significant separation anxiety since her first abandonment,” said Luttinen. Dogs with separation anxiety get very upset whenever their owners leave and can become destructive.

“My own dogs had that issue as well, but they eventually grew out of it,” said Luttinen. “But that is not always the case. We try to offer resources to help families to keep their dogs, so surrendering is the last resort. We always want to avoid putting a dog through this horrible loss.”

“I don’t think most people intentionally want to cause harm to their animals,” she said. “Most people who take in a pet usually have the best intentions. But an owner must be responsible and in for the long haul. They need to realize that when they make the decision to adopt a pet.”

No Dog is Turned Away

Great Lakes Bully Brigade is a small organization, with only three board members (from the metro-Detroit area) who act as the main foster families, as well as a few other families who foster dogs as much as possible. Started in 2017, the organization adopts dogs to owners all over Michigan and in the surrounding tri-state area.

“We currently have 14 dogs in our care,” said Luttinen.

She became involved with GLBB in February 2019, saying she fell in love with their mission after adopting a dog from them. “If we have the capacity, we never turn down an animal, no matter how hard the case.”

Luttinen took in her first rescue years before joining GLBB, while she was working at Deporre Veterinary Hospital in the Bloomfield Hills area. She learned about a particularly sad case -- a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix named Thor. “He had become very depressed in the shelter he was at,” she said. “He was an older dog, and very sweet. I just fell in love with him.”

Soon after, Luttinen took in another surrendered older dog, a shepherd mix named Woody. “They became such a big part of my life,” she said. “I can’t explain it, but they just filled a need I had.”

After both dogs passed away in 2017 and 2018, she adopted two more rescues, a shepherd husky mix named Norah, and an American Pitbull Terrier mix named Asher. She also has been fostering a third dog, a two-year-old purebred American Staffordshire terrier called Cassius (pronounced “Cashus”).

“Cassius has been with us 6 months, which is a long time to foster a dog before adopting it out to a forever family,” she said.

Cassius is a very friendly dog. “He has never met a person he doesn’t like,” she said. “He would be a great family pet. He loves to take walks, and to cuddle. But he needs to be the only dog in a home.”

Through the fostering process, GLBB discovered Cassius does not do well with other dogs in a home or yard situation, though Luttinen adds he never seems to notice other dogs while out on walks. “He is non-reactive in that situation,” she said.

But at home, she has to keep him separated from her other dogs.

Cassius came to GLBB from Romulus Animal Control. ”They work with us a lot,” said Luttinen. “They don’t have the budget to help dogs with medical needs.“

“We have no idea of Cassius’ background or what he has been through. He was a stray when he was found. There are SO many levels a dog can be at when they come in as a stray. Some dogs, like Cassius, might have had to fight for food on the streets, or never interacted with other dogs before. He was most likely never properly socialized when he was younger.”

Cassius needs to have a home where he does not have animal-related stressors, where he will not be nervous or defensive, and he can relax. This includes having no cats, since Cassius has a strong prey drive. The dog also suffers from environmental and food allergies.

“He was basically naked when he was found,” said Luttinen. He suffered from mange, which has since been cured, and he was put on a hypoallergenic diet. He also needs a weekly bath.

“His coat is getting healthy and full, but he will most likely always need special care,” said Luttinen.

Because of the care from his foster family, Cassius now has a full coat.

She currently feeds Cassius Hills ZD dog food. “It can be cost prohibitive. It’s about $100 a bag.” But she added Cassius also might do well on a raw or homemade diet.

“There are so many lifestyles he could fit into,” Luttinen said. She remembers the disabled veteran who really wanted to adopt Cassius.

“But his apartment complex would not allow him to have a ‘pitbull type’ dog or a quote ‘aggressive’ breed,” she said. “Sadly, rental places often have a long list of breeds they will not accept, including dobermans, German shepherds, mastiffs, rottweilers, malamute/ huskies, boxers, or any type of pitbull - American or Staffordshire.”

“Such restrictions are common,” she admits. “Many breeds are unfairly stereotyped. Any dog can be aggressive in the right circumstances. There is no ‘perfect’ breed. If a dog is abused, neglected, not properly socialized, or a product of too much inbreeding or has been abandoned...I’ve seen chihuahuas and Golden Retrievers that are aggressive.”

She hopes to find a family for Cassius soon, or he will have to be transferred to another foster home. Luttinen and her fiancé are getting married in June, and won’t be able to take in any foster dogs for a while.

She knows moving Cassius will put a strain on the other two GLBB board members. One currently has 10 dogs -- a rescue dog, Nova, had 9 puppies. The other board member has three foster dogs, as well as the recently returned Evelyn.

Luttinen is quick to say she is not “begging” for anyone to adopt their rescues. “We don’t want to have to ‘convince’ people to adopt a certain dog. We want it to be a good fit. Our goal is to find the best situation for every dog. We want them in a safe environment. And we know the right situation is out there.”

For more information on adopting, fostering or donating to the Great Lakes Bully Brigade, go to

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