North Idaho life: How two Floridian pitbulls found their Idahome

Tamara and pitbulls at Fernan Lake

Pitbulls get a bad rap.

They’re a popular breed to fear, to disdain … to ban.

“Pitbull” is a generic term used to bucket a few distinct breeds under one easy, terrifying name: the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The American Bulldog is also sometimes included.

I used to be hesitant around pitbulls, thanks to their ominous reputation.

Then, I actually spent time around one.

Then a second one.

Then two at the same time.

And then, pitbulls in sweaters.

How terrifying can anything in a pink sweater dotted with hearts be?

north idaho pitbulls in sweaters

Treats, please!

A journey of love

I’ve been holding onto this story. I can’t remember why but it turns out a perfect match for October, Pitbull Awareness Month.

In fact, tomorrow, Saturday, October 26, is Pitbull Awareness Day!

And since we’re moving into the colder months, it feels OK to post pictures with snow again.

Or, you know, since we already had snow.

Snow is a four-letter curse word to some people.

Not to me, your friendly neighborhood Canadian transplant.

Or Tamara.

She’s a North Idaho gal, through and through.

She hikes with her dogs in winter, spring, summer and fall.

In snow, rain and sunshine.

Her dogs are—with the possible exception of family—the most important creatures in her life.

And pitbulls … well, she’d never really seen herself having one pitbull, let alone two.

She, too, believed the hype about them.

Then she met Ethel and Wally.

north idaho pitbulls playing together

Pitbulls in sweaters … I mean, honestly

“They are goofy, protective and smart,” Tamara says. “So many of these dogs have been horrifically abused and used by humans and yet they are the most loving creatures you can imagine. They have the most forgiving nature.”

Thus, her journey of love in grooming, adopting and helping rescues, especially pitbulls, begins.

A life with strays

Originally from Southern California, Tamara and her family have been entrenched in the North Idaho life for 20-plus years.

Even when she moved to Florida for work. It was but a two-year stint before North Idaho called her home.


She didn’t get back here, though, without meeting her current loves, Ethel and Wallace.

First came Ethel.

ethel the pitbull at fernan lake

Beautiful Ethel

She was six months old when she stole Tamara’s heart. Ethel was at a local shelter and Tamara was looking for companionship outside of work.

The shelter paperwork described Ethel as a lab mix. Tamara knew at first sight she was a pitbull type of dog and sighed.

Ethel emerged from her kennel, sat on Tamara’s lap and started licking her face.

“I said, ‘OK, come home with me,'” Tamara says, smiling wistfully.

Ethel was a little bit crazy. She destroyed stuff. She ate a couch.

Tamara refused to give up on her, just like another pitbull champion we know and love. (Hi, Carol!)

Then came Jorge.

The big black puppy was on the street, a stray with no one to love him. Tamara’s heart was crushed at his state. He was peeing blood and all forlorn.

Tamara took him to the shelter but no owners came forward to claim him.

Two days later, Tamara called and put a hold on him.

He was only in Tamara’s world for six months, though. While Jorge spent those six months being loved greatly, the young pup’s health was already too far gone.

Kidney issues to put him down far sooner than she could have expected.

She was devastated. So was Ethel.

There was a hole in their hearts and their pack. They needed a third musketeer.

Tamara went back to the same shelter where she found Ethel.

Enter Wally.

wally the pitbull at fernan lake

Loveable Wally

“He’d had a rough go,” Tamara says. “I could tell. He has white spots from scars.”

He has bad hips and bad teeth from lack of care in his early years.

But both dogs love.

Oh, how they love.

Lessons learned

Since Tamara’s path converged with those of Ethel and Wally, her life has changed.

She’s become more responsible, making choices that put her dogs first.

She’s learned to become more attentive to their needs.

She’s aware of her surroundings to protect her dogs when an adverse situation arises.

“Ethel is bomb proof,” Tamara explains. “She loves everyone and other dogs. Wally really changed my perspective. He’s a bit shy, a bit anxious.”

pitbull shows love to north idaho dog grooomer

It’s love

She worked with a trainer in Florida for a while, and that trainer used Wally for temperament testing with other dogs.

Then he was attacked at a dog park by a female dog half his size.

“He didn’t fight back, he didn’t growl, he didn’t cry,” says Tamara, her face grimacing with the memory. “When she let him go, he tried to run away and she went after him again. I had to punch the dog in the face.”

Now her everyday goal is to ensure Wally feels safe, secure and loved.

“He’s still a very confident dog,” Tamara says. “He just needs a little extra care and attention in certain situations.”

Wally seems a lot more appreciative of his new life off the streets, she says.

“He’s lovely and super attached. Ethel is attached, too, but if I leave the house, Wally stays on my bed and pouts until I come home.”

The call home to North Idaho

Dogs have always been a part of life for Tamara and her family.

It’s also business.

Tamara made a one-year commitment to a call center in Florida. She lasted a little longer than the one year, almost two.

She had a gut feeling she had to come home.

She listened and returned to North Idaho to help her mom with her pet grooming business, Laundramutt Do-It-Yourself Dog Wash and Grooming on Government Way in Coeur d’Alene.

Tamara packed up her house, along with Ethel and Wally, and came home.

Two months later, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The right decision

Carol is in full remission now.

She and Tamara run Laundramutt together with Tamara assuming co-ownership and groomer status.

You’ll know her by the shock of pink hair.

She also offers her services to local rescues, including the Spokane Humane Society and the Furry Farm Rescue.

“Ethel and Wally opened me up to the rescue community and the issues they face,” Tamara says. “It’s incredible the amount of dogs that go through shelters, the training they need, and the grooming they need to look good for adoptions. Some of them show up at the shelter in the worst conditions.”

She once groomed a doodle pulled from a kill shelter in California.

He was so matted that, until she got all the fur off, she couldn’t see how emaciated the dog was.

She cried the entire time.

“If I could have, I would have taken him home, too,” Tamara says. “How could someone do that to a dog?”

He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.

~ Immanuel Kant

But dogs are forgiving and resilient.

And they know us. Better than we often want to believe.

“It’s true,” Tamara says. “Dogs are so much more in tune with people than we realize.”

Rescue dogs can be a little different. They can be a bit hesitant, a bit more requiring of proof you are worthy of their trust.

Have no doubt, though, that Tamara is worthy.

Her heart is big and full and willing.

For Ethel and Wally. For every dog.

“It’s people like Tamara that save dogs,” says Stephanie Devine, co-founder of The Furry Farm Rescue in Rathdrum, Idaho. “We are able to help our North Idaho community and the dogs in need because of huge-hearted folks like her.”

The rescue, and so many others like it, are always on the lookout for foster homes and volunteers to help.

Angels like Tamara are welcome and appreciated.

“She not only donates her time grooming up hot-mess neglect cases or bathing the wild ones, she is in the trenches supporting the cause with every breath,” Stephanie notes. “It’s an honor to work beside such an outstanding human.”

Off to Fernan Lake

Tamara and I knew we were up for a challenge when we scheduled her session last February.

But we’re both two whatever kind of gals and always up for an adventure.

It was well below freezing and we’d been blitzed by Mother Nature and her wintery delights.

Fernan Lake was frozen over and it gave us a chance to play with Ethel and Wally with the incredible landscape and North Idaho mountains behind them.

See? Pitbulls in sweaters.

[vc_masonry_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1567702142114-5d25701e-09b2-6″ include=”3055,3047,3050,3054,3053,3049,3045,3044,3042,3039″]

Teaming up

Tamara and I have become great friends since my rescue project brought us together.

We are doing pictures with Santa at Laundramutt for two more days in November (we held our first one last weekend).

santa and a great pyrenees

Look … another Great Pyrenees that steals my heart!

See more of the pics on the Laundramutt Facebook page.

Only two more spots are open for Sunday, Nov. 10. We are holding a special day for reactive dogs on Nov. 17.

You must call 208-678-8828 to reserve your spot.

All proceeds are being split between The Furry Farm Rescue, Rescue4All and the MSCA National Maremma Sheepdog Rescue.

All around the circle

It’s been a busy summer and I’ve had to put the stories about rescue dogs of Spokane and North Idaho on hold.

I’m raring to get going again. When you book a rescue portrait session, you get your story told right here on the blog plus a mounted 8×10 (or product credit). The reservation fee is only $100.

[su_button url=”” target=”blank” background=”#ff7200″ icon=”icon: paw” id=”Rescue”]TELL YOUR STORY[/su_button]

I have visions of turning these stories into a book. Wouldn’t that be cool?

For now, I need more folks to share their stories on how rescuing a dog changed their lives. Spread the word!

In the meantime, we’re back to the dog photographers blog circle where this week’s topic is photographer’s choice.

I get to send you to Las Vegas where I’ve lost … er … spent … well, none of that sounds very good, does it? … lots of money.


Let’s go check out Nicole Hrustyk of Pawtraits by Nicole and see what she’s doing in Nevada.

9 thoughts on “North Idaho life: How two Floridian pitbulls found their Idahome”

  1. Pingback: Spokane rocks: 4 awesome trails for hiking with dogs

  2. Pingback: Snow day: How to stay warm for winter portrait sessions | Mirabeau Park

  3. Wonderful story! And photos that speak a thousand words.

    Miss my little Mazie. We are so blessed to share air space with our fur babies.

  4. I am not a fan of pit bulls. We had our front door open one day during the summer and a pit bull came into our house and grabbed our cat by the head. I had to hit the dig with a piece of wood to get it to let go. When I took our 13 year old cat to the vet the vet told me that there are 2 breeds of dogs that he would never turn his back in when they came in and they are pit bulls and Rottweilers. 2 elderly people lived down the street from us when we lived in a Texas for a few years. They had 2,pit bulls who eventually killed them by ripping their throats out. These dogs are bred to kill. I wish people would stop saying that they are wonderful gentle dogs. There is a reason if you have a pit bull that you need additional homeowners insurance. There is also a reason when people who have them go to rent a house that they refer to them as a bulldog mix.

  5. What a fantastic session, I love the joy on everyone’s faces and the candid, action shots. A feel good story all around, thank you for sharing :).

    1. I’m kinda glad we didn’t get too pose-y. We just let the dogs be dogs and sometimes that’s what makes a session. 😉

  6. What a lovely story. It’s so sad that so many dogs get mistreated. I truly believe it’s a nature vs nurture thing, and the pit bulls of the world get a bad rap due to their persecutions of the past. Great work Tamara…what an awesome lady. Would love to hear more about the photos with santa. I’ll check out the page?. Hope you raise heaps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *