Channel Guide Magazine: Letâs start out by talking about the move to New Orleans. How did that all go, and how have things shaped up for you in Season 4?
Tia Torres: It took us about a year to plan, and a year to actually make it happen. It started off where I knew that we needed to leave California for several reasons. One was financial; two was the change in all of the laws, and the rules and the regulations out there. And probably the third was â I donât know, just for us personally, it just didnât seem like Los Angeles County, at least, was very receptive to the program that we were doing. âŠ Everything had been great. I donât know if it was the TV show bringing more attention to what we did, but they just didnât seem to like what we were doing.
It was mainly by law enforcement. âŠ One example was, for whatever reason, the sheriffâs department started coming by our place in the middle of the night â like 1:00 in the morning â and they would put their spotlight in through my windows. Iâm sure just to wake me up. [Laughs.] There was no other reason. The first time, I thought, âAccident.â After a couple more times, itâs like, âWhy are they doing this?â We had a couple of days where we had a lot of volunteers over, helping us walk dogs, and the sheriff would come by and just park outside the place and just watch. And so the volunteers would sit there and say, âWow â you werenât kidding.â I said, âTold you.â [Laughs.] So that was one of the reasons.
CGM: Getting things up and running in New Orleans â how has that been going?
TT: Weâre still doing it. We hit the ground running, because when we were moving, we were filming, and when we finally got everything moved here, we were still filming. Itâs hard to juggle both, so as we speak, as I sit here, we are still painting and putting things together â trying to do both.
CGM: It sounds like doing Pit Bulls and Parolees has made your life harder, but has it made the mission easier? Is it a good trade-off?
TT: Itâs made the mission easier, but my life harder. You get both answers on that one. Because sometimes, for instance, bringing attention to our mission has absolutely changed, I think, the public perception on pitbulls. I mean, we get so many people saying, âWow, I never would have known if I hadnât seen your show.â So thatâs great. Itâs raised our adoption rate, but I think what happened in L.A. County â because, aside from us, L.A. County and California were going through their own problems. People forget that weâre not just pitbulls. We also work with these guys coming out of prison. And itâs no big secret that California leads the way in problems with their penal system and their rehabilitation programs for guys coming out of prison. I mean, itâs all you ever hear â the overcrowding and the budget. So I think maybe with us having the show, it brought more attention to that. And maybe California and Los Angeles County was like, âUh-oh. This lady is kind of exposing us.â I donât know. Maybe. I donât know the reasoning behind things. So the show has helped the dogs tenfold, but as far as our parolee program, it was rough. I mean, we had one of our guys actually harassed quite badly by law enforcement when they saw him one day. And then they actually made comment, basically, âYouâre on that Pitbulls show.â And just really harassing him bad â and it got physical. In Louisiana, weâve been received 10 times differently â open arms, âCaliforniaâs loss is our gainâ; the parole department out here has been absolutely fantastic. Just so, so appreciative. Everybody here has made it so easy for us to exist. Everybody here has been so appreciative. Everybody here has been so nice â itâs just a completely different attitude.
CGM: What can we expect to see in this season?
TT: Itâs a different world out here. The rescue stories, to me, are way more heartbreaking. A lot more heartbreak just because of whatâs out here. Because there are no resources out here in Louisiana. Los Angeles had tons of resources for dogs and for pitbulls needing help. Out here there are none. Hardly any. I live outside of New Orleans â I live out in the country, out in, like, a swamp area. And they donât even have animal shelters out here. Theyâre very few and far between. So if youâre a stray pitbull, youâre a stray pitbull till you die. Because thereâs no one whoâs really going to come and get you. Itâs rough â itâs really rough. âŠ Whatâs really cool about being out here in Louisiana is that the lifestyleâs so different. The visuals youâre going to see are really cool. Youâll get to see the way life is in the city of New Orleans, and then a little bit of how I live out here in the swamp â out here in the country. So itâs pretty cool, the two different worlds.
CGM: As I understand it, the stats on pitbulls is pretty staggering. Itâs something like one in 600 gets adopted every day.
TT: Yeah, I know. The intake absolutely outweighs the outtake.
CGM: How do you personally cope with that reality â that not all of them can be saved?
TT: When we first announced that we were coming here, the general consensus was, âOh, boy â youâd better boot up and suit up, because itâs way worse out here.â And weâre like, âYeah, yeah, yeah â what do you know?â Well, I will be the first to admit I was completely caught off-guard. The number of pitbulls out here that are abandoned, neglected and abused is four times, five times, 10 times worse than in Los Angeles. That is something I know, especially, my older daughter is having a really hard time with it. She even told me, âWhat do I do? How am I going to get through this?â You know, you do â if youâre going to survive this lifestyle, if youâre going to survive this business, you do have to suck it up because it will consume you. It will eat you up, and you wonât last. Itâs not that Iâm calloused to it or I donât care. Itâs that I have to just look at whatâs right before me. Because Iâll end up in therapy or Iâll end up dead. Youâll just end up going crazy. Itâs rough. Itâs not something that I recommend, for someone to wake up to in the morning and say, âHey, you know what? I think Iâm going to start a pitbull rescue.â Thatâs probably one of our most common phone calls and emails. âI want to start a pitbull rescue just like you.â And they say, âWhat advice can you give me?â The first thing I tell them is, âDonât do it.â … You will see more heartache than you do happiness. Thatâs just keeping it real.
CGM: I think thereâs something of a trend in pitbull advocacy and adoption right now, in part fueled by your show as well as by Pit Boss, but thereâs always the stigma of pitbulls to contend with. For that matter, you deal with the stigma of Parolees as well. What do you think the average person can do to diminish that?
TT: Well, when asked that question, I think Iâm the reality check. Sometimes people donât like my answer, but Iâve been doing this long enough where I can have kind of an attitude. The biggest problem with the pitbull stigma is the owner. And hold on before you even go there â I donât mean the owners that abuse their dogs. A lot of times, these pitbulls end up in trouble because their owner is a good owner whoâs in denial. I cannot tell you how many times I get a phone call or an email saying, âHelp me â my dog just got confiscated by Animal Control.â And Iâm like, âWhat happened?â âI donât know! I took him to the dog park â â âOK, stop right there.â Anybody whoâs been in pitbulls as long as I have knows dog parks are a no-no with pitbulls. Itâs just an accident waiting to happen. So basically, these owners have set their dogs up for failure. I tell people, âIf youâre going to get a pitbull, you need to do your homework.â You need to know that youâve just taken on the Ferrari of the dog world. And thatâs how I see them. Thatâs what kind of irritates me. âŠ You have to accept the fact that these dogs are of terrier descent, which means they have the potential to be animal-aggressive. A hard-core pitbull owner thatâs going to hear this is going to be nodding their head right now, going, âYep, yep â sheâs spot-on.â So when I have someone say, âNo, itâs just how you raise them!â Iâm like, âOK, you scare me. You shouldnât own a pitbull just based on that comment alone.â âŠ Thatâs a long-winded answer, but the quick answer is, to help break the stigma, donât put the dogs in a situation where they end up being the stigma.
CGM: Do you have a particularly memorable rescue that stands out, either from the pitbull side or the parolee side?
TT: For this season, the parolee side is going to be Earl. America is going to fall in love with Earl. Heâs the most genuine, kind, soulful man. Heâs just â heâs a dream. Heâs an absolute dream. Every mom is going to want to claim him as her son; every woman is going to want him as their husband; every child is going to want him as their dad. Heâs the real deal. âŠ As far as dog rescue, I would have to say the St. Roch Ghost Dogs â a family of dogs that had been living under a house in New Orleans since Katrina. The mother dog â she just kept having litter after litter, after litter. Anyway, they were completely feral. Couldnât get next to them. It took us a week to get them, but that was a pretty cool story. It was very stressful â one of my tougher rescues â but really cool.
CGM: How do you wind down after a long day of dealing with the people and the dogs, and everything that is involved in running Villalobos? Does it ever get to be more than you can bear â and when was your last vacation?
TT: I have never had a vacation. Ever. Vacation, to me, is when we are on the road, filming. I just got back from New York and Kentucky, back to back, doing two adoptions. âŠ That, to me, was like a vacation, if you could call it that. I love to drive, so I have a lot of fun driving on the road. Thatâs fun, for me â being on the road and driving. If you can call that a vacation, thatâs a vacation. I got to see Manhattan for about a minute when I went up to meet everybody at the Animal Planet office. It was like, park underground, go upstairs, meet everybody at Animal Planet and come back out. And as I was walking to my car, thatâs how I got to see Manhattan. That was my vacation.
Right now, I donât have a home. My home got wiped out in the flood. My days end at about 1:00 in the morning, because Iâm trying to answer emails until about 1:00 in the morning. I would have to say my guilty pleasures are watching Sons of Anarchy, True Blood and Vampire Diaries. [Laughs.] Those are my guilty pleasures. I watch them, and then go to sleep. And then I wake up to start the day early in the morning.
Tracy Werner of Natural Pet Market contributed to this story.
Photo: Animal Planet/Bob Croslin