A decade ago, Roo and Clara Yori adopted a pit bull from a shelter in Rochester, MN. Like most adopters, they knew the new addition would change their family. What they didn’t know was that this dog, Wallace, would set them on a path to international renown, including national disc-dog titles, a bestselling book, the adoption of a second famous pup, and all of the responsibilities that come with life in the public eye.
Through their work with Wallace and their second pit bull, Hector — who became a registered therapy dog after having been a victim of NFL player Michael Vick’s dog-fighting case — Roo and Clara are credited with helping change this breed’s reputation for the better, highlighting their potential to become athletes, therapy animals, and celebri-dogs, as well as beloved family pets.
Wallace and Hector have passed away from cancer but the Yoris’ humble stewardship of the breed continues. We caught up with Roo to hear his current thoughts on his dogs’ lives and legacies — and the challenges facing pit bulls today.
SWD: When you think back on Wallace and Hector’s lives, what makes you the proudest?
RY: Wallace and Hector had different strengths and weaknesses, each with a unique story to inspire others. As they became more well known, more opportunities presented themselves. I’m proud that we were able to let them tell their own stories through their actions, without doing it at the expense of Wallace and Hector. Sometimes that meant stepping back from some really cool opportunities, but they were our dogs first. We stayed true to who they were as individuals through it all.
SWD: When Wallace and Hector passed away, what was it like to grieve dogs who were so publicly known?
RY: It adds a bittersweet component. Some people on Facebook who have never met our family told us how we needed to handle the situation. While most of them had good intentions, being second-guessed by people didn’t really help. Fortunately, the negatives did not hold a candle to the overall positive support we received, like letters thanking us for giving Wallace and Hector good lives and offers of help. Knowing how many people loved Wallace and Hector helped ease the sadness. Knowing their lives made such a positive impact for other people and dogs helped overcome the pain of losing them. While I miss them terribly, it’s hard not to feel joy and pride as I look back on all we accomplished together.
SWD: Why did you decide to start the Wallace the Pit Bull Foundation, and what do you hope it will accomplish?
RY: Wallace and Hector proved that we shouldn’t judge a dog solely based on appearance or background, and I wanted to create a way to keep their incredible examples from fading away, while also giving back to dogs and their owners still in need of help (e.g., due to breed discrimination). Through the support of Wallace’s and Hector’s fan base, we hope to join together the other great people and organizations that are caring for dogs in need within their own communities.
SWD: What are some of the things the Foundation has been up to lately?
RY: We contributed to building play yards for New Mexico Pets Alive, which allowed them to open their doors and save the lives of dozens of dogs who were pulled from euthanasia lists and given another chance to get adopted. We donated to Safe Humane Chicago to provide emergency vet care for dogs that had been rescued from a bad situation. Wallace the Pit Bull Foundation also created WOD for Dogs, which has engaged the CrossFit community to raise thousands of dollars for various organizations around the country. We’re looking forward to putting this money to good use in the years to come, supporting individuals and orgs who work to ensure the safety of good dogs and end discrimination against responsible dog owners.
SWD: Any recent pit bull additions to your family?
RY: We fostered a few dogs through Camp Companion, which were pulled from Chicago Animal Care and Control through Safe Humane Chicago’s Court Case Dog program. Court Case Dogs have been confiscated and brought to the shelter often due to their owners being arrested. Seen as evidence, these dogs were typically kept in the shelter for the duration of the court case they were associated with, then euthanized. The dogs did the time, but not the crime. Safe Humane Chicago changed this: now, once the proper evidence has been collected, dogs that pass the evaluation are available to be adopted out via a rescue. Hector was in that type of situation; it was fitting to honor him by helping other dogs in that manner. We adopted our most recent foster, Johnny, in November.
SWD: What do you think is the biggest problem facing pit bulls today?
RY: In places that don’t have outright breed-specific legislation, lack of housing due to insurance company policies is one of the bigger issues today. It’s especially an issue with people who are looking for rental properties. Fortunately there are certain insurance companies that do not discriminate based on type of dog, and hopefully, other companies will follow their example by making policies based on things other than appearance. I also think it’s important for dog owners to help move things in a better direction by taking responsibility for their dog’s actions and making sure they are good clients. The tide has turned, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
To learn more about Wallace and Hector, check out the Wallace the Pit Bull Foundation or pick up their books: Wallace and The Lost Dogs.