Rescue helps canine giants in Phila. abandonment epidemic

Southeastern Pennsylvania and neighboring New Jersey and Delaware have a Cane Corso problem.

Last month the Philadelphia-based Big Paws, Big Hearts rescued almost as many Cane Corsos as the total number reported rescued from shelters in the entire country.

No, these large, lumbering, intimidating-looking dogs are not posing a safety issue on the streets of Philadelphia or elsewhere.

In fact, quite the opposite. The Cane Corso rescue group says the fact they look like over-sized pit bulls has made them attractive to dog fighters in the Tri-State area. But the reality is, they are not fighters and as a result end up in unusually large numbers in area shelters.


Since its founding 18 months ago, the Philadelphia-based Big Paws rescue has taken in dozens of abandoned Cane Corsos.

"We consider it an epidemic in what should be a rare breed," said Amy Parsons, of Malvern, who is Big Paws treasurer. She says the breed became popular with backyard breeders and because they look like a version of a pit bull, dog fighters tried to use them in the ring.

"They shut down emotionally," she said. "Pit bills, no matter how poorly treated, will try to please their handler. If you treat a Cane Corso poorly they will withdraw like a little kid."

In other cases their size overwhelms people. "It can be like having a rhino in the house," says Parsons, pictured above, who has three cane corsos of her own, plus one foster dog.

Failing in the fighting ring, or simply being too big for inexperienced owners, leads to abandonment neglect and finally, if they're lucky, the Pennsylvania SPCA and other shelters.

But that doesn't guarantee their survival, far from it.

In September, Big Paws was contacted about 18 Cane Corsos from the Philadelphia area who needed to go into rescue. At the same time there were a total of 23 such requests logged throughout the rest of the country. Big Paws was only able to pull one dog themselves last month because of the lack of space in qualified foster homes.

Cane (pronounced kah-nay or Latin for "dog") Corso, also known as an Italian Mastiff, is an ancient Italian breed. These super-sized dogs are generally black or fawn-colored, stand up to 27 inches tall at the withers and weigh up to 110 pounds. They need exercise, a strong owner, boundaries and training. As Big Paws puts it, these dogs are not for everyone.

"They need a firm hand and socializing," said Parsons. "If you want consistency get a Lab."

Which makes finding suitable foster families difficult.

Even with the foster challenges - and high food bills - since their founding Big Paws has placed 65 unwanted Cane Corsos into new homes.

If you are interested in learning more about Cane Corsos, becoming a foster parent, contributing to Big Paws rescue or participating in one of their events, check out the group's website and get involved.