Penni spent the first year and a half of her life locked in the basement of a drug house. She was abused verbally and physically every day, and by the time she was finally rescued, absolutely everything in the world scared her. Her rescuers were worried that she might have a hard time getting adopted because of all her issues — until she met Blaine DeLuca.
DeLuca had been searching around at different rescues for a while, looking for a dog who would be his perfect match. When he first met Penni, the staffers at the rescue warned him that she was very timid, and might need some time to warm up to him. They had him sit down against a wall, and slowly brought her over to him — but instead of being scared, Penni licked him, then turned around and plopped herself into his lap. In that moment, DeLuca knew Penni was his dog.
After bringing her home, though, DeLuca realized that Penni’s past had taken a toll on her, and the poor dog was terrified of everything, from people to places to inanimate objects.
“You could see it in every inch of her demeanor,” DeLuca told The Dodo. “She was absolutely terrified of everything under the sun. It was awful. It was an uphill battle for quite a while. I couldn’t even get her to walk. She would just sit in the corner with her head down. Six months, no eye contact; she was a full-blown disaster at that point.”
But DeLuca refused to give up. He did everything he could to try and get Penni used to the world. He had friends bring their dogs over, and even moved in with roommates who had dogs so that Penni could hopefully learn from them that the world wasn’t actually as scary as she’d been taught it was.
At that point, the pair lived in New Jersey, where it was often cold and hard to spend time outside. They lived in a downtown city area, and the whole environment just wasn’t very inviting for Penni, and likely reminded her too much of her horrible past. In February 2015, the pair made the move to Las Vegas — and that’s when everything started to change.
The weather in Las Vegas was much warmer and calmer than it was back on the East Coast, and with so many amazing landscapes all around them, DeLuca began spending a ton of time outside. Every time he went hiking or exploring, he took Penni with him, and that made all the difference.
“At that point I could really start to see her demeanor change,” DeLuca said. “I realized how much she enjoyed being outdoors. We’ll sit inside and she’s just a normal dog, but as soon as you open the door to go outside, even if it’s just for a walk down the sidewalk, she just bolts into pure happiness.”
DeLuca began making friends who also loved to hike and explore, and being around people outdoors helped Penni get comfortable being around people indoors too. With each day she spent outside, she became more and more confident, until the terrified pit bull morphed into a happy, energetic dog who loved life more than anything.
“She was terrified of anybody that walked anywhere near her,” DeLuca said. “If the door to the house opened, she would be in the bathtub. Now she comes to the door, tail wagging. Even every inanimate object, like if I pulled out a basketball for instance, she would take off in the other direction, versus now, she’ll sit out in the driveway with me when I’m shooting a basketball.”
Now, Penni and her dad spend as much time outside as they possibly can, and the pair are quite the adventurers. They go hiking …
… rappelling …
… and even zip lining.
Penni faces each new challenge and adventure eagerly, and never seems even the least bit scared. She trusts her dad completely, and is down to go wherever he goes, even if that happens to be straight over a cliff.
Not only has being outside helped Penni, but it’s also helping change perceptions about pit bulls. When people see Penni rappelling down the side of a mountain, they are always so surprised, and even more so when they learn that she’s a pit bull. Her calm, trusting demeanor has made her an incredible advocate for her breed, which is why her dad eventually made her an Instagram. Now the whole world gets to follow Penni and her dad’s adventures, and be witnesses to just how much Penni’s life has changed — and how much she’s changed her dad’s life, too.
“On the days I’m wanting to go do something and I maybe can’t find anybody to go with me, it’s awesome to know that I’ve always got her,” DeLuca said. “There’s not one time where I’ve ever taken her out where she wasn’t excited, wasn’t ready.”
Penni started life inside a dark basement, rarely ever getting to see the light. Penni still has some quirks and anxieties because of her past, but she’s come further than anyone ever thought she could.