As if she really needed to say it, Tia Torres stated the obvious.
“We’re a very unconventional family,” the founder of Villalobos Rescue Center in New Orleans 9th Ward said Wednesday.
Torres had escaped down the street to find a “quiet place so I can hear you,” away from the noise of barking dogs and the daily operations of the dog rescue facility.
The fifth season finale of the reality show “Pit Bulls & Parolees,” which features Torres and her family, who all work at Villalobos, airs Saturday on Animal Planet. Sure, viewers will see rescued pit bulls find new homes, but they’ll also be guests at the wedding of Torres’ daughter, Tania, and Perry Sanchez.
White wedding dress? No, try black; it works better with tattoos. Tia Torres in traditional mother-of-the-bride attire? Scratch that. Hooded robe is more like it for the Halloween-themed soiree. A special outfit for Tania Torres’ treasured pit, Bluey? Well, of course.
The stress and drama of the pending nuptials escalates as the gang at Villalabos not only has to prepare for a wedding but also move the dogs to higher ground as Tropical Storm Karen looms.
How many dogs are we talking about?
Tia Torres chuckles.
“We have not done an exact headcount because we’re scared to get one, but I’m guessing probably around 300 or so.”
On Saturday’s episode viewers will meet the large, but lovable, Gilbert.
“Gilbert had been with us for a very long time, and we did not think Gilbert ... he was a tough placement. He’s a big strong dog. He’s a tough cookie sometimes, when it comes to other animals,” Tia Torres said.
Fortunately, Gilbert was just what a truck driver and his wife, who spend much time on the open highway, wanted.
“To have it be the coolest adoption ever — wow, that was really fun,” Tia Torres said.
The Torreses first opened Villalobos in Agua Dulce, Calif., outside Los Angeles but moved operations to New Orleans in 2010. Factoring into this decision were the stressed economy, mounting restrictions on such businesses in California, and Tia Torres falling in love with the Big Easy while doing animal rescue during Katrina.
“We had taken in about 60 dogs, so I was going back and forth (between California and Louisiana). “We just loved it. We felt very drawn to it.”
The nonprofit structure of Villalobos means the facility exists strictly on donations, and those come from all entities, Tia Torres said.
Her love of pit bulls in particular was born many years ago, when at a shelter she encountered a dog that had been confiscated from a murder scene.
“And she just won me over and started my love for the breed.”
She said the parolees’ role with the facility evolved after the brother of one of her employees was released from prison and was having a hard time coping in the outside world.
“She (the worker) started bringing him to work with her. I could see that he was struggling with everything, life, the free world. He was one of the things that really opened my eyes to how difficult these guys have it,” she said.
First the brother became a volunteer there, and then a five-year employee.
Other parolees would later join her team, whose mission is finding forever homes for the many pit bulls and other canine breeds she sometimes accepts.
“It’s exactly like a dating service,” Tia Torres said. “It’s not different. It’s like online dating. You see a picture, you read the profile, you think, ‘Hmm, this might work out.’ You meet each other. You try to find a compatible match. We’re matchmakers.”