A Petworth Pumpkin: a stray puppy finds a home and charms on Instagram

Tré and Alicia Mathis, with Pumpkin

by Sarah Yacoub

On a chilly night in October, a small pit bull puppy wandered through an alley and into the backyard of a home near Grant Circle in Petworth where some children were playing outside. The concerned homeowner took the puppy in and, knowing she couldn’t keep it, reached out to some friends and animal rescue resources.

Alicia and Tré Mathis, who also lived nearby in Petworth with their 8-year old boxer dog, Laila, received a text and some Instagram photos of the sickly pit bull puppy. Alicia’s friend knew she had been looking to rescue a dog and thought they might want to help. 

“I gasped at how small she was,” said Alicia.

“She was literally the size of a rat, especially a Petworth rat,” said Tré.

“I had never seen a dog so small,” Alicia continued.

A tiny Pumpkin (photo: pumpkinthepetworthpitbull)

The couple and the neighbors canvassed the alley where the puppy had wandered in from. With no signs of a mother or other puppies, no similar looking neighborhood dogs and no one claiming she was theirs, it was apparent the puppy needed help.

“Stray Puppy,” as Alicia and Tré began calling her, spent her first night with the couple in their home. She inhaled some food and slept in an impromptu bed – a plastic tub filled with blankets – until she had diarrhea that kept everyone up. Even Laila, the resident boxer, seemed to recognize that the puppy was undersized and helpless.

The new family visited District Vet the next day where the pit bull charmed the staff who weighed in on potential names for her, including Alley and Gizmo. The vet told the family she was lucky to have been found. At five weeks old and only 3.9 pounds, she was too young to be away from her mother and was in bad shape with parasites and worms.

She was so malnourished that her belly was bloated. “She looked like a pear,” said Tré. With her round belly, orange brindle fur and considering the season, the family settled on a name: Pumpkin.

It took two more vet visits and a few late nights with bouts of diarrhea before Pumpkin was on the road to recovery. Alicia, who enjoys taking pictures, began documenting Pumpkin’s first days. Pumpkin made her online debut on Instagram November 3rd as “Pumpkin the Petworth Pitbull.”

Older sister Laila is very patient.

Pumpkin’s Instagram account shows her doing what most puppies do best: sleeping, eating and playing. Her sweet expressions and playfulness remind you what’s so special about puppies. The voiceover in the captions is even more entertaining.

With hashtags like #startedfromthebottomnowimhere, #mayhem and #dreamingofmischief, it’s hard not to laugh at the antics of this puppy. The posts are an encouraging story of resilience for this puppy and of her breed. “She’s not Instafamous... yet,” laughed Alicia.

Pit bull, in fact, is not a breed, but a category that includes Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers and other “bully breed” types. A narrative that has been popularized since the 1970s of a killer, dangerous pit bull unfortunately results in many euthanized, mistreated or abandoned animals each year. Research suggests that pit bull type breeds are the most prevalent dogs at US shelters. More than 40% of the estimated 1.2 million dogs euthanized each year are pit bulls. Sadly, being labeled a pit bull can destroy the chances of adoption for many homeless animals.

Alicia and Tré spoke about the misconceptions many people have about pit bulls like Pumpkin. Alicia’s father, a veterinarian, was unsure about her adopting one. A friend of Tré’s had previously brought his child over to play with the couples’ other dog Laila but expressed discomfort about having his child around a pit bull.

“How can you be afraid of a puppy?” Tré asked. He hopes his friend will come around to meet Pumpkin eventually.

“I want her to be an ambassador of well-behaved dogs,” Alicia chimed in. With that, Pumpkin jumped on the picnic table where we sat... it’s still a work in progress.

Pumpkin decided that the table top was the place to be.

The Instagram account, Alicia explained, is about amusing people and bringing others joy. It also has the potential to show skeptics what a pit bull is really like. She noted that the account and general awareness about pit bulls could be a double-edged sword. More awareness of cute pit bull personalities means more people are willing to adopt them. But could this contribute further to overbreeding? It is hard not to wonder if Pumpkin’s mother was a victim of overbreeding. While Pumpkin is thriving, you have to question where her mother may be and if her litter-mates are safe.

Despite a rough start to life, being a local canine celebrity seems to come naturally for Pumpkin. She greets everyone who walks by and incessantly kisses new human friends. When not busy greeting new people, she loves sleeping and getting into mischief. Shoes are, unfortunately for Alicia and Tré, a favorite toy.

While Pumpkin may be cute, the couple explained that having a puppy is a big responsibility. They spoke of late nights with little sleep. Training and exercise for Pumpkin keeps them busy. For extra socializing and playtime she is attending Patrick’s Pet Care. There is also the expense of food, toys and healthcare. Alicia and Tré plan to spay Pumpkin when she’s a bit older.

Pumpkin’s Instagram account will remind people of the joy and challenges a new puppy brings to any family. With a bit of humor and some creativity, her posts are showcasing the loving side of pit bulls and entertaining Petworth residents. Pumpkin’s new family has their hands – and hearts – full with her. Alicia says, “We hope she changes everybody’s mind about pit bulls.”

Follow Pumpkin on Instagram!

If you’d like to adopt an Instagram star of your own, visit a local shelter or find a rescue organization. The Humane Rescue Alliance has many future stars waiting to meet you.