Change of heart

Change of Heart Pit Bull Rescue

Where: Norco-based, serving San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties

Adoption fee: $150 tax deductible


When Gracie struts down the street decked out in her pink tutu, onlookers are not afraid.

“They come up to me and ask if they can pet her and tell me how beautiful she is; without the pink tutu it’s a whole different story,” said Sarah Kosinski-Cope, founder and president of Norco-based Change of Heart Pit Bull Rescue. “The tutu is magic. I don’t like to dress dogs up, but people who would normally be afraid will come up to a dog when it’s wearing a tutu.”

Gracie is a gray and white purebred pit bull, the latest rescue for the volunteer-based nonprofit that currently is maxed out at about 20 pit bulls and pit bull mixes but is working hard to get more foster homes and funding lined up.

“I got a call from one of the shelters wanting us to rescue Gracie, but she was so big and we really had no room,” she said. “But she seemed so sweet and she was so beautiful. I just had to take a chance. She’s become a great ambassador for the breed.”

According to its brochure, Change of Heart is dedicated to saving the lives of unwanted and abused American Pit Bull Terriers and their mixes. It focuses on aiding those who have been in shelters the longest, may not be easily adopted or are suffering from illness.

Kosinski-Cope, 24, understands the uphill battle she faces trying to change the public opinion of pit bulls, but believes through educating humans, dispelling myths and providing professional training for each rescued dog, she can make a difference.

“Community perception is not good,” she said. “We encourage research so people can find out what’s true and what’s a myth – like pit bulls having locking jaws – that’s a myth.”

Kosinski-Cope started Change of Heart in 2009 when she found an emaciated pit bull roaming the streets of Perris with cigarettes burns on her head and swollen teats almost dragging on the ground.

“I was nervous to bring her home, but she was so sweet,” she said. “My mom had always said, `No pit bulls.’ She said they were `no good’ and that `you can’t trust them.’ Every time I would bring one home, when I was younger, my mom would immediately take it to the shelter.”

Kosinski-Cope, who at the time lived with her mother, couldn’t leave the animal, eventually named Pandora, to starve to death on the streets. She brought her home, prepared to beg for the dog’s life.

“My mom took one look at her and said, `This is so sad. Who would do something like this to an animal?’ We fed her, gave her a bath. She stayed with my mom who ended up falling in love with her and keeping her. My mom had a change of heart about pit bulls and I figured if she could, anybody could, and that’s why I named my rescue Change of Heart.”

Change of Heart rescues pit bulls from Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

To date they have placed 50 dogs, with only one return.

“And that was not because of the dog. The potential adoptive family had an issue come up,” said Kosinski-Cope, who attends Riverside Community College in hopes of a career in education. “These dogs make great family pets, but they need to be trained. You get out of them what you put into them. They are horrible back yard dogs. They are not lawn ornaments. They like to be inside with their people. That’s the opposite of what most people think.”

Change of Heart dogs get training from All adopters have the option of training with their Change of Heart dog paid for by the rescue.

“We pay for you to take some classes because we want you to learn the same cues that the dog’s been taught,” she said. “They will teach you how to read your dog.”

Shelters are full of American Pit Bull Terriers and pit bull mixes, Kosinski-Cope believes, because the breed is over-bred and the public is under-educated.

“People don’t understand them, their needs, their medical issues, and end up giving them up,” she said. “Some people just like to say, `I have a pitbull,’ or want to use them for protection. People fall in love with the looks or expect to find the standards they read about, but each dog is different and with different genes, personalities and needs. Many people want puppies and don’t realize that puppies are a lot of work, besides not knowing what they’ll grow up to be.”

Because of the negative stereotyping surrounding pit bulls, Change of Heart adoptions go at a slower pace and have a more intensive screening process.

“Our placement is very personalized,” she said. “We take in several applications to see who’s a good match.”

Deanna Morrison, a San Bernardino resident who does marketing for Change of Heart, called the rescue “a for dogs.”

Morrison joined Change of Heart in April 2011 after being shunned while at a local dog park with her own pit bull.

“People made mean comments and it was clear they wanted us to leave,” Morrison said. “We’re not welcomed at many pet stores and even when we do adoption events we have people yelling at us asking, `Why are protecting these baby killers?’ One guy bragged that he’s killed many pits and hopes all of ours die.”

The rescue has more luck adopting through such online sites as

“With all the negative that’s out there we work hard to change the perception,” Kosinski-Cope said.

Change of Heart runs on donations from private parties and public companies such as Home Depot and Knott’s Berry Farm.

Its goal is to have its own facility to care for, train and shelter more canines in need. While it waits for its dream to come to fruition it hopes to enlist more foster homes.

“We will supply everything needed to our foster families – food, treats, toys, bed, medical attention,” Kosinski-Cope said. “All you have to supply is the love.”

Reach Diana via email, or call her at 909-483-9381.