Tia Maria Torres, founder of Villalobos Rescue Center, obtained her love of animals from her stepmother. She left home at 17 with several different pets and was occasionally homeless. Her love for pit bulls began with a female pit bull named "Tatanka."
Born in southern California, Torres didn't have her biological parents around as she grew up, so her stepmother raised her. Both Torres and her stepmother considered animals to be gifts from Mother Nature. Torres took in stray dogs and cats, and her stepmother struggled financially to provide for all of them.
When Torres left home, she had two Arabian horses, an Angora goat, and a Catahoula Cur. She and her animals often had to sleep in her van or horse trailer. She joined the army, and when she got out, she became a youth gang counselor in Los Angeles. She worked with parolees frequently.
While at the Los Angeles Animal Shelter, Tatanka charged at Torres' two young daughters. The dog had just been confiscated from a crime scene. However, when she reached the girls, she started licking them. The county didn't adopt out pit bulls at the time, but Torres petitioned to adopt Tatanka.
Tatanka was the start of Torres' pit bull rescue, which became Villalobos Rescue Center. At her husband's suggestion, Torres started to take on parolees to work at the center.