Pit bulls? Not so much……
Yet around the country pit bulls that are certified therapy dogs and certified service dogs bring affection to ill children in hospitals, to the elderly in nursing homes and to others whose emotional and physical troubles could use a dose of warmth and comfort from a loving canine.
Pit bulls that serve in these roles are sometimes referred to as thera-pits.
“We introduced pit bulls a few years ago with great success, said program director Barbara Nalette. “We currently have a beautiful all white pit bull named Whittle Girl who is a real love.”
Pits for Patriots is a Chicago-area not-for-profit that trains pit bulls from rescues and shelters to work as service companions for veterans and first responders (police, fire and emergency and service personnel).
The dogs are trained to improve the recipient’s quality of life by doing such tasks as opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, retrieving personal items, assisting with balance and mobility issues.
The Animal Farm Foundation in Dutchess County, New York, has a program that takes pit bulls from rescues and shelters and trains them to work for people with disabilities. They become service dogs and live with the people they assist and have government-approved access to public facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Love-A-Bull’s The Pit Crew is an all pit bull and pit bull mix therapy program that serves the Austin, Texas area. Volunteers and their pit bulls visit schools and other institutions.
And finally, thera-pit advocates love to remind that two of the pit bulls rescued from then Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s dog fighting rings in 2007 went on to become “Vicktory” therapy dogs. One of the pits died last year.
Here in Northeast Ohio, Gemma, a caramel-colored pit bull with eyes that match her coat, is a thera-pit. In 2013, Gemma was in jeopardy of being put down. She was found as a stray and taken to the Lorain County Dog Kennel.
The kennel euthanizes for space, and Gemma at the time was one of the kennel’s longest residents, says Abbe Moen, Gemma’s rescuer.
“I brought her (Gemma) home to foster her, but I fell in love with her and kept her,” said Moen. She is a dog trainer with Elite K911
and a volunteer with Rescue K911
, which is devoted to rescuing and finding homes for so-called “bully breeds.”
Chuck Stella owns Elite K911 and founded the rescue, both of which are in North Ridgeville.
From the beginning, Gemma was a good-natured pup with no signs of being abused.
“She had a great temperament,” said Moen. “She was very social, very laid back. I started working with her four or five days a week, for about an hour or two, on basic commands such as sit, down, heel and come. She also learned agility, which is confidence-building.”
Moen decided, in part for personal reasons, to have Gemma trained and certified as a therapy dog.
“I wanted to be able to take her to see my grandmother in a nursing home,” said Moen. “My grandmother had dementia, but when she saw the dog she literally lit up.”
Gemma became certified in March 2014. She has visited schools in the suburbs and in the city. Last Sunday, she hung out with Lois Rudnik, a resident at St. Mary of the Woods Senior Living Community in Avon. Moen is friends with Rudnik’s daughter.
Moen said Gemma was turned away only once because of her breed.
More to come…..