Therapits: Pit bulls as therapy dogs
My favorite part of this news report is not the beginning, which dredges up recent footage about dog attacks to establish the pit bull’s reputation as violent and unpredictable.
It’s not the part where they shatter that stereotype, or at least put a dent in it, it by noting that — gasp! — pit bulls are being used as therapy dogs.
My favorite part is near the end, where a student reading to a pit bull stumbles over a word, and the dog’s owner, Lydia Zaidman — her chin resting on the dog’s back — offers some assistance.
“NAYSAYERS,” she says. “Do you want to know what that means?”
“Yeah, what?” the student replies.
“That’s people who say you can’t do something.”
A lot of people would say you can’t trust a pit bull, much less put them to work with children as therapy dogs, but a program in north Austin’s Gullett Elementary School is going a long way toward proving them wrong, according to TV news report from KXAN in Austin.
It’s hardly — despite the report’s exclamation points — the first time pit bulls have served as therapy dogs. Across the country, pit bulls — even one of Michael Vick’s former dogs — have been certified as therapy dogs. The therapy dog group Ace and I work with, Karma Dogs, recently qualified its first pit bull member. Zaidman, who’s president of ” Love-A-Bull ,” a nonprofit group that sticks up for the pit bull, has been taking her pit bull Mocha to the school for two years now.
What is unusual is that Zaidman’s therapy dog organization, called the Pit Crew, trains only pit bulls for therapy work. It’s believed to be the only program in the nation that does so.
Working with professional dog trainer Julie Eskoff, Zaidman recently concluded a training program designed to certify pit bulls for use in schools. The training program started with nine animals. Seven graduated, but two were soon sent home — not an unusual dropout rate for therapy dog qualification.
“They love people; they’re extremely tolerant of people.” Zaidman said of pit bulls. “Of course, each individual one has to be temperament tested and each one is an individual like any other dog. But in general, they temperament test very high. They really love people; they like to be around people and so they do really well.”
“They are the number one most abused dog in this country,” Zaidman told KXAN. “Abuse is going to lead to a problem, no question. Unfortunately, there are a lot of irresponsible owners out there and that’s going to lead to a problem, but they have to use everything from amphetamines to abuse to get them to fight. So the idea that they are meant to fight is a falsity.
“Unfortunately, there’s a cycle right now,” she added. “There’s a media image, just like there was for Dobermans in the 80s or German shepherds in the 70s and it’s a cycle that just keeps happening. The more misinformation that gets out there, the more people that are attracted to the wrong dog. What we’re trying to do is put a positive image out there so that the wrong people don’t continue to be attracted to the dog.
“It’s like any other prejudice. You know, you have to educate yourself as to the facts. Unfortunately, too many people read things on the Internet and they don’t bother to find out what the truth is, you know, bother to actually meet one.”
Zaidman seems not only to have her facts right, and a well-articulated message (she’s a lawyer, after all), but she’s proving it daily through deeds.
If only people like Baltimore’s Mickey, and all the other naysayers, would listen.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 30th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, austin, breeds, dogs, elementary, gullett, image, love-a-bull, lydia zaidman, mickey cucchiella, perception, pets, pit bull, pit crew, pitbull, pitbulls, reputation, schools, stereotype, stereotypes, temperament, texas, therapy, therapy dogs