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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. 


Comment from sisko
Time March 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

I think this is wonderful. All power to the team.

Pitbulls have such a bad rap (no pun intended) and are great therapy dogs.

Comment from baltimoregal
Time March 30, 2011 at 9:26 am

Thank you John!
FYI, The first pit bull member of Karma Dogs is none other than Ruby-Doo, the wonder dog, “owned” by Pauline Houliaras, President of B-More Dog. You can learn more about us and our commitment to “Making Baltimore a better place for Pit Bulls and their families” here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=35638834718

Comment from Lindsay
Time March 30, 2011 at 10:31 am

This is such a great story! Thank you for sharing. My own APBT is a certified therapy dog, and LOVES children.

Comment from Melissa
Time March 30, 2011 at 10:34 am

Thank you for this. As a pit bull advocate and rescuer, I appreciate you sharing these stories.

Comment from Marya
Time March 30, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Wonderful article!

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time March 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Remark-a-bull! 🙂

Comment from Nidia Perez
Time March 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I am glad you are bringing the true Pitty to some peoples eyes. I have 2 and they are the best dogs ever.

Pingback from How can such a small town kill so many dogs? | PetConnection.com
Time March 31, 2011 at 8:06 am

[…] bull therapy: Very nice piece by John at Ohmidog discussing Pit Bulls as effective therapy dogs. Breaking down stereotypes can be a long, slow road, […]

Pingback from In The News « Dogs In Training
Time April 8, 2011 at 11:43 am

[…] From Texas – “The Pit Crew” is an all-pitbull therapy dog crew working its way around Texas and trying to take the scare out of these breeds.  I love this story.  I am not one of those people who believes that “breed has nothing to do with it” – after all, breed must have something to do with behaviour or we wouldn’t have retrievers, pointers, collies or flock guardians – three types that can almost do the work they were bred for with very little training at all.  What I love is that these children and their parents are being exposed to the “other” side of this breed. […]

Comment from Kathy Prazenka
Time December 24, 2011 at 10:23 am

Attached is a link for a petition for A Disabled Retired Chicago Cop & Vietnam Vet denied pit bull service dog. He recently moved to Iowa so his wife could also take care of her elderly mother. Aurelia, IA City Council obviously doesn’t get it. I’m sure he would appreciate any support especially from those who know! Blessings and Merry Christmas

Comment from Chris Youngs
Time February 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I have depressoin and I am looking for a service dog for my depression but Im looking for a Pit bull service dog Can anyone tell me where to look or who to call or talk to?????