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Tag: elementary

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. 

Third graders bring a dog park to New Jersey

Glassboro, N.J. has a group of third graders to thank for its new dog park — expected to open next year.

More than a dozen students from Dorothy L. Bullock Elementary School showed up at a borough council meeting in March, taking turns reading from a prepared statement, urging the council members to consider creating a dog park. It was signed by all their classmates.

Three months later, and even amid serious cuts elsewhere in the borough budget, the dog park, students recently learned, is a go.

Just before the school year ended, Glassboro Council President Tony Fiola and Councilman Ed Malandro went to the children’s classroom to deliver the news, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Malandro and Fiola had spoken to their class earlier in the year, and they invited the students to the next council session, encouraging them to present their thoughts on how their community could be a better place. After that their teacher, Shelly Petrozza, had the students nominate things they thought would improve Glassboro. It ended up a tie, with half the students favoring a dog park, half choosing a skate park. The children presented the council with a case for each proposal.

After research, the skate park was ruled out because of cost – at least $75,000, Malandro said. The dog park idea, on the other hand, appeared to be possible.

“We said, ‘This is something we can afford to do,’ ” Malandro said. “It lets us do something for the kids, and it lets them see government does work in the right ways.”

The dog park will likely be in East New Street Park, next to the Bullock school, and plans call for a plaque commemorating the role the third graders played.

“We all said to them, ‘Boys and girls, look at what you did. You’re only 8 and 9 years old,’ ” said their teacher. “I think they realized you do have power no matter how little you are.”

(Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

First graders bid their mascot goodbye

murryA first grade class in Florida has bid farewell to Murry, the fluffy white dog who served as their class mascot. 

For 10 years, Murry, who belongs to teacher Karen McGehee, had served as mascot of her classes at Astoria Park Elementary School in Tallahassee.

Adopted from the Tallahassee animal shelter, Murry only visited the class a few times a year, but his picture was displayed prominently in the classroom, where McGehee would warn misbehaving students, ”Remember, Murry is watching,” or “I don’t think Murry would like that, do you?”

She stamped his doggy image on the children’s especially good papers. His face was on the cover of her students’ sticker books. And he was the subject of a book, written by the class, called “Our Class Pet,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I think all kids, or at least most kids, love animals, especially dogs,” said Karen Hollenbeck, whose four children all passed through McGehee’s class and bonded with Murry. ”They accept you as you are — they ask no questions and give no criticisms.”

When Murry died, in December, ”we all cried,” said McGehee, who’d prepared for the dog’s demise.

She’d talked with  a grief counselor who provided tiny heart-shaped pillows with paw prints on them, enough for every child when she told them of Murry’s death. Murry’s vet donated dog-angel pins for each child in the class, as well as cards bearing Murry’s paw print and locks of his white hair.

McGehee also wrote a personal letter to parents about losing Murry and sent her students home with handouts on children and pet loss that Mezzina had given her. Because Murry had been adopted from the animal shelter, McGehee set up a box for donations for animals at the Tallahassee shelter — toys, treats, old towels and blankets.

McGehee, who is nearing retirement, isn’t sure if she’ll get another mascot for her classes.

“Murry was one of a kind,” she said. “He was special,”