"A breed of satin and steel. Pit bulls are a mixture of softness and strength, an uncanny canine combination of fun, foolishness, and serious business, all wrapped up in love."

-D. Caroline Coile

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pit Bulls' Visits Heal Patients, Reputation

Joyce Baldwin, Plainfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center resident, loves visits from Murphy, a 4-month-old pit bull. Murphy's owner believes pit bulls make good therapy dogs. / Matt Kryger / The Star

Pit bulls have long been known for their vicious behavior and little else.

Whether it is fighting other dogs to the death or attacking people, pit bulls have developed a bad reputation that has been hard to shake.

A Mooresville woman, though, is making an attempt to tear down that stereotype one nursing home at a time.

For the past six months, Kim Lane has visited nursing facilities in Anderson, Martinsville, Mooresville and Plainfield with her "two boys" -- Milo, a 3-year-old pit bull, and more recently Murphy, a 4-month-old pit bull -- to provide therapy for staff and residents.

"I promised Milo when he was a puppy that we would change people's minds," she said. "It was hard at first because as soon as some places heard the word pit bull, they said, 'no.' I even gave up at one point. But six months ago, I decided I would try even harder, because I felt Milo's talents were just wasting away."

Milo already has a Canine Good Citizen certificate and is being trained to be certified as a therapy dog and to serve in hospices.

Lane said what makes pit bulls such good therapy dogs is the same trait that some owners take advantage of when they are training them to fight and be mean.

"Pit bulls will do anything to please their owner, even if it means fighting to their death," Lane said. "But if you channel that desire to do good things they were meant to do, they have the perfect disposition for it. My dogs have been treated and handled with nothing but love, so Milo, in particular, is just one big mush ball."

The people who get weekly visits from Milo and Murphy couldn't agree more. Many say it is the highlight of their week.

Joyce Baldwin, a resident at Plainfield Nursing and Rehabilitation, can't wait to have the dogs climb up on her bed with her.

Baldwin said she lost her dogs just prior to moving to the facility. So Lane's dogs have helped her cope with the depression many nursing-home residents endure.

"Aren't these dogs the sweetest things?" Baldwin said. "They have brought me so much joy and always cheer me up. What you hear about pit bulls isn't true. They are good dogs. I don't know how anybody could not like these two."

Chris Ray, administrator at the Plainfield facility, said he believes in pet therapy and often uses dogs, birds and even fish to help cheer up and relax residents there. So he was delighted and had no hesitation about having pit bulls come into the facility as therapy dogs.

"You always think about the concerns when you hear pit bull, but once you meet them, that all goes away," he said. "You can just see the change in the residents' faces when the dogs come around."

Lane said she believes both dogs can sense when someone needs extra love and attention.

They can even do a few tricks to entertain residents, and Lane also allows residents to feed them low-fat treats.

"As long as we can change at least one person's mind about pit bulls and make someone happy every visit, I consider it a good, productive day, and hopefully, it starts a domino effect that changes people's perceptions," she said.

By: Josh Duke


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