"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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Video du Jour

Cruelty Survivors in Play Packs from Game Dog Guardian on Vimeo.

"Pit bulls" and their owners often face scrutiny. "Pit bulls" that come from dog fighting operations have an even tougher road to travel. This video dispels some of the myths about "pit bulls," and also shows that "pit bulls" that have survived dog fighting abuse are still dogs and deserve a chance to lead normal lives after they are rescued.

It's important to remember that this video shows what is possible, not what is necessary. Not every dog needs to be great in open play packs to be a great dog. We don't like everyone we meet and it's just fine if dogs don't either.

Suzie and Hercules are both Pinups for Pitbulls (pinupsforpitbulls.com) sponsored cruelty survivors from Montgomery Co., KS. Huge thank you to the ladies at Pinups for Pitbulls, we couldn't help dogs like Herc and Shortcake without you!

From: http://vimeo.com/22929196

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shelby's Grace: From Abused Pup to Angel of Mercy

In Shelby’s Grace, Joe Dwyer describes his odyssey with Shelby–from the day he met the frightened and injured pup to her current life as a therapy dog.

Joe knew that there was something unique about Shelby, whom he credits with saving his life and his soul, but his vision of the pup’s mission didn’t really take shape until Shelby began to extend her compassion to others, such as an elderly man in a wheelchair and a man with terminal cancer. Shelby did not need to be told that they needed her compassion and healing touch. She knew intuitively that they needed help, and of her own volition, she approached them and shared her love with them.

Shelby’s Grace is a narrative account of Shelby’s journey from a physically and psychologically traumatized dog to a well-adjusted, empathetic therapy dog. It is also the story of Joe’s transformation. Shelby helped Joe conquer debilitating depression and anxiety, and inspired him to become a motivational speaker and life coach.

So why should you read a story that you already know has a happy ending?

This book is therapy. Shelby’s Grace is inspirational and uplifting. It is also entertaining. This is not a typical “self-help” book. It is a narrative memoir, and Joe is a great storyteller.

Shelby’s Grace would make an excellent gift, and it’s a must-buy book for anyone who is prejudiced against Pit bulls. It is a gift of love. And it is actually two gifts in one, because part of the proceeds will be donated to animal rescue organizations.

Buy the book HERE.
Check out Shelby's website HERE.
Shelby also has a Facebook page.


Review written by Charlotte Grider.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pit Bulls Love Easter, Too!

Easter egg hunt for the doggies!
                                Hidden egg
                                                                Layla found one!
                      Neo did, too!
                                                                                              Her nose knows!

The doggies had so much fun finding the eggs. They can't wait until next year!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chicago Firefighter Rescues Two Pit Bulls by CPR

If you saw two pit bulls struggling to breathe would you feel happy giving them CPR?

That’s exactly what Chicago firefighter Tammy Rodriguez did as she rescued two dogs from a house fire and resuscitated them both using CPR and applying oxygen.

Ms Rodriguez was in a fire team rescuing two pet pit bulls, Howdy and Hossa, from a blaze in Bucktown, Illinois, on Friday - and her quick thinking saved the lives of both.
Alive: Howdy the dog was saved by Chicago firefighter
Tammy Rodriguez, who resuscitated her after a house
fire using CPR and applying oxygen

Howdy, an adult dog, and Hossa, a puppy, were in the rear porch of a burning three-flat block where their owner, Jorden Grennan, lives. She was at work when the fire started.

One of Ms Rodriguez’s colleagues carried Howdy to her outside the fire. One of the dogs was critically injured and the other was in cardiac arrest.

‘(The dog) was completely out,’ Mrs Rodriguez, a 19-year fire service veteran, told CBS Chicago. ‘And we just started putting the mask (on) and giving it straight oxygen.

‘I started performing CPR, and for a while there it wasn’t reacting, but I think just the positive pressure of oxygen made it start breathing, which was exciting.

‘All of a sudden she started opening her eyes and we’re like “Oh, my God” - and then she got up.’

Howdy has already made a public appearance at a press conference, but Hossa was kept in overnight at a veterinary centre.

The cause of the blaze, which did not injure anyone, is being investigated.

Ms Rodriguez - a trained emergency medical technician - said she owns three dogs who are 'part of her family' and was just doing her job.
'She rescued two dogs, performed CPR on them and brought both of them back to life,' a fire service spokesman said.

By Daily Mail Reporter

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

PAW Encourages Students to Walk in Pawprints of Pit Bulls

Temple’s Pit Bull Awareness Day aims to show both students and staff the real identity of the pit bull breed.

The steady, cold rain may have kept some students from going to class on Friday, but it didn’t stop the Pit Bull Awareness Day festivities.

Promoters of Animal Welfare, a non-extremist animal activist organization at Temple, hosted Pit Bull Awareness Day with hopes of restoring the negative image of the pit bull, which at one time was known as “America’s Dog.”

Julie is a three-year-old pit bull-mix owned by
Michael Burke of Philadelphia. “Even though she’s not
a full pitbull, I can tell that other people are a little racist
when they see her at the dog park,” Burke said.
“The event today is to let people know they are really sweet dogs,” PAW member and Animal Care and Control Team volunteer Todd Sweppenheiser said. “They are very loyal, and really, it’s about the treatment of them that turns them into more aggressive and more violent dogs.”

Vice president of Temple PAW Janice Poleon, a senior public relations major, planned the five-hour event at the Bell Tower.
PAW raised money for the
event by having vegan bake sales at the Student Center, Poleon said.

“You have to blame the deed not the breed,” Poleon said. “If you teach a dog to fight, that’s what it’s going to do. But if you teach a dog to love, that’s what it’s going to do.”

Various organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, Pinups for Pit Bulls, Inc., Whispering Woods Animal Rescue and the Humane Society of the United States’ “End Dog Fighting Campaign” participated in the event.

More pit bulls are brought to shelters in Philadelphia than any other breed, Poleon said. She added that her goal for the event was to emphasize that pit bulls are not meant to be feared.

“They’re meant to be loved, just like any other animal,” Poleon said.

Several adoptable, friendly pit bull-like dogs that have been rescued were handled by PSPCA and PAWS volunteers for passing students and faculty members to pet and play with. PAW offered information on how to adopt and how to get involved with the organization while raffle tickets and $1 bracelets were sold to support all the different organizations involved.

Sophomore Gabrielle Turgoose, an active new member in PAW, explained how she watched some people’s reactions to the pit bulls.

“We’ve had so many people look at them and walk around [the other side of] the Bell Tower,” Turgoose said.

“We’re just letting people know about the misconception of pit bulls,” said Turgoose, who wishes to adopt a pit bull. “We’re just trying to tell people the facts and not really the myths that they’re hearing.”

PAWS volunteer Doven Collins, who adopted her own pit bull-type rescue dog last summer, said, “Pit bulls are wonderful, and make great family dogs.”

“Over the past 10 or 15 years, the shelters have been inundated with pit bull-like dogs, mainly because they’re used a lot in urban dog fighting environments,” Collins said.

Sweppenheiser added that some of the dogs have been neglected or abandoned, or the owners just don’t want to take care of them anymore.

Collins said PAWS, recognized as a no-kill shelter, is “really working hard to build awareness to realize these dogs are great dogs and to help educate on spay and neutering to control the pet overpopulation.”

Poleon said Temple administrators were very open to the idea of the event, even though it took place nearly a month after National Pit Bull Awareness Day.

Faculty members also came out and showed interest.

“Some of the teachers I have, who are supposedly terrified of dogs, have come out and realized how sweet the dogs really are,” Poleon said. “I like how people can talk to me and my other PAW volunteers and realize these are wonderful dogs.”

Even though it was raining, student PAW members were still active in getting people involved in the event.

Although Poleon said she was pleased with the turnout, she said another alternate, rain day Pit Bull Awareness Day event is hopefully being planned to take place before school ends.

By Lauren Hertzler

Monday, April 11, 2011

You Can Learn a Lot from a Pit Bull

By Donna Lewis (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)

One summer morning in 2003 I woke up with an insatiable desire for a puppy. When I told my fiancĂ©, Jade, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Okay, but it has to be a pit bull.”

I wasn’t sure if he was serious or trying to discourage my sudden aspiration.

“I have kids, there’s no way I’m getting a pit bull!” Or so I thought.

Years earlier I had a bad experience with a pit bull. I’d come to view them as psychotic monsters and thought they would turn without warning and devour grandmas as they offered them a doggy biscuit.

I voiced my concern to Jade and he responded with a simple request.

“Study the breed before saying no,” he said.

He grew up with them and knew what I had yet to learn. He baited me because he knows I’m a sucker for a cute face.

“They are the cutest puppies you’ll ever see,” he said.

I was hooked.

Although I was still skeptical, I spent every spare moment that week researching pit bulls. I looked up the pros, cons, and the history. I found myself marveling at the accounts of bravery displayed in the breed, from combating violent home invaders to rescuing wounded soldiers off the battlefield. But, what made the difference to me were stories of dogs victimized by abuse and exploitation.

Story after story opened my eyes to the amount of hardship and pain inflicted on this one breed. I learned at least 21 percent of all animal abuse involving dogs is inflicted on pit bulls.

I learned gang activity plays a large role in pit bull problems. Because my neighborhood is rife with gangs, it grabbed my attention because I realized Jade and I could make a difference. I laid aside my prejudice and accepted the fact that we were destined to be pit bull people.

Turns out Jade’s words of “They are the cutest puppies you’ll ever see,” weren’t just a clever hook. He was telling the truth.

When we met our future family member, she seemed like a force of nature, so we named her Moriah, after the old song, “They Called the Wind Mariah.” And we brought the cute little puppy home with us.”

That was seven and a half years ago, and since then it’s been my observation that pit bulls seem to have two basic values: fun and family.

The best times in life with Moriah hinge on having a raucous game of tug o’ war, and watching her run Mach-10 through the yard with her jolly ball.

Oh yeah! That’s the good stuff!

Even though we find her antics amazing, the most extraordinary thing I’ve noticed about her has been her intuition about people. She has demonstrated tremendous discernment and self-sacrifice.

For example, one day my daughter forgot “Rule One” in stranger danger: Never open the door to a person you don’t know.

Moriah ran to the door and placed herself squarely between my daughter and the man, using her body as a wall of protection. While Tiffanie talked with him, Moriah kept steady eye contact but never became menacing.

I was amazed by Moriah’s ability to weigh the situation and meet it with an appropriate level of guardianship. I was humbled by the sacrificial choice to potentially place herself in harm’s way.

What a sharp contrast to the crazed beast I originally pigeonholed her breed to be.

Because of Moriah I view pit bulls with new eyes.

They are loaded with all the cuddliness and lovability of a lap dog with all the courage and dignity of a battle horse. They play hard and love harder. Giving up is not in their chemistry, they wouldn’t even know where to begin and their highest sense of reward is in knowing we are pleased with them. They are a microcosm of all the best a dog has to offer.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Partnering Up to Help Pit-Bull Terriers

Best Friends launches lifesaving pilot program at five shelters nationwide.

Tiana, like any other shelter dog, longs for a home to call her own.

The pit-bull terrier came to the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center in California with a huge metal chain and padlock around her neck, which shelter staff immediately removed with a pair of bolt cutters. They suspect Tiana was used for breeding and then simply discarded when she’d outlived her breeding usefulness.

Despite the hardships she’s faced in her life, Tiana is one of the sweetest dogs you’d ever want to meet. Now all she needs is for someone to give her a home of her own. Thanks to a new Best Friends project, Tiana has an even better chance of finding that home.

Best Friends Animal Society recently launched Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls, a project designed to encourage responsible pet ownership, increase adoptions, reduce euthanasia and improve the public’s perception of pit-bull terriers and similar dogs. Thanks to the myths, many of them perpetuated by the mainstream media, that surround these wonderful dogs, pit-bull terriers, once America’s most beloved family dogs, have become vilified in recent years. The sad result is that many of these dogs end up in shelters and often don’t find their way out again.

Some communities have banished pit-bull terriers altogether by enacting unfair breed-discriminatory laws. Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls is trying to change all that.

“In addition to this program helping to save lives of adoptable animals, I would really like for people to realize that pit-bull terriers are just dogs, like any other dog,” says Jamie Healy, manager of Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls. “They’re fun-loving, loyal goofballs that have the same basic needs and require the same responsible ownership as other dogs do.”

The Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls project is made possible through a $240,000 grant from PetSmart Charities. Along with additional support from Best Friends, the funds support pilot programs in five shelters across the country.

One of those shelters is the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center where Tiana is waiting for someone to fall in love with her and take her home. The other four shelters are the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter in Baltimore, Maryland; the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C.; Hillsborough County Animal Services in Tampa, Florida; and the County of San Diego Animal Services in Carlsbad, California. Best Friends has hired local coordinators for all five shelters to oversee the programs in their communities, which will include kennel enrichment for shelter dogs, community education and training programs, creation or support of foster and transition home programs, adoption and other outreach events, targeted spay/neuter efforts, post-adoption support and educational opportunities for shelter staffs.

The Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls program is modeled after a very successful partnership between Best Friends and Salt Lake County Animal Services that began back in July 2009. The save rate for pit-bull-type dogs climbed from 57 to 71 percent in the program’s first year, and the number of dogs adopted doubled from the previous year. Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls hopes to mimic that success in the five pilot communities and eventually bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets.

“We can never reach the goal of No More Homeless Pets if we don’t address the disproportionate number of pit-bull-type dogs languishing in shelters,” says Ledy VanKavage, national manager for Best Friends’ pit bull terrier initiatives.

With a little help from their friends
Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls coordinators will get lots of help from dynamic groups of volunteers called “Pit Crews.” Pit Crew volunteers will do everything from walking dogs, to helping out at adoption and other events, to providing basic obedience training. The Rancho center’s Pit Crew, with help from one of the center’s community training partners, is currently holding training classes with 10 adoptable pit-bull-type dogs.

“This is very beneficial not only in helping the dogs become more adoptable, but it also allows the volunteers to get to know the dogs’ personalities, which also helps them promote the dogs to potential adopters and find the perfect match,” says Dana Keithly, local coordinator for the Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls program at the Rancho center.

The Rancho center, with the help of its Pit Crew volunteers, recently held a “Pitcademy Awards” promotion, selecting 10 VIPs – Very Important Pits. People then voted for their favorites. A raffle drawing was part of the fun. The shelter’s next promotion will focus on the pit-bull terrier’s place in American history and how these dogs became war heroes and loyal companions.

The Rancho center is also holding bimonthly adoption events at local businesses, where potential adopters can interact with dogs and see what they’re like outside a shelter setting.

Jamie is hoping more people will visit their local shelters and find out how they can help.

“We can all help in our own way and be part of the mission of No More Homeless Pets,” Jamie says. “Adopt, volunteer, donate or simply be a voice for the animals. You can make a difference.”

As for Tiana, one of the Pit Crew volunteers recently took her to a Basic Manners class at the shelter. It was amazing what she could do. In no time at all, she learned how to “sit” and how to “shake.” She gets along great with other dogs and loves going for walks and meeting new people. She is a perfect example of just how smart, loyal and wonderful these dogs really are. Do you think Tiana might make a perfect addition to your family? Read more about her at the Rancho site.

Pit Crews at each of the five pilot shelters have set up Facebook pages to keep their communities up to date on everything that’s going on. Here are the links to their pages:

Cucamonga, California
Baltimore, Maryland
Washington, D.C.
Tampa, Florida
Carlsbad (San Diego), California

Read more about the Salt Lake County Pit Crew.

Read more about Best Friends’ pit bull terrier initiatives.

By Sandy Miller, Best Friends staff writer
Photos by Dana Keithly and Best Friends staff

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pit Bull Rescues Blind Spaniel

Video from KGW. Story from AP

REDMOND, Ore. (AP) – December 9, 2010: Alan Borland, a volunteer with the Humane Society of Redmond, couldn’t get Nala to quit pulling on her leash Monday morning. It was odd, Borland noted, as he’d never before had problems walking Nala, a pit bull mix.

“She looked very alert and kept looking off to the south,” said Borland, 55. “I tried calling her, but she just kept pulling towards the ditch.”

Giving in to her demands, Borland allowed the dog to lead him to a ditch about 200 yards from the humane society’s location on Hemlock Avenue. To Borland’s surprise, there was a small black and white ball of fur curled up at the bottom of the ditch.

“I thought he was dead at first,” Borland said of the collapsed and blind cocker spaniel in the snow. “He had ice balls on his feet, and he was really filthy-looking.”

Borland pulled Nala away and rushed inside to get help for the cocker spaniel, who appeared to be clinging to life. Once the cocker spaniel was brought inside, shelter staffers determined the dog had been a shelter resident that was adopted a month earlier.

“It was quite a surprise,” said shelter manager Chris Bauersfeld. “He was found 200 yards away from the shelter. Through all his wanderings, he must have heard the shelter dogs barking and recognized the place.”

The dog, named Chadwick, is 10. He lost his sight to old age and was adopted in November.

A week before he was discovered in the ditch, Chadwick escaped from his new owner’s property, two miles from the shelter.

Bauersfeld suspects that Chadwick lost his sense of smell and direction in the snowstorm and stumbled along the frozen streets of Redmond for close to a week. Somehow, the dog managed to survive long enough to be rescued by his former shelter mate.

“Five other dogs walked right past Chadwick that morning when they were out for their morning walk,” Bauersfeld said. “Only Nala alerted to Chadwick’s presence.”

Bauersfeld said Nala has been with the shelter since April. Though it’s unknown whether the two dogs had any contact during Chadwick’s shelter stay, it was possible Nala recognized Chadwick’s scent Monday morning during the walk; Bauersfeld believes Nala probably just smelled another dog in the area and followed her natural instinct to track it down.

Once Chadwick was treated for dehydration at the shelter, he was returned to his owner that afternoon, in good condition.
Chadwick’s owner, Tina Mazzariello, who could not be reached for comment, had been searching for him ever since he escaped, said Bauersfeld, who added that Mazzariello has a soft spot for shelter animals nobody wants to adopt.

Chadwick was one of several disabled animals the owner has adopted from the Humane Society, Bauersfeld said.

Bauersfeld hopes Chadwick’s rescue will help Nala’s chances of being adopted.

Because Nala is a pit bull mix with a few behavioral problems, such as jumping fences and not getting along with some dogs, the shelter has struggled to find a home for her.

“I hope that after this, somebody would step forward and adopt Nala,” Bauersfeld said. “She’s really a delightful dog.”

Chadwick is alive today, Borland said, because Nala wouldn’t stop pulling on the leash Monday morning.

“Nala was a hero that day,” Borland said. “I probably would’ve never seen Chadwick there if it wasn’t for her.”


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Samantha the Service Dog

For Diana Russell, going out in public can be a daunting task. “I have Tourette syndrome and bi-polar disorder,” Russell says. “What happens [with the Tourette syndrome] is that I have a lot of facial tics, neck tics and vocal tics as well. … So when we’re in public and this happens, I have severe anxiety. I also have a lot of anxiety and depression with bi-polar.”

Luckily for Russell, her pit bull service dog, Samantha, has made a world of difference. Russell explains that Samantha can tell when she’s getting ready to go into an anxiety attack.

“She nudges me a couple of times with her nose, and then she does a couple of ‘ruff, ruffs’—not barks, but kind of between a bark and whine … so I can take my medication right away,” Russell explains. “Sometimes, if I feel that it may not be a very bad anxiety attack, I will just stop whatever I’m doing and either pet her or just give her a big hug and hold on to her for a little while until I calm down.”

Russell explains that it’s the pit bull’s friendly nature and loyalty that can make them awesome service dogs.Samantha and Russell’s pug, Elvis, also help take the focus off of Russell when she’s out in public by herself or with her fiancĂ©. “Having Tourette syndrome causes anxiety in itself because people stare a lot, and when they stare that gets me really anxious or uncomfortable. But when we take the dogs with us, people pay more attention to the dogs than they do to us,” she says. “They get so much attention and they bring so much happiness to people.”

Samantha’s breed gives Russell the opportunity to educate the people she meets about pit bulls.

“Samantha is friendly with kids and with adults, and she loves other dogs,” Russell says. “And people see that when I take her out. They will end up having a long conversation. They will say things like, ‘Thank you so much because we didn’t realize that pit bulls can be such wonderful dogs.’ So it definitely changes their minds [about pit bulls] or has a big impact on them. That’s what I get the biggest kick out of. ‘Yes she’s an American Pit Bull and yes, she’s my personal service dog.’ It’s really cool for people to start to realize that pit bulls are not mean dogs unless their owners make them that way.”

"I think it’s the fact that they’re so in tune with their owner because she will not leave my side,” Russell comments. “That’s the best quality. I had no idea they were that loyal.”

Samantha is very sensitive to Russell’s moods and adjusts her behavior accordingly.

“If I’m really depressed, she’ll come to me and lick my face. She won’t leave my side at all. She gets really mellow and calm when I start getting depressed. She lets me pet her and hold her – whatever I need to do. When I start getting to be my normal self again, she starts getting more active. It’s just amazing how in tune she is with me,” Russell says.

Russell met Samantha when the pup was just 8 weeks old. It was shortly after Russell lost her last service dog, a Rottweiler/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, to cancer. Now Samantha is 8 months old, and Russell knows the bond between them will to continue to grow.

“Once the doctor saw [how devoted Samantha was], he was the first one to say, ‘Let’s get the paperwork filled out to get her registered [as a service dog],’ ” Russell explains. “He said, ‘I can tell how much she helps you, and she’s with you all the time.’

“She’s amazing,” Russell comments. “She is truly my angel and life saver.”

By Micaela Myers

Monday, April 4, 2011

Austin’s First Pit Crew Class Graduates

Believed to be the first of its kind in the country, class of seven pit-bull-type dogs completes intensive therapy-dog training program.

On Saturday, March 27, 2011, I got to watch pit-bull terriers change lives at a local Austin elementary school. Clearly, not the venue you typically hear the media reporting on pit-bull terriers hanging out with their guardians on the weekend. Any pit bull guardian will say their dog has changed their life and that of their families in various capacities, but what made this extraordinary group of seven pit-bull-type dogs so special is they were touching the lives of children, several of whom had special needs, just by being in their company, and changing pit-bull terrier stereotypes simultaneously.

The Austin Pit Crew, a Love-A-Bull organization program, is so unique because it is a therapy dog program exclusively for pit-bull terriers. At this time, it is believed to be the only one of its kind in the entire country. Love-A-Bull founder Lydia Zaidman, mom to therapy dog Mocha, can be credited with this brilliant idea after thinking it would be another way to get pit-bull-type dogs out into the community, giving back in a positive way, and continue debunking the myths and hysteria propagated by a sensationalist media about the dogs we all love. And she’s right!

“I wanted to do this forever. I thought this was a great way to showcase my own dog, Mocha. And Julie [the trainer] feels the same way about her dogs. Pit bulls are the second most popular dog in the therapy program I previously worked with, so, I got really determined to find out what it takes to make this work and have my own group,” Lydia said, reflecting on the inception of her Pit Crew idea.

Trainer Julie Eskoff started the three-hour graduation day event with a demonstration for guests and visiting children, giving them an insight into the extensive and rigorous training all seven dogs have gone through to make it to graduation day. A few children got down on a gym mat to read with a dog. Some sat in chairs holding, scratching, and petting two dogs. And one special little girl, a 9-year-old named Rose (to the right), was walking around the elementary school gymnasium with a few of her favorite dogs. Of the nearly dozen children in attendance, Rose’s reaction to the dogs really demonstrated the power and purpose of the program.

“[Rose] loves it. [Her experience] has also carried into the home too. She’ll get the leash and want to walk our dog. Because of the problems she has, I’m more tempted to say no and then it dawned on me that she does it here, I started letting her do it with our dog.
So, she walks our dog around all the time now,” said Rachel Rozko, Rose’s mom.

Rachel added, “It’s given her so much more confidence. She’s never really in a position where she’s in charge because that’s the way her life works. And here, she feels like she’s in charge. She’s such a mother hen and she gets to be a mother hen to the dogs.”

Rose absolutely lit up walking Moby, Trainer Julie’s dog, and Carley, Katheen Hamilton’s dog. Rachel even attributes many of Rose’s recent developmental breakthroughs to her participation in the program. She credits Rose’s improvements in walking, tactile reactions, and confidence and love of new animals to her experience with therapy dogs.

Though the program is running like a well-oiled machine now, getting Pit Crew off the ground was hard work and definitely a team effort. Unfortunately, an all pit-bull-type dog therapy program stirs the pot a bit because of stereotypes associated with the breed, but physical education teacher and dog therapy coordinator Patti Brauss of host school Gullet Elementary was up to the challenge. Gullet had a history of allowing therapy dogs into the school to spend time with students, many with special needs, which at least made the Pit Crew concept more familiar to the Gullet community and administrators. But Lydia and Julie both agree, without Patti as an advocate for the program it would have been incredibly difficult to get started.

“The school has been served by therapy dogs for many years now, and many breeds are represented there, including many pit bulls. Kids love dogs and are very affectionate, and the handlers have done a lot of great things with their dogs. It’s a natural fit,” said Patti.

Learning about the backgrounds and stories of how each of the dogs and their handlers/guardians got involved in the program was also a highpoint. First, all seven of the graduating dogs came from a shelter or rescue group. And some had no formal training before studying for the Canine Good Citizen exam (CGC), a qualifying factor to be eligible for Pit Crew. Jo Jo Farris and his dog Roxie were one of the teams that really went from zero to 60 once they got involved in Pit Crew. Before the graduation ceremony Jo Jo explained just how far he and Roxie had come. Jo Jo says Roxie had poor leash manners because he usually had her off-leash because she naturally stayed by his side. However, once they got into CGC training Roxie immediately excelled, and trained and passed in a matter of weeks.

A dog like Roxie is exactly what the Pit Crew is looking for. Trainer Julie says she works towards three factors with all the dogs; control, trustworthiness, and reliability.

“I want these dogs to stop being misunderstood and misrepresented. They are such beautiful dogs, extremely trainable, and I’ve never seen such love or such engagement from a breed. I’m really excited about sharing them with the community,” Julie gushed.

“These are human companions that are inclined to be right here, next to you. This is a human-engagement breed. This is the most trainable breed on the planet right here,” she continued.

Ashley Arkin’s dog Skeemers (to the right) may not have had to start from ground zero with training, but before he was in Pit Crew, he had a serious health issue to overcome – hip dysplasia. Ashley told me about the several surgeries Skeemers went through before they started Pit Crew and how at one point, she wasn’t sure if he was going to make it. Expectedly, to have the chops to get through Pit Crew training you have to be an exceptional dog with a one-of-a-kind spirit, and Skeemers is no exception. He has rebounded beautifully and Ashley even says his scar makes him more relatable to the kids.

“At only 2 years old, Skeemers had hip dysplasia so he’s the handicap dog of the crew. I’m lucky they’re able to accept a handicap dog because he can’t necessarily do everything all the other dogs can. But the kids really understand, they ask him about the scar. It’s a miracle he walks. The vets weren’t sure he was going to make it, one even told me to be prepared to make plans to put him to sleep but he’s still going,” said Ashley.

Lydia agrees that this first class of dogs is particularly distinctive, “We have a great set of dogs, our standards are very high. It’s really important for us to have the highest standards. We require the dogs to get along with other dogs, as well as all people. A lot of people in the class I personally invited them to take the class so it was pretty nice to see them graduate.”

Looking to the future, trainer Julie explains, “We are cultivating some new venues, some new connections. I would love to see a Pit Crew program in every state in the nation, and I’d like for Lydia and I to be the founders of it, and travel around the country and put this program together. I want the breed better represented, even in the areas where they’re discriminated against.”

Congratulations to the spring 2011 Austin Pit Crew class! Jo Jo and Roxie, Morgan Warren and Coco, Kathleen and Carley, Lydia and Mocha, Ashley and Skeemers, and Trainer Julie, Moby and Pearl; this is such an achievement! Good luck!

Over the summer, the first Crew class will “cultivate,” as Trainer Julie puts it, and evaluations and training for a new class will begin in September.

If you are in the Austin-area and want to find out if your pit-bull-type dog is eligible for Pit Crew or you would like to support Love-A-Bull, please visit Love-A-Bull.org. Also, be sure to “like” Love-A-Bull on Facebook to keep up with news on what the Pit Crew. Trainer Julie can also be reached for training at the Rancho Mondo Northwest Canine Resource Center.

By Jessi Freud, Best Friends Network volunteer
Photos by Jennifer Hayes

Here is another video/article on the Pit Crew program. Check it out here.