"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, 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 fiancé. “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

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