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It's Pit Bull Awareness Day!

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Saturday, October 22nd is National Pit Bull Awareness Day!

To honor the day, WebVet would again like to share the story of Winnie, the pit bull therapy dog, with you. Check out her inspirational tale:


Winnie is a four-year-old female pit bull that defies all expectation -- she's a therapy dog. While pit bulls have a reputation as fiercely aggressive animals primed to attack and even kill, Winnie is so gentle that she actually functions as an excellent therapy dog. A beloved regular at hospitals and nursing homes, she brings joy wherever she goes. Winnie's owner, Chicago resident Whitney Wallace, says it was her mother, herself a therapy dog handler, who gave her the idea to use the dog in this way; the dog's sweet nature made her a perfect candidate.

Like other therapy dogs, Winnie needed to pass the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test, which has a checklist of criteria including obedience skills, tolerance for touch/noise, gentle temperament, and ability to ignore distraction when directed to do so. Winnie was also exposed to various types of medical equipment throughout her evaluation. The evaluation was conducted by a certified evaluator through Therapy Dogs International.

"There was no special training to prepare specifically for the evaluation,'' Wallace said. "She and I just showed up.''

However, Winnie did have two years experience in agility class and had been very well socialized from an early age. Wallace made sure she visited dog-friendly shops and restaurants, and that she had an opportunity to interact with both dogs and people in a variety of settings.

A typical visit consists of a leisurely walk-through at a hospital or nursing home in the Chicago or Detroit area. Residents are free to express their interest; sometimes a nurse who knows of a resident's love for dogs will steer Winnie in his or her way. Winnie spends a few minutes with each person while they pet and talk with her.

"The excitement in the patient's faces is wonderful to witness,'' Wallace said. "It's also been nice to see that the pit bull stigma seems to go right out the window with older generations -- most of the stories that have been shared by patients are positive memories of their experiences with the breed.''
Kentucky therapy programs lead the way

There is no doubt that Winnie is a very special dog, but she is not unique in her role as therapeutic helper. Writing on his Web site pitbulllovers.com, Jason Mann observes that pit bulls are "both cuddly and brilliant as therapy dogs, and they are taking therapy programs in the state of Kentucky to new heights.''

He points out that the breed displays remarkable restraint in situations that would make other dogs bite or snap. Moreover, the breed has an unusual ability to tolerate pain. His own pit bull, eight-year-old Angel, is a case in point. Angel is able to endure having her paws stepped on (by people who may have difficulty walking or moving around) and even being run over by a wheelchair. He described a patient with a sensory problem who had a compulsive need to pinch things. Mann knew that even if pinched, Angel would remain calm.

Angel is also an integral part of the Sit, Stay, Read program in Frankfort, Ky. She visits a local library where children read aloud in a group. Her job is to sit quietly and "listen.'' If a child makes a mistake, the teacher says, "What was that word? Angel didn't hear it.'' The teacher then models the correct pronunciation. According to Mann, the kids love the idea of "reading'' to a dog, and the program is highly effective.

Mann's strong faith in the breed has prompted his involvement with Pawsibilities Unleashed Pet Therapy of Kentucky (PUPT). "Thousands of Kentucky residents will benefit from therapy dog programs and interacting with pit bulls that are deployed by them,'' Mann said. As Liz Norris, Founder of PUPT, would say, "Pit bulls flat rock as therapy pets!''

Whitney Wallace seconds that notion. "Pit bulls are not aggressive by nature; what they are are smart and strong, so if they are bred to be vicious, they will be successful at that. But they are in fact extremely affectionate, obedient dogs.'' When asked if she thought other pit bulls would excel as therapy dogs, Wallace offers a resounding affirmation. "I would recommend this to any responsible owner who has the time and the desire to volunteer.''

Clearly, the opportunities for pit bulls in this wonderful new arena are just beginning to unfold.

Check out the original article: http://www.webvet.com/main/2008/09/09/pit-bulls-therapy-dogs
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