Ricochet is a therapy dog on a surfboard. He shows amazing intuition for the needs of the people he is helping. Take the time to listen to this and be convinced about canine human bond.
Dear friends, This is from St. Francis of Assisi’s Dog, channeled through Mirah, the director of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue…listen closely ,Mr. Hubbard
10 Things Your Dog Would Tell You….
1. My life is likely to last 10 to 15 years. Any separation from you will be painful: remember that before you get me.
2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.
3. Place your trust in me- it is crucial to my well being.
4. Do not be angry at me for long, and do not lock me up as punishment.
5. You have your work, your entertainment,and your friends. I only have you.
6. Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don’t understand your words, I understand your voice when it is speaking to me.
7. Be aware that how ever you treat me, I will never forget.
8. Remember before you hit me that I have teeth that could easily hurt you, but I choose not to bite you because I love you.
9. Before you scold me for being uncooperative,obstinate,or lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I might not be getting the right food, or I have been out too long, or my heart is getting to old and weak.
10. Take care of me when I get old; you too will grow old. Go with me on difficult journeys. Never say: “I cannot bear to watch” or “Let it happen in my absence.” Everything is easier for me if you are there, even my death.
Remember that I love you.
Mirah A. Horowitz
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue
Dear Friends, If you have ever felt sad or been depressed and had an animal instinctively come close and press their warm body against you, urging you to stroke their head or run your hands through their fur, you will understand this beautiful essay. Animals know when extra care is necessary for their human companions.
Thank you Stubby Dog, once again!
March 11, 2013
A young pit bull instinctively knows the therapeutic power of touch
By Nicole Scrima
The year Capone, my 3 year old pit bull, came into my life things were tough. I had just lost a best friend, my grandma was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I was going through some pretty serious depression. Even though he was only a pup, he somehow knew just what to do to make me feel better. If I was crying or upset he’d just lay by my side as close as he could get. We instantly became inseparable and I finally felt like I had something I could trust. He gave me a reason to leave my bedroom. He gave me a way to get out of the rut I had fallen into. I walked him every day, and took him everywhere I went. He gave me a way to start conversations and I quickly became more confident and for once in my life I was outgoing.
By the time he was a year old my grandma passed away. I was heartbroken, but he lay by me all night long and kissed away my tears. He stayed close by my side and made sure he was always touching me. He made everything better just by being in my life.
He took care of me through everything that happened in the next year. There were breakups, high school graduation, saying goodbye to all my friends, and starting college; he kept me calm and confident through all of it. Then, when my uncle passed away last November, the whole family was devastated. He managed to make his rounds, going from person to person just standing there while they petted him. It’s almost like he knows the therapeutic effect of petting him. I realized that not only can he make my life better, but he can make others smile too. He’s gone to day camps, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers, and he never fails to make everyone smile. I love seeing him bring other people as much happiness as he brings me.
We started agility classes when he was 10 months old and it made our bond even stronger. We’ve been training endlessly for 2 years. When we’re training every worry I have escapes me. I don’t think about the endless amount of things I have to do, the worries in my life, or what’s going on with my family. We’re a team and we help each other to succeed. All that matters on the turf is the two of us.
I take care of him by feeding him, training him, and giving him a home, but that’s nothing compared to what he does for me. He keeps me strong, he makes me smile every day, and he gives me something to love. I can trust him and I know he’ll be right by my side any time I need him. He’s my best friend, my guardian angel, and I couldn’t make it through without him. He came into my life exactly when I needed him most and he’s been performing miracles nonstop ever since. He is my everything, and I’m so thankful to have such an incredible dog in my life.
Mutts Matter: How to Choose the Right Dog for You
With so many deserving dogs in need of a home, how do you choose the right one for you? Use our guide to help.
Adding a dog to your family can be such a rewarding and life-changing experience. They enrich our lives and have the amazing ability to give and receive love unconditionally. A dog is a loyal companion and friend, an instant playmate and a guardian, but also a long-term commitment.
You will be the most special person in your dog’s life and they will be dependent on you. As a member of your family, it will be your responsibility to care and provide for your dog in sickness and in health. Before making this major life decision, it’s important to think it through and find the dog that best fits your lifestyle, personality and family dynamic.
The choice can be overwhelming—there are so many adorable dogs to choose from, and they all deserve to find a loving home. How do you choose the right dog for you? Do a little soul-searching and ask yourself a few key questions:
- Why do you want to adopt a dog? Why now? Companionship? To replace a recently lost pet or loved one? Knowing the answer to this question will help determine what dog best suits you.
- Are you ready to make a 10-to-15 year commitment? Your dog will be dependent on you for its health and well-being, and will always require an investment of love, time and money.
- Do you have the time and resources to commit to a dog? ALL dogs need daily affection, exercise, socialization and regular grooming and vet care.
The ASPCA estimates that the first-year costs of owning a dog are between $1,100 and $1,800, depending on size and grooming requirements. These numbers do not include the costs of unexpected or emergency vet care.
- Will you be able to spend quality time with your dog? Dogs are pack animals by nature and thrive on being part of a family. If they are left alone for long periods of time, it can lead to behavioral issues. If you travel all the time, or consistently work nine-hour (or more) days, the timing may not be right to add a dog to your family.
- Are you willing to train your dog? Lack of training is one of the most common reasons that adopters surrender their dogs to shelters. Basic training helps the dog understand your rules and what you expect. It also teaches you how to communicate with your dog and strengthens the overall relationship.
- Do you live in a condo, or a house with a fenced yard?
- Do you have kids or seniors in your home?
Adding a new dog is a family decision and should include input and buy-in from all its members. Examine your lifestyle and personality, and be honest about the amount of resources and time you can commit to exercising, playing with and grooming your dog. Here are some other factors to consider:
Puppies: Everyone loves a puppy. They are adorable, but they also require the most time, attention and training, especially in the first six months. Do you have the time and patience to train a puppy and deal with frequent potty breaks, teething, chewing, cleaning up messes and their higher energy level? When you adopt a puppy, you don’t necessarily know the personality and energy level the dog will have as an adult, but you do have the opportunity to train them early to live by your rules and shape their behavior.
Adult dogs: Adult dogs over two years old are a great option for most families. They have already grown into themselves and have established personalities, so you know what you’re getting. They’ve typically been “socialized” with people and the outside world, and they understand what it takes to be part of your family pack. They have calmer temperaments, make fewer demands on your time, and are worldlier—many have already experienced car rides or know how to walk on a leash, so they’re ready to be an instant companion.
Senior dogs: Senior dogs also make great pets—they are confident in their skin, grateful for a loving and safe home, and are happy to either walk a sedate mile with you or lounge on the sofa next to you. Just like humans, senior dogs require more frequent veterinary visits, medications and procedures, but there is also a great reward knowing that your senior pup was happy and truly loved when they left this earth. At shelters, older dogs are the least likely to be adopted and the first to be euthanized. Adopting a senior dog is your opportunity to be a hero and get a wonderful companion in return.
The size of the dog that best fits your family is often determined by your family makeup. A very small dog is at risk in a family with young children who may perceive it to be a toy. Small dogs tend to be more delicate and vulnerable, so being mishandled can lead to injury, or to the dog responding in a negative way. If you have younger children in your home, you may want to consider a medium-sized dog more than 6 months old.
Families who live in apartments or condos, or have older or physically challenged members, may do better with a small adult or senior dog because they are calmer and need less space. A young, large dog often plays rough, needs lots of exercise and can be an obstacle in walking paths. Large dogs typically mean more food, exercise and longer walks, and need more space to run and play.
Remember: every adorable puppy starts out small, but they can grow quickly. You can look up the dog’s breed online to get a feel for the different heights and weights of the breeds you are considering.
All dogs need routine exercise to stay healthy and balanced, but some dogs need more than others. If you don’t meet your dog’s exercise needs, they are more prone to behavioral problems, like chewing up things they’re not supposed to or bouncing off the walls with excitement. Be honest and realistic with yourself about the amount of time you can commit to exercising your dog.
Your personal lifestyle and living arrangements factor in too. If you live in an apartment or condo or have a more sedentary lifestyle, you probably shouldn’t adopt a high energy dog that needs to run and play every day. If you are an active family that likes to run and hike, a younger, medium-to-large energetic pup would be a better fit for you than a small toy dog.
You can’t rely on breed alone to gauge a dog’s energy level, because dogs have unique personalities and requirements independent of breed. Age, breed and temperament are all factors that impact a dog’s energy level.
All dogs need basic grooming, but some dogs with longer coats (terriers, shih tzu, spaniels, retrievers, etc.) require more upkeep and routine grooming every four to six weeks. Most dogs shed, but some dogs shed all year round; some shed in clumps for a few weeks, some dogs shed only a little bit. Long-coated dogs are beautiful to look at, but require some effort to stay that way. Short-coated dogs are easier to care for, but may still shed, and require protection in cold or wet weather. Decide how much dog hair you’re willing to put up with, and how much time and money you can afford to dedicate to grooming your dog.
WHERE TO FIND YOUR DOG
As part of the Mutts Matter Rescue team, I have some bias on this topic, and strongly believe in rescuing versus buying your next dog from a pet store or breeder. Sadly, between seven and 11 million unwanted animals are euthanized in the U.S. every year. These are healthy, adoptable pets whose only fault is that they don’t have a place to call home. We have a large overpopulation problem here, and most people are unaware of how many wonderful dogs and cats of all breeds are waiting in shelters and rescues for someone to love them.
Rescues can be a great resource to help you find the right dog for your family. All of Mutts Matter’s dogs live in a foster home; they live with our husbands, wives, kids and other pets too. This personal connection with the dog gives us a better sense of a dog’s personality and level of socialization, and helps us understand the type of home and family that will best suit the dog.
Rescuing a dog in need is a virtuous endeavor and the right thing to do. You can rescue dogs of every age, breed, and temperament, from purebred to mutt, and in all shapes in sizes. Saving an animal’s life is not just a good thing to do, but it will reward you in ways that you may not expect.
The dogs featured in this article’s photos are all in need of loving homes—except for the cover model, Zoë. She’s my pup, and a former Mutts Matter rescue dog. To learn more about theses dogs, or about any of our adoptable pups, check out Mutts Matter’s Available Dogs page, or contact Suzanne at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Mutts Matter on Facebook to learn more about us and see new pups coming into the rescue!
REGGIE - A BLACK LAB
A Really Great (and true) Story
Well Worth the Reading!
They told me the big black Lab’s name was Reggie,
as I looked at him lying in his pen.
The shelter was clean, no-kill,
and the people really friendly.
I’d only been in the area for six months, but
everywhere I went in the small college town, people
were welcoming and open. Everyone waves
when you pass them on the street.
But something was still missing as I attempted to settle
in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn’t hurt.
Give me someone to talk to. And I had just seen
Reggie’s advertisement on the local news. The shelter
said they had received numerous calls right after,
but they said the people who had come down
to see him just didn’t look like “Lab people,”
whatever that meant. They must’ve thought I did.
But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me
in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted
of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were
brand new tennis balls, his dishes and
a sealed letter from his previous owner.
See, Reggie and I didn’t really hit it off when we got home.
We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter
told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it
was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too.
Maybe we were too much alike.
I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten
about that. “Okay, Reggie,” I said out loud, “let’s see
if your previous owner has any advice.”
To Whomever Gets My Dog:
Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this,
a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by
Reggie’s new owner. I’m not even happy writing it.
He knew something was different.
So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes
that it will help you bond with him and he with you.
First, he loves tennis balls. The more the merrier.
Sometimes I think he’s part squirrel, the way he hoards them.
He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get
a third in there. Hasn’t done it yet. Doesn’t matter where
you throw them, he’ll bound after them, so be careful.
Don’t do it by any roads.
Next, commands. Reggie knows the
obvious ones —-“sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel.”
He knows hand signals, too: He knows “ball”
and “food” and “bone” and “treat” like nobody’s business.
Feeding schedule: twice a day, regular
store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand.
He’s up on his shots. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the e vet.
Good luck getting him in the car. I don’t know how he
knows when it’s time to go to the vet, but he knows.
Finally, give him some time. It’s only been Reggie and
me for his whole life. He’s gone everywhere with me,
so please include him on your daily car rides if you can.
He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn’t bark
or complain. He just loves to be around people,
and me most especially.
And that’s why I need to share one more bit of info with you…
His name’s not Reggie. He’s a smart dog, he’ll get used to it
and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt. But I just couldn’t
bear to give them his real name. But if someone is reading this …
well it means that his new owner should know his real name.
His real name is “Tank.” Because, that is what I drive.
I told the shelter that they couldn’t make “Reggie” available
for adoption until they received word from my company commander.
You see, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could’ve
left Tank with … an d it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call to the shelter …
in the “event” … to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption.
Luckily, my CO is a dog-guy, too, and he knew where my platoon
was headed. He said he’d do it personally. And if you’re reading this,
then he made good on his word.
Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long
as the Army has been my family. And now I hope and pray that
you make him part of your family, too, and that he will adjust
and come to love you the same way he loved me.
If I have to give up Tank to keep those terrible people from coming
to the US I am glad to have done so. He is my example of service and
of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades.
All right, that’s enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter
off at the shelter. Maybe I’ll peek in on him and see if he finally got
that third tennis ball in his mouth.
Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and
give him an extra kiss goodnight - every night - from me.
I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure,
I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him,
even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few
months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star
when he gave his life to save three buddies.
Flags had been at half-mast all summer.
I leaned forward in my chair and rested my
elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.
"Hey, Tank," I said quietly.
The dog’s head whipped up, his ears
cocked and his eyes bright.
He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor.
He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name
he hadn’t heard in months. “Tank,” I whispered.
His tail swished.
I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time,
his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed
as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked
his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into
his scruff and hugged him.
“It’s me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me.”
Tank reached up and licked my cheek.
“So whatdaya say we play some ball?”
His ears perked again.
“Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball?”
Tank tore from my hands and disappeared into the next room.
And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.
If you can read this without getting a lump in your
throat or a tear in your eye, you just ain’t right.
"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."
G. K. Chesterton
300 Cats, Yes. Craziness, No.
Ms. Scarpa, 72, lives in a wooden house painted robin’s egg blue, in the middle of an open woodland, with old oaks and pines rising over sandy soil. With its second-story porches covered with the canes of Lady Banks’ roses, Carolina jasmine and wisteria, the house could be something out of a children’s book.
Some people come here to adopt a cat from the Goathouse Refuge, the animal sanctuary she runs, tucked back in the woods. Others come to buy her pottery or ceramic art, which is displayed in the sunny showroom on the first floor of this whimsical house: abstract pieces that evoke storms brewing in the sky; clay roasting pots shaped like squashes, with frogs or artichokes on their lids; or teacups molded like the face of a cat, the lines of cheek and jaw, nose and mouth drawn by a knowing hand.
For there are real cats everywhere.
A white one sits as still as a snowy owl on a post overlooking the woodland. Others walk among dogs napping in the sun. More perch on the railing of a porch, staring at the birds zooming in and out of feeders beyond their reach.
Once in a while the cry of a guinea hen or a turkey rends the air. Pecking for bugs around a garden full of greens, they, too, are unafraid of the sleeping dogs — although those dogs came immediately to attention when I opened the creaking gate, joyfully barking and wagging their tails.
“Umbra!” a voice shouted from above. “Musa! Solé!”
Ms. Scarpa, a tiny woman who is barely five feet and as slim as a reed, with gray hair knotted over a moon-shaped face, appeared at the top of the porch stairs.
Umbra, which means shadow in Italian, is her soulful gray Labrador-Weimaraner mix with blue eyes. Musa, her muse, looks like a little coyote. Solé, her sunny boy, is a huge White Great Pyrenees with jet-black eyes.
The dogs looked up, as if to say, “We were just having some fun.”
Upstairs, in the sunny kitchen, were more cats — sitting on tables and chairs, napping under the wood stove or beside a snoozing dog on the couch, and nestled in the big wooden bowl Ms. Scarpa carved from an oak downed by a storm.
If you are picturing a crazy lady living among mountains of newspapers, with a pack of yowling cats stinking up the place, forget it.
Even on a winter day, there is a pine-scented breeze. The potbellied wood stove keeps everything so cozy that the windows and doors are open, so the cats (42 at last count) and dogs (seven) can come and go as they please.
Roger Manley, the curator of the Gregg Museum at North Carolina State University, where Ms. Scarpa’s ceramic art will be exhibited next fall, calls her “the Mother Teresa of animals” and compares her to Albert Schweitzer, “taking care of everybody, out in the woods.”
And her home, he said, is “so calm and serene — like a spa for cats.”
It is a paradise for birds, too, which fly in and out of the feeders hanging overhead from cables strung between the trees. Each one has a screen to keep birdseed from falling to the ground, where the birds would try to eat it — and be eaten by the cats instead.
“I didn’t want the cats to kill the birds, and if I just hung the feeders from the trees, they could climb the tree and catch them,” Ms. Scarpa said. She showed how she lowers and raises the feeders, using cords tied to pulleys above and a fence post or tree below.
A fat cardinal stood on one of the screens beneath a feeder 20 feet up, eating seed. Black-capped chickadees zoomed in and out of another.
IT was a tiny kitten, nearly drowned in a storm, that changed the course of Ms. Scarpa’s life when she was 7.
“I think I was a little autistic, but they didn’t have a name for it then,” she said.
Maybe it was the sound of the bombers over her family’s house in northwest Italy during World War II, or hiding from the Gestapo, which was chasing her father, Sergio. (Mr. Scarpa helped draft the constitution of the Italian Republic, was a member of the Italian Parliament and was honored with an order of merit by the president of the republic before he died in 2007.)
“I always felt that people were not seeing me,” she said. “That they were talking, but never to me.”
Then one night, after she was in bed, her father brought her a tiny gray tabby.
“He lifted up the blanket and put this little frozen thing on my chest,” she said. “I held that kitty with such love. He changed my loneliness. I could understand everything he wanted and he could understand me.”
That was when she really started talking. “I had to explain to my mother what the cat was saying,” she said.
Never one for school, she apprenticed herself to a ceramics artist at 16. By the 1970s, she was teaching at her own studio in Rome. Eventually, she moved to New York, where she taught at Greenwich House Pottery in Manhattan and the Garrison Art Center in Putnam County.
“But I was sick and tired of life in the city,” she said. “And it was too cold in Garrison.”
On a visit to Central North Carolina in 1995, she fell in love with the balmy climate and the people.
“It feels more like Italy here, the weather and the vegetation,” she said. Less than a year later, she found these 16 acres in the woods, with a goat and a shed and a nondescript house she turned into an aerie. (She still owns property in Italy, which she rents out, though she hasn’t been back since moving here.)
The Goathouse Refuge takes its name from a goat that came with the property and two others who live in a pasture here now. But it is actually a no-kill shelter for cats that roam cage-free on an acre and a half of fenced woodland.
The refuge’s low-slung building used to be Ms. Scarpa’s ceramics studio, before word got out that she loved animals. Litters of kittens started showing up at her door. A rescue group sent six cats from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; another group, in New York, asked her to take 19 cats when their owner died.
So Ms. Scarpa enclosed the woods around her studio, started a nonprofit group and began fund-raising to support the growing cat population. Now she has a staff of five and about 15 regular volunteers, including vet technicians and a handful of veterinarians who work for reduced fees, tending more than 250 cats awaiting adoption.
But veterinary bills, even cut-rate, are high for animals that need surgery for tumors, gum disease and other illnesses.
Dr. Bonnie Ammerman, a veterinarian who often makes house calls here, said: “She goes above and beyond what a lot of people would do for her personal pets. Many of these cats are feral, so they are not adoptable, but Siglinda does everything she can to socialize them.”
Dr. Ammerman, who owns a number of Ms. Scarpa’s pots and artworks, was astounded by the harmony Ms. Scarpa has created between so many species — even a bunny hopping about the yard. “They all pretty much run around together happily,” she said. “Siglinda provides a feeling of safekeeping.”
Many are from county shelters that still use gas chambers filled with carbon monoxide to kill unwanted dogs and cats. The practice has been banned in more than a dozen states. But though the American Veterinary Medical Association and other groups recommend barbiturates as a more humane form of euthanasia, gassing is still widespread.
She takes as many animals as she can from such shelters, but there is a limit. And she worries about who will take her place when she can no longer care for them. But who else would have such an uncanny way with the animals?
Ms. Scarpa knows every cat’s name and story, be it a new arrival or one of the lucky ones napping on her couch.
Rosa has asthma and takes medication. Walter is recovering from mouth surgery. Tigger, who is deaf, has trust issues.
“The guy who had him fell in love with a lady who didn’t want the cat, so he threw him away,” Ms. Scarpa said.
Alex, just rescued from a kill shelter, hides beneath a blanket, with sad eyes.
“Some of them grieve for the families that abandon them,” Ms. Scarpa said. “I have to force-feed them, or they would die.”
Gibson was found cuddled next to the musician who loved him, who had died in his trailer.
“Gibson always comes up to the back porch when music is on the radio,” Ms. Scarpa said.
Dr. James Floyd, a veterinarian and former head of the department of farm animal health and resource management at North Carolina State, met Ms. Scarpa years ago, when she called his office about a sick goat.
He also helped her with a chicken that had a tumor and a leg that had to be amputated. “I’d never amputated the leg of a chicken,” he said. (They aren’t usually deemed worth the effort.) “Coccolona was its name, and that darned chicken lived another 18 months in Siglinda’s studio,” he said. “Siglinda bonded with that chicken, and I can’t swear that I don’t think that it knew who she was and responded to her.”
Ms. Scarpa said she plans to be buried under the oak tree where the animals are buried.
“This is my home,” she said. “These are my babies.”
I have posted a lot of stories of how dogs can help mankind. Now here is one of how mankind can in turn help a dog. This is beautiful. Give a donation in honor of Troy if you can.
A growing number of libraries and some schools in the region are inviting volunteers to bring their dogs in to help children learn, hoping the pets will calm children who are struggling, excite those who are bored and help kids equate reading with fun. This is a win win situation!
November 28, 2012
Three pit bull mixes touch lives and change minds as expert therapy dogs
In June of 2009 I was introduced to the world of pit bulls. My mom was driving to work and saw a huge black and white pit bull sitting on the side of the road. We already had four family dogs between the two of us, so she passed by hoping someone else would stop for the dog. Her heart got the better of her, however, and she returned to the spot about 40 minutes later to find the dog had not moved an inch. She seemed to be waiting for someone. When my mom invited her to come home, the dog jumped into the back of the car and waited to be chauffeured into her new life.
We decided that since I only had one dog living with me that this 1.5-year-old pit bull would stay with me until her guardian could be found. She and Samantha, my 9-month-old “pitador” (Labrador/pit bull mix) instantly became fast friends, and I fell completely in love with her before the first day was over. Not surprisingly, her guardian, who had likely dumped her on that road, never came to claim her, and Sydney became a permanent family member.
BDL Hits Home
I knew nothing about the breed and made no attempt to do any research since I felt all dogs were basically the same. This blissful ignorance however came crashing down on me when later that year I decided to move to Denver, Colo. to go back to school. Talking to a Denver cab driver on the way back to the airport, I was devastated to learn that pit bulls were illegal in Denver. Back home I started doing my research and learned the horrors of breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL). I had already accepted the studentship in Denver but quickly made arrangements to live in the neighboring city of Aurora so that I could legally keep my dogs.
After a few years, I decided that therapy work would be a great way to showcase pit bulls in a positive light and joined a local organization that held training classes in Denver. I couldn’t bring Sydney to the classes, but Samantha looked Labrador enough that I could sneak her in. The organization didn’t agree with the breed ban and allowed me to train Sydney at home. The evaluator would come outside of Denver when the time came for the girls to take their final exam. Both girls passed with flying colors, and we were all ready to start visiting. The organization had an agreement with a hospice facility outside Denver city limits, but before I was able to start visiting, my father passed away unexpectedly, and the hospice facility felt it was unwise for anyone to volunteer if they’d had a recent loss of their own.
Soon after, I finished my education and moved on to Montana to further my career. I also decided to make another addition to my family and adopted Murphy, a 9-week-old pit bull puppy. Over the next year, I trained and socialized Murphy as much as I could and again decided that it was time to pursue therapy work with the dogs.
In July 2006 I drove an hour and a half to a Delta Society evaluation with Samantha and Sydney, now 8 years old, and 18-month-old Murphy. Sydney was the first to be evaluated and after we finished the last test, the evaluator turned to his volunteer helpers and said, “Now that is what a pit bull is supposed to be like! Next time you hear anything bad about this breed, remember what you saw here today!” Samantha and Murphy also passed with flying colors that same day. We spent the next couple of years visiting a local retirement home, and Murphy visited the University of Montana for their “Stress-Less” events for the students.
I will never forget our very first therapy visit. I had made arrangements with the retirement home to start their therapy dog program. Since they had never asked, I hadn’t offered the breed of dog I’d be bringing – I just gave them their Delta qualifications. One can imagine their surprise when I walked in with this huge black and white pit bull when they were expecting a more typical “family” dog. The residents were waiting in the lobby for our first visit, and Sydney immediately planted her huge head in the lap of the first person she saw. The woman was ecstatic and laughed and petted her, much to Sydney’s delight. Suddenly Sydney looked behind her and, as I turned, I saw a woman leaning forward from her wheelchair to pet Sydney’s back. She never said a word and only made that single stroke, but I saw tears in the eyes of every staff member in the room. I was told later that this woman had been at the home for five years and had never once made any effort to reach out to anyone until she stroked Sydney’s back. All my pit bulls were welcomed there from that point on. Sadly, over the next few years, Samantha and Sydney’s health deteriorated, and by 2010 I had lost both of them.
Murphy, now 7 years old, still carries on their great work and loves every minute of it. He even has his own business card! He was a favorite at the Virginia hospital at which we most recently volunteered. In the emergency room, he had what was dubbed “The Murphy Effect”: Big, macho EMTs would fall to the floor squealing like little girls at the opportunity to pet and play with Murphy. I can’t begin to count all the times patients or visitors have told me, “This is the first time I’ve ever petted a pit bull.”
One evening while passing through an empty waiting room outside the ICU, we heard a door open behind us. I didn’t think anything of it until Murphy suddenly turned and was determined to go back. A woman was coming out of the restroom obviously very upset. I hesitated to intrude on her privacy, but Murphy would not be denied! The sight of Murphy heading her way brought a small smile and she knelt down to greet him. She sat on the floor for several minutes with him in her lap (all 65 pounds of him) talking to him and stroking him, rarely saying a word to me. Eventually, her tears started again; embarrassed, she wrapped her arms around Murphy, hid her face in his neck and kissed him before getting up to leave. Murphy absolutely knows who needs his special kind of therapy the most, and this woman definitely needed him at that moment.
Murphy’s comical, joyful expression and the little socks he wears to provide him traction on the slick hospital floors entices folks to invite him over and also gives me the opportunity to educate people about pit bull type dogs. However, it is his personality and love of his work that has changed more minds than I ever will.