What Rocco Taught Me

April 10, 2012  

A certified therapy pit bull opens this Lab-lovers eyes to stubby dogs everywhere

By Laurie Burton

I’m writing this from a unique perspective. Well, it’s not really unique, but it’s probably different than most of the authors who contribute to StubbyDog. I’m not a past or present pit bull guardian, nor do I volunteer at a shelter and work with these dogs. I’m the guardian of a large, goofy Labrador Retriever named Moose.

You might wonder why, then, I’m writing this. The answer is simple. I’ve fallen in love with the stubby dogs.

It all started two years ago, when Moose and I went through obedience classes and he received his Canine Good Citizen certificate, with our end goal being a certified therapy team. Moose became a therapy dog with Pets on Wheels, a Maryland therapy pet organization in December 2009, and we began volunteering right away. In the summer of 2010, we started visiting Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library and participating in their reading program with young children. The goal of the program is simple: Get these kids in the library once a month to read to the dogs and gain self-confidence.

It was here that we met Rocco, a pit bull, who was also a Pets on Wheels volunteer. Moose and Rocco hit it off and became best buds (along with another Lab named Willow), each quietly laying with their human reading buddies throughout the hour-long session, knowing that playtime would happen soon after. It’s been nearly two years of these monthly get-togethers, and they recently started volunteering together at Ronald McDonald House Charities too. While I’ve never discriminated against certain breeds, Rocco has opened my eyes and my heart to these misunderstood pups.

Mainly, I’ve learned that they’re just dogs. That’s it. Some are perfect for therapy work, while others are meant to be someone’s high-energy running buddy. The same applies with any breed. In fact, Pets on Wheels (who I can’t say enough good things about), unlike some other therapy organizations, doesn’t discriminate based on age or breed. As long as the dog is dog friendly and passes the temperament test, it’s in. Which is yet another reason I love volunteering through this organization.

While I’ve vowed to have Labs my entire life, thanks to Rocco (and his awesome guardian, Valerie!), these stubby dogs have crept in and stolen my heart. And although I don’t have the resources or the time to have or foster another pet right now, I’m doing all I can to positively promote these dogs. On Facebook, I post pictures of Moose and Rocco volunteering, I put up positive pit bull articles, and I constantly talk about how great these dogs are. My brother-in-law is a journalist, and I constantly push positive pit bull information his way – and he’s already written two great articles about them. My fiancée bought me “The Lost Dogs” for Christmas, which I read in three days. Although it was heartbreaking, there was a positive ending, which spurred me to lend it to family members. So far I’ve given it to two people who aren’t the biggest fans of bully breeds – my father and my soon to be father-in-law. They both finished it and said it was a positive eye opener. Even though they will probably never have a pit bull, at the very least it’s changed their perception and gotten them thinking.

So, although I don’t have a pit bull myself, I know that one day that will change. I will have both Labs and pit bulls, and I’ll continue working to promote the fact that these dogs are just that – dogs.

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4 Responses to “What Rocco Taught Me”
  1. blazer says:


  2. rn4pitbulls says:

    super awesome! you are a true breed ambassador!  Thank you for loving these special dogs and giving so much of yourself.

  3. woofslc says:

    Great perspective, thank you for sharing!  Keep up the great volunteer therapy dogging work too!  One question I have though…I have always heard that the Ronald McDonald house discriminates against therapy dogs who are pit bulls…have you seen or heard this from Rocco’s guardian?

    • laurieburton says:

       @woofslc I haven’t heard of that happening at our Ronald McDonald House. We visit the one on West Lexington in Baltimore, and I’ve never noticed any type of breed discrimination. There’s also an american bulldog mix (most people think he’s a pit) that visits RMH. The staff is great there; the sight of any dog brings a smile to peoples’ faces.