November 28, 2012  

Three pit bull mixes touch lives and change minds as expert therapy dogs

By Amanda Clase, originally posted on Oct. 17, 2011

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.

Breed Ambassadors

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.”

Magnificent Murphy

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.

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21 Responses to “TheraPits”
  1. Ok Stubbydog once again ya’ll have me tears. This is a touching story from beginning to end. Stories such as this one makes me fall in love with pitties all over again!

  2. DianneAnthony says:

    Loving every word. All any dog needs is a chance at life, lovbe, and compassion. they are our companions, gifted from god. Bess you for your work with pibbles and sharing this story.

  3. lalahartma says:

    Yup, tears here, too! I thought Aurora also had a pitbull ban, though.

    • bullymom says:

      Yes, Aurora does have a ban now. While I lived there, there was one city council member who was dead set on passing a ban, but there were two others who with my help were able to convince the rest not to pass it. Unfortunately those two left the city council and I moved away so no one was left to take up the fight and he was able to get it passed.

  4. tubsintexas says:

    I own 2 pits one female, Letti, and a male, Yowzer. My male dog is 2 years old with identical markings as Murphy. I would love to get them both involved in some therapy or service training. I am only 38 years old, disabled due to fibromyalgia, degenerative bone and disc disease in my spine, osteoarthritis, and many more complicatons. I am afraid that one day, I may have to seek housing that doesn’t allow dogs unless they are service dogs. I could never leave my babies. Thanks for sharing, I think I will seek out a trainer and get them certified!

    • StubbyDog says:

      @tubsintexas Please let us know how it turns out, best of luck!

    • bullymom says:

      @tubsintexas Good luck to you! Remember that therapy dogs do not have the same rights as service dogs so a therapy certification would not help you against breed discrimination.

  5. Pitman says:

    Great Job! Super!

    Take a look here, too,

    it’s in Finnish but you get the photos 🙂

  6. dejetaka says:

    Where’s the Kleenex? Mom’s crying again! Tears of joy, though 🙂 Thanks for sharing this beautiful story!

    The Road Dogs

  7. blazer says:

    oh boy, tears here too! What a wonderful story!

  8. jbrisson says:

    great story!

  9. jbrisson says:

    great story! I am crying at work, I am so glad your baby has you as a parent

  10. JoAngleStaats says:

    Thank you for sharing Sydney, Samantha and Murphy’s stories with us Amanda! And most of all thank YOU for the work you’re doing to change the opinions of so many….what a beautiful story!

  11. AlexHernandez says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I have a female Pit who looks exactly like Murphy. All white rednose.

  12. mansbstfrend says:

    wow how touching i think you are amazing…keep up your beautiful work….

  13. cobblejoy says:

    I work as a nurse in a rehab hospital with a lot of elderly patients. I am also picking up my second pit bull cross rescue pup tomorrow. (Can’t wait!) I am wondering about the socks. Are they just regular children’s socks or do they have grippy bottoms like human hospital socks do to make them no-skid….or are they made specifically for therapy dogs? Someday perhaps my pup will be a therapy dog. It could happen.

    • bullymom says:

      @cobblejoy I got Murphy’s socks from Drs. Foster and Smith online pet supply site. They do have grippy tread on the bottom to provide traction. Murphy gets very scared on the slick hospital floors but trots happily with his socks on. They do tend to slip down after a while so it helps to wrap some velcro around the tops to keep them up.

  14. lscarsi says:

    Beautiful Story Amanda!! Three cheers for what you and your pitties do. Thank you for being a champion for the breed and for what you/they do to bring comfort to folks in need!!!

  15. DenisePitre says:

    Love to hear stories like this, couldn’t come at a better time. My girl Ginger is about half way through her 10 supervised visits to be fully certified with Love on a Leash in San Diego. She is going to be their first Pit Bull and we have had nothing but great response. The people in the program are exicited to have a great ambassador for the breed and so far we have done nursing home visits and they just love her.

    • StubbyDog says:

      How wonderful! Ginger is a fantastic ambassador and we’re sure she will bring lots of smiles to many people.