Pit Bull lovers are constantly battling the breed's negative reputation. It can be heartbreaking to see someone cross the street to avoid your pup or usher their kids away at the park, but it happens every day to bully breeds. Every friendly, well socialized Pit Bull is an advocate for the breed, but it can be slow to shift mainstream perception.
Two organizations are on a mission to change that stigma by recruiting rescue Pit Bulls to help people. The Animal Farm Foundation's Assistance Dog Training Program in New York trains shelter Pit Bulls to push wheelchairs or help people regain their mobility and avoid falls. It's believed to be the only American training school that exclusively trains shelter Pit Bulls to be service dogs.
Another group in Chicago, Pits for Patriots, trains rescued Pit Bulls as comfort, therapy, and support dogs for veterans, police officers, and firefighters. The organization's co-founder, Kelly Yearwood, says that veterans and first responders identify with bully breeds because they've both seen a lot of trauma.
For former Marine, Joe Bonfiglio, his Pit Bull service dog, Zen, has been a life saver. Joe was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Afghanistan and struggled to get his life back to normal. Now he can hang out with friends, shop at the mall, and has even started to take classes at a local college.
Not everyone agrees that Pit Bulls should be trained as service dogs, but if the right evaluation and training protocols are in place, it seems like a win-win. Pit Bulls make up the overwhelming majority of my local animal shelter, so this is a great way to give them a loving home and a purpose.