Have you ever thought your dog could never be a certified therapy dog?
I did. In fact, I used to watch longingly at dogs wearing bright bandannas gently comforting those in need. Although I have worked in the animal field for nearly fifteen years, I had no knowledge of how the process worked. Every time someone told me I should get Cuda certified, I politely thanked them and thought inside, "You've got to be kidding me."
It wasn't because Cuda doesn't comfort people. She loves all humans. It wasn't because she's a stranger to crowds. It wasn't even because she has an extremely rare congenital disorder known as short spine syndrome. I was convinced it was an impossible goal because Cuda is dog reactive and can also get stressed out in public.
Cuda is a pit bull originally purchased online for $50. When her original owners handed her over to me I had no idea what to expect, so I decided to make her life matter. I began bringing her to adoption events to raise awareness for pit bull tolerance and poor breeding practices. She was fine for the first couple of years; no nerves, no attitude. Then she started shaking nervously when we would first arrive at events. That usually brought comments of sympathy for her. "She must be in pain," people said. I found myself having to explain that she was not in pain, just nervous. Then she began growling and lunging at other dogs. Mid-sentence, their owners would nervously laugh as they whisked their dogs far away from us. It didn't help my mission when her behavior fueled stereotypes about pit bulls. I realized that eventually we wouldn't be welcome at these events so I had to do something.
I used to believe that only perfect dogs could become therapy dogs.
I met Cydney Cross, co-founder of the rescue group Out of The Pits, Inc. and owner of Crossroads For Dogs, at an event. She told me about her dog, Grace. Grace was about six years old when she was rescued. A pit bull who lived on a chain, she was used for breeding and fighting and landed in a shelter after being seized in a drug raid. Cydney adopted her, nursed her through cancer and heartworm, and got her certified. Now fifteen, Grace is still on the job and delights people. Cydney told me the biggest successes are dogs no one even wanted. She says, "They never really 'fail,' (sometimes they) just need more polishing."