Ambassadog, Extraordinaire: Vivian Peyton

Because we exist to celebrate all things pit bull, we wanted to take a moment to talk about a special little dog that you may or may not have heard of (no, not Georgia!)

Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/VivianPeytonDog?group_id=0

Photo courtesy of Vivian’s facebook page

Her name is Vivian Peyton, and her story is heart-warming. What we know of her past began at the Animal Care and Control facilities in Philadelphia, where she was rescued from a life that suggested a history as a bait dog. Her scars may bear witness to her past, but her heart is even more noteworthy. Thankfully, a special group called New Leash on Life USA saw that much in her, and pulled her as a student in their three month prison dog-training program, where inmates work to socialize and train the dogs in preparation for adoption. In this novel program, prisoners help dogs gain a second chance at life, both simultaneously working to redeem their reputations, all while learning from one another.

Upon graduation from the training program, Vivian Peyton was adopted by Michele Pich. Michele is a veterinary grief counselor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, where she comforts grieving pet owners who are working to overcome the loss of their beloved family members. On her own time, Michele visits children at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. Michele knew from their first meeting that Vivian Peyton would make a great partner in both of these endeavors, and so she worked to achieve further accomplishments with her. Vivian soon became a Penn Vet VetPets therapy dog, and soon thereafter passed her Therapy Dogs International (TDI) certification.

Vivan’s touch offers an opportunity for healing when it comes to grieving pet lovers at the veterinary hospital, who gain so much comfort in having an animal to hug. She also provides an outlet for children who are subjected to treatments and extended hospital stays. Her owner tells a special story, ” There was a little girl who, since she had some surgery, had some scars, and used to get picked on in school,” Pich says. “We used it as a teaching point to say Vivian used to get picked on by bullies, and even though she has some scars, she has been able to rise up beyond that.” The young girl took comfort from that, and was grateful to just be around Vivian.

Photo courtesy of Jack McMahon Jr.

Photo courtesy of Jack McMahon Jr.

For all of her contributions to her community, Vivian Peyton was recognized at the 2012 National Dog Show Presented by Purina, where the sweet little Staffordshire Terrier mix was honored as one of three Purina Therapy Dog Ambassadors. It is clear to anyone that Vivian Peyton is an amazing ambassador of the pit bull type dog, and we hope that her achievements will encourage others to give an unlucky shelter dog a chance to do something special.

Slone, Ernie. “A Champion for the Underdogs.” Dog Fancy. 01 Apr 2013: 24. Print.

 

Everyone’s Best Friend

It’s just been one of those days. You were late for work because of construction, your boss blamed you for something caused by a co-worker, you forgot your lunch, had a fight with your husband, and were late to pick up the kids from the babysitter because of a flat tire on your car. You can’t wait to get home and put your feet up. Once you do, your dog jumps up beside you to cuddle your stress away. They look deep into your eyes, and let out a deep sigh as they snuggle up against you. You stroke their soft fur coat, and are immediately taken away from the worries of your day.

5EC88C3F-5F6E-4C7F-8C80-D3B7A6809D96

If this is a common occurrence for you (the snuggling part, not the bad day!) then you might be able to understand why the use of dogs as therapeutic treatment is growing in many different circles. It has been scientifically proven that animals can decrease depression, lower blood pressure, and increase immunity. As if you didn’t have enough reasons to be grateful for your pet!

Walk into any progressive school, and you might just find a few four-legged counterparts. Some counselors and psychologists now employ the use of animals in treatment for children. Nothing can make a child open up quite like a furry friend. Growing in popularity are programs called ‘Reading with Rover’. In this instance, certified therapy dogs are brought into schools to assist children with learning disabilities. The kids often find it less intimidating to read and explain stories to the pups, as opposed to their potentially judgmental peers. This not only assists in reading speed and ability, but also retention and cognitive processes.

It is not uncommon to find animals in nursing homes and hospitals. However, it is now becoming more commonplace to see therapy dogs in schools, physical therapy offices, and mental health clinics. When the dog first prances into such a clinical environment, most people do a double take… a split second later, a broad smile will likely spread across their face. Most likely, you have seen a therapy dog out and about, but did you ever think about what hurdles they (and their owners!) had crossed to get there?

One way to gain access to many places where pets are typically off-limits, is to achieve certification through Therapy Dogs International. This is the organization that facilitates the testing and approval of the prospective therapy dogs. The testing is incredibly demanding and in-depth. It includes simulations of hospital environments, as well as testing the dogs’ reactions around children, medical equipment, and other dogs. There are also phases that included ‘unexpected situations’ (such as loud noises, people running, dropping objects, etc) as well as a ‘leave it’ phase (they have to ignore a yummy piece of food!) and a phase where they are handled by a stranger. Of course, throughout the testing, they are looking for specific behaviors, including a quiet disposition, a willingness to be around people, and obedience toward the handler.

One subject addressed on the TDI website is that therapy dogs are born, not made. These dogs must be predisposed to this lifestyle. Of course, it is possible to teach a dog mannerly behavior (did you hear that, Gaige?) but you cannot change a dog’s inherent temperament. The dog should have a natural need to be with people.

DSC_0015_2

So, you may be asking why we are choosing to discuss this topic today. It is because we have some very exciting news! TWO of Georgia’s potential adopters have a strong interest in pursuing therapy work with their new dog, whichever that may be. While we would never think to require such effort on the part of an adoptive family, we do feel as though this is a ‘meant-to-be’ situation for her. Anyone who has met Georgia, can see instantly that she has an absolute longing to be around people. Cuddling, petting, playing, tummy rubs… she doesn’t care how you’re touching her, she just wants to feel you nearby! Everyone from our rescue, LCPO, (myself included!) has always held aspirations for Gia to continue on to be a therapy dog. It is a beautiful thing that she may just be able to meet that goal!

Do you think that your dog might have what it takes to become a therapeutic dog? A great first step is the Canine Good Citizen certification. Classes for this designation are offered in most areas. Even if you do not have plans to achieve therapy dog status, CGC dogs make fabulous ambassadors for any breed!

Four-legged Heroes

I am a Very Bad Blogger. My beautiful sister-in-law married her best friend this weekend, and the wedding happened to take place on the same piece of property where we live!

Our Family (we are on the far right)

While it was a joyous occasion, it certainly caused my blogging to take a back seat. Now, after a celebratory weekend of love & family, it is time to get back to the blogging basics.

I’m sure you all are well aware that today marks the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon. Today gives us all an opportunity to remember those affected by the tragedy, and also to stand proud in observance of our nation’s pride & heritage.

Without fail, we remember those individuals who sacrificed their own lives, or the lives of loved ones, during the events, as well as in response to the attacks. We can never repay the debts we owe to the courageous soldiers, fire fighters, and police officers, to name a few.

While it is expected that we pause in rememberance of those who gave their lives, often times we forget to recognize those four-legged heroes. These animals may not have made the choice to defend our nation’s honor, but they certainly contributed to the cause nonetheless.

In the wake of the attacks, over 350 search & rescue dogs responded to the scenes of Ground Zero and the Pentagon. These dogs were responsible for identifying 1/3 of the remains that were eventually discovered. The canine responders worked for 16 hours a day, and typically stayed on site for 7 to 14 days each. In 2011, it was reported that only 12 of the dogs that reported to Ground Zero in response to the attacks, were still alive. Among the most popular dog breeds to be used were German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, Yellow Labradors, Black Labradors, Chocolate Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Portuguese Waterdogs, Belgian Malinois, Border Collies, and Rat Terriers.

One such rescue dog, a belgian shepherd named Hansen, stands out for his incredible dedication and longevity to the search. Although he passed away in 2004, Hansen received a replica statue on Long Island, for 150 days of service at Ground Zero, the longest of any canine involved.

Hansen & his statue

In addition to the search & rescue dogs, 300 trained therapy dogs were deployed to aid in the comfort of victims. Not to be forgotten are the seeing eye dogs that rescued their companions. Salty & Roselle were two labrador retrievers that guided their blind owners to safety, maneuvering them down thousands of steps, through blinding smoke, deafening noise, and trembling ground.

Salty & Roselle, posing with their owners, after leading them to safety down 71 flights of stairs

My favorite story from the tragedy? At least 3 of these brave search & rescue dogs were  American Pit Bull Terriers. Their names were Cheyenne, Tahoe, and Dakota, and they travelled all the way from California. Not only did they aid in the search & rescue portion of the efforts, but these brave pooches are also certified therapy dogs.

Dakote, Tahoe, & Cheyenne

Let us all take a moment to remember all who have sacrificed & served to protect our country and our freedom… both of the two-legged and four-legged variety. Hug your family and pups a little closer tonight.