September 2, 2014
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Homeless pit bull a ‘certified’ therapy dog
Elisha Kay Aldrich
SITTING PRETTY: Sasha as she practices for the pit bull beauty show Bark in the Park, in Fall River, Mass.

Sasha is Warwick’s own certified pet therapy dog. But, Sasha’s journey to obtain such a title is different from most dogs. She is a pit bull. Sasha is also homeless; she was abandoned a year ago and has been in the care of the West Warwick Animal Shelter ever since.

Susan Parker and Kerri Sobel, who were in charge of Sasha’s training, said they chose her because she was never aggressive, and they thought she was just special. Sasha began her training in March and has been so successful that they want to create a program so more homeless dogs can be like her, and find better homes because of it.

Parker is the owner and founder of Dynamic Dog Training and The Little Rhodie Bully Breed Club. Dynamic Dog Training will train all sorts of dogs, while The Little Rhodie Bully Breed Club is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping sheltered pit bulls.

“I just love them,” Parker said of the breed. “They’re misunderstood, they’re loyal, loving, and have a bad rap. I want people to feel the same way I do about them.”

Through both of these organizations, Parker has been able to train dogs using two programs, which she hopes to combine to create a third one for dogs like Sasha.

The first program, Out of the Pits and into the Ritz, is a national program. It allows shelter dogs, specifically pit bulls, to obtain the AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate. Parker began working with Out of the Pits, in 2005, and in a spin-off program, she and Sobel work with students at the Met School and children sponsored by the North American Family Institute every week to help train the dogs.

“The program is written so kids understand to treat their pets with love, honor and respect,” said Parker.

According to the American Kennel Club, the Canine Good Citizen Program “lays the foundation for other AKC activities such as obedience, agility, tracking, and performance events.”

Most shelter dogs are adopted before they can obtain the good citizen title.

The second portion would be based off Lexis Circle of Friends Pet Therapy Program, which is taught by Parker and named for another homeless pet therapy dog, Lexi. This program deals with dogs who already have owners, and who already have the AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate. Dogs, and owners, are taught the proper temperament and behaviors for going on pet therapy visits to nursing homes or children’s hospitals.

Although shelter dogs do not normally enter the pet therapy program, Sasha showed so much potential that both Parker and Sobel wanted to enroll her.

“After we started the AKC Classes, we agreed Sasha was special, so I said let’s try it,” said Parker.

Sasha excelled in her training, especially with children. Now they hope to put her either in children’s hospitals or interventions with teenagers. Sobel, who is a volunteer with both Dynamic Dog Training and The Little Rhodie Bully Breed Club, has a 15-month-old son that Sasha has become great friends with.

“He’s been around her for about a year. When we go for a walk she likes to be near him and keep tabs on him. She’s very gentle with him. They’re best buddies!” Sobel said.

Sobel has also received some backlash about her choice to let Sasha be around her son.

“She’s fantastic with him. People say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you let a pit bull near your baby.’ But she’s just so good. They’re inseparable,” she said.

Parker stated that she would like Sasha’s future owners to be responsible with pit bulls, and continue with the children’s pet therapy. However, they shouldn’t own cats.

“Sasha’s not a cat lover,” she laughed.

The new program will aim to make more dogs like Sasha. They will take dogs from shelters that already have some basic obedience training, like sit and stay, and train them to receive the AKC Good Citizen Certification. Once they become Good Citizens, the shelter dogs will be trained to become pet therapy dogs like Sasha. The training will be similar to what Parker teaches dogs with owners now, but more intensive so that when the shelter dogs are adopted owners know they have had rock solid training.

“Our goal is to make this a shelter dog program for dogs that have the qualifications and personality,” said Parker.

The program will differ slightly from Out of the Pits because it will not be limited to just pit bulls but will be open to shelter dogs of all breeds. However, Parker and Sobel want to make Sasha the poster dog for their new program, so that they can support their new program and still help to get rid of the stigma against pit bulls.

The new program has yet to be named, but Parker and Sobel are ready to get the ball rolling, and help out more dogs like Sasha.


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