From Puppies to Pioneers - The story of search & Rescue PitsPosted by Rebecca WhitmirePBOC-Admin/Owner on March 30, 2010 at 5:31pm in Positive Press
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I got Cheyenne when she was 4 months old. A friend of mine worked at the local animal shelter and felt sorry for this emaciated, hairless puppy that had just been brought in. Due to the fact that she was a pit bull, she was going to be put down the next day. My friend brought her home. She couldn't keep her because she already had 5 dogs so she gave her to me.
Even after all the puppy had been through, Cheyenne was a little bundle of joy. I worked in retail at the time so I was able to bring her to work with me. Everyone fell in love with her. We went through obedience, did some agility, and even started doing some schutzhund. But when it came time to do the bite work, she just didn't want to do it.
Then I decided that I didn't want to excel at something where people would see my pit bull biting someone. Cheyenne did really well in the tracking part of her schutzhund training so I decided to train her to be a search dog. Soon after that, Cheyenne went through a false pregnancy. She would take all my stuffed animals and put them in her bed and lay on them. She never went anywhere without her "puppies". She carried them all around the house. Then it came time for her false pregnancy to end . . . and she had no real puppies. She went into a severe depression. She didn't want to get up. Not even to eat.
A neighbor who lived on the ranch down the street told me that they had some friends who were selling pit bull puppies and that I should buy one for Cheyenne. We decided to take Cheyenne over to their house to see how she got along with the puppies. She loved them! However, they were out of my price range. I let her play with them for a little while and then called her so we could leave. I turned around to see where she was and there she was, with a puppy by the neck, getting into the car! I told her no she couldn't have the puppy and I took it back and "buried" it underneath it's 7 brothers and sisters.
Cheyenne ran over to the pile of puppies and batted them all aside until she found that same puppy. She found her and off she went to the car with "her" puppy. I was in tears, the breeder was in tears. The breeder was so moved by what he saw that he let us have the puppy. Cheyenne was delighted with her new puppy, Dakota. Dakota started coming to work with us also and she absolutely adored people. Cheyenne and Dakota became inseparable. I decided to train Dakota to be a search dog as well.
Dakota liked to run so I trained her to be an Air Scent Dog while Cheyenne is a little more methodical, so I trained her to be a Trailing Dog. After months of training, we were ready to join an organization. We went to our first meeting. The building didn't allow dogs, so Cheyenne and Dakota had to stay in the car. Then came my turn to introduce us. "My name is Kris and I have an American Staffordshire Terrier and an American Pit Bull Terrier."
Everyone gasped. One woman yelled, "We don't allow pit bulls!" Everyone in the room started talking. I told them that I was honestly surprised to get this type of reaction from an organization that is run by "dog people" who should know that a dog's behavior is based on how it is raised, not by what type of breed it is.
The board called the session to order and they would vote on whether we should be allowed to join. We got in by one vote. The following week we went to our first workout, nobody would hide for us. "The pit bull might attack me when she finds me!" Very few people would even talk to me. After a couple weeks of this, I realized I would have to do it on my own. I also realized that we would have to be 10 times better than everyone else to be considered an equal.
I found some people who would work with us. We trained every day. Cheyenne and Dakota loved the work. They would go get me their vests every chance they could. In the meantime, we kept showing up to the workouts. After about 10 months, I found someone at one of the workouts to hide for us. Everyone wanted to watch. I deployed Dakota. They stood there silently as they watched Dakota search for the scent, locate the subject, come back and tell me she had found the subject, and then take me to the subject. "Dang, she's good!" I heard someone say.
One of the evaluators even let Cheyenne and Dakota play with her dog! From that point on we were accepted.
That year was a slow season for search call outs. I tried to think of what else I could do with Cheyenne and Dakota in the meantime. Then I heard about Animal-Assisted Therapy. Cheyenne and Dakota absolutely loved people so this would be perfect for them. I called the informational number on the brochure. The woman who answered told me all about their organization. She was very pleasant.
Then she asked what kind of dogs I had. I told her Pit Bulls. She said, "I'm sorry, but our discussion is over." She hung up. Now I was even more determined to get in! I waited a couple weeks and called again. Once again she started out telling me all about the organization. Then she asked what kind of dogs I had. "Terriers that do search and rescue." She was delighted. She invited me to the handler orientation and the classes that teach you how to deal with different types of patients. Dogs were not allowed at these classes so she still hadn't seen my girls.
A couple of months later she said to go ahead and bring my dogs to the rehab center at 9:00am to be evaluated with the patients. We arrived early and at 9:00, we proudly walked in the front door of the rehab center. She was waiting for us in the lobby. She looked at us and screamed, "You're that pit bull lady! Get those dogs out of here!" Just then a child that was sitting in the lobby ran up to Cheyenne and started petting her.
Then a man in a wheelchair came by and asked if he could pet the dogs. The therapist who just arrived, didn't hear that the Evaluator had just kicked us out of the building. She said, "Oh, you guys must be the new therapy dogs . . . let's get started." The Evaluator looked at me and sternly said, "You've got one floor."
Everyone was so happy to see my girls. We were having so much fun we ended up doing all three floors! As we walked out the door, the Evaluator looked at me and said, "You know, I learned something today. I guess pit bulls aren't all bad. Here is a list of hospitals, rehab centers and convalescent homes that could sure use your help. Good job."
A lot of people ask me why I do Animal-Assisted Therapy and Search and Rescue with my dogs. I tell them that I used to do all sorts of things with my dogs; i.e. obedience, agility, etc. When they did a good job, they got a blue ribbon. Now when my dogs do a good job, they save someone's life.
Pet Pitbull - Positive Press