As I sit here typing this post there is a pit bull at my feet. His name is Trevor. We are training Trevor to be a psychological service dog for me. I’m going to start working full-time for the first time since 2012 next month, and Trevor is a big part of our plan for how to put me in a position to succeed.
We adopted Trevor from the Lexington Humane Society, where he was a long term resident of their Adopt-A-Bull program. He went through their Train-A-Bull training and graduated with flying colors. That said he was not considered a good candidate for adoption. He’s a rescue and a pit bull mix (he’s part lab), and that carries a great deal of stigma.
Pit bulls have a bad reputation. They are very smart animals and can be easily trained. Unfortunately, their musculature and intelligence make them good for training to fight. Because they are commonly associated with fighting in pop culture they are stigmatized as being “dangerous”.
When we started looking for a dog for me we felt very strongly about getting a pit bull or pit mix like Trevor. Intelligence and trainability were essential, but I also wanted a dog like Trevor because of the stigma associated with his breed. What better dog to become a psychological service dog than a stigmatized one?
Trevor is great with my kids. Before we adopted him we took the kids to visit him a couple of times. He instinctively knew to be gentle with them, especially with the three year old. She chased him all over the room shouting “Trevor, my dear!” at the top of her lungs. He just shrugged it off and didn’t react except to get out of her way and then allowing her to love on him after he got more comfortable with her.
Trevor is smart, sweet, and very gentle. I wish more dogs had his demeanor. He’s been to the baseball field. He’s been to the park. He’s even been to work. He has been fantastic in every situation that we have put him in so far. He’s working with me right now in what is called the “power down” position, laying at my feet being available to me as needed but not in the way.
Trevor knows when to work. He knows when to play. He enjoys it outside but also responds to commands immediately and consistently, even when there are plenty of distractions. He likes to play fetch. He likes treats. He likes his bed. He likes his toys. He likes to have his butt scratched. Trevor is just a dog, just like I’m just a person. Trevor and I are both fighting stigma by being tangible refutations of the cultural views of animals and people like us.
We may be stigmatized. We may get a bad rap. We may scare people. But we’re both awesome, and we know it. Hopefully everyone else will know it eventually, too.
[Note: While we are training with Trevor to have him be a service animal, if he is unable to complete his training we will not be getting rid of him. We have made a commitment to him. He will just be a good emotional support animal and/or family pet, and there is nothing wrong with that.]