TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - They are breeds that often get a bad reputation. We often hear stories of Pit bulls mauling people, rarely about them saving lives.
There are some organizations in the country who have dedicated themselves to rescuing abandoned Pit bulls from over-crowded shelters. They are training these dogs to help save lives.
In the Pima Animal Care Center, staff said about 15% of the dogs housed there on any given day were Pit bulls, or Pit-mixes.
They were considered the most likely breed to be abandoned by their owners, because of their aggressive reputation, but there was a gentler side to the breed that could be nurtured.
On the outside, they may look and sound tough, but on the inside they had a very gentle, loving soul, according to Pit bull owner Jessica Gardner.
She admitted they were very strong dogs, and you had to be able to handle that.
Along with that strength also came a very strong sense of loyalty.
"By nature they're very, very, very family oriented," said dog trainer Paul Blaushild.
Many have also discovered that the breed has a remarkable ability to provide comfort. That is why so many organizations had dedicated themselves to transform the so called "bully breed" into one of service.
Staff at Tucson's Handi-Dogs said before accepting any dog into their program, they put them through a series of personality tests. Dogs were not judged on their breed, but on their ability to respond to stressful situations, distractions, and attentiveness.
You can call it a "boot camp" of sorts for dogs, training to serve.
In fact, U.S. soldiers loved the breed so much, a Florida based group called Pit bulls 4 Patriots had dedicated themselves to rescuing orphaned pit bulls from overcrowded shelters, and training them to serve veterans who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.
Since May, the organization had rescued and trained more than a dozen pit bulls from a shelter, and paired them up with war veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Vietnam.
Just like our soldiers, volunteers said pit bulls were strong and faithful, hence the attraction.
From Florida to Arizona, pit bulls were passing the stress test with flying colors.
Gardner rescued a malnourished and abused Pit bull two years ago.
Kara was only a few months old when Gardner found her, and nursed her back to health.
Now Kara never leaves Gardner's side. It was by accident, that Gardner discovered her furry friend had an extraordinary talent.
"When I'm about to have a seizure she lets out this loud howl. She'll start walking me where she wants to go," said Gardner.
Gardner, who suffered from "intermittent epileptic seizures" said her Pit bull had saved her life several times.
"About two months after we got her, she was sitting in the back seat and started pacing, howling and had to get my attention. We pulled over thinking she had to go to the bathroom, then I had a seizure. She's done it ever since. About 10-15 minutes before she tells me when I'm going to have a seizure.," said Gardner.
Kara was always by Gardner's side, but the reputation of her breed followed them wherever they went.
For the most part, Gardner said people were curious and wanted to pet her. Sometimes though, she encountered people who were not so receptive to Pit bulls.
"I can't believe how many times I've heard keep your pit bull away from me or my dog or my kid," said Gardner.
She added that one restaurant asked her to carry her 80-pound Pit bull over a wall, instead of walking it through the restaurant.
Dog trainer Paul Blaushild said one of the reasons Pit bulls had a bad reputation was lack of education on the part of owners, who did not know how to properly care for the powerful creatures.
"Owners are allowing the dog to be more feral minded by keeping them in backyards, rather than keeping them in homes and allowing them to be domesticated," said Blaushild.
Aggressive owners could also breed aggressive dogs. Blaushild said when a dog is raised aggressively, they respond by either fear or aggression.
With the right training and education, Blaushild said one could find a lot of value in these tough little canines.
"We have some in our program. We will always have them," said Glenda Laird, with Handi-Dogs. Laird added that she would not recommend a Pit bull as a service dog to someone who had never dealt with one before, but added that they made excellent service dogs for those who admired the breed.
For more information on service dogs for veterans you can visit www.pitbulls4patriots.org.
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