Abused Pit Bull Now Helps People as Therapy Dog

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As many people already know, dogs can be more than just pets. They can see for those who are visually impaired and assist people with mobility issues. But therapy dogs also help those who suffer from less tangible conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dogs are perfect examples of unconditional love--at least to some pet owners. To others, they are merely animals to be abused viciously. However, in some circumstances, small miracles happen. Sometimes, a dog that has suffered cruelty can overcome it and once again act as man's best friend.

That's what happened to Shelby, an abused pit bull from a shelter that went on to become what is commonly referred to as a therapy dog.

As many people already know, dogs can be more than just pets. They can see for those who are visually impaired and assist people with mobility issues. But therapy dogs also help those who suffer from less tangible conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Therapy dogs are trained to work with people in crisis or who suffer from illnesses. They visit hospital patients, the elderly, the lonely and the bereaved to provide emotional support at times when it is needed most," says Joe Dwyer, author of the new book Shelby's Grace.

In his book, Mr. Dwyer describes his remarkable odyssey with Shelby, who he saved from a shelter. In return, she saved him from a terrible depression, and together they recovered their senses of purpose.

When Mr. Dwyer found Shelby, she already had two strikes against her: not only did she have to overcome physical and psychic wounds inflicted upon her by previous owners, but being a pit bull, she was considered a monster by many of the people she intended to help as a therapy dog.

"For that reason, this is also Shelby's book," notes Mr. Dwyer. "It's the story of a once-maligned misunderstood dog who now enriches the lives of countless people who are also in need of rescuing. The dog who was once on the brink is now pulling humans back in with her."

By all accounts, Shelby was lucky. According to Pet-Abuse.Com, which keeps statistics on animal cruelty categories including neglect, abandonment, shooting, beating, mutilation, hanging, drowning, poisoning, suffocation, torture, burning and fighting, nearly 1,800 dogs were reported to be mistreated last year alone. Other sites put the figure at seven times that number.

Today, Shelby is one of more than 30,000 therapy dogs in the US. And demand for them is rising, according to a report published in Parade magazine.

Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is a good temperament, and he or she must get along very well with children, men, women and other animals. A good therapy dog also must be:

  • friendly and non-aggressive
  • patient, gentle and calm
  • confident and well-socialized
  • smart
  • healthy

"Slowly, therapy dogs are gaining acceptance, but they're not quite there yet," says Mr. Dwyer. "It's important to understand that dogs are not just pets or companions. They can do a lot more than just look nice and provide entertainment. In many situations, dogs truly are angels that help people to survive difficult times."

Joe Dwyer is a motivational speaker, a life coach and a member of the National Speakers Association. He is also a dog trainer and a martial artist. Previously, he worked as a chemical engineer and an executive for Verizon and the Archdiocese of Newark. Joe is a man of faith and spirituality, and he supports rescue groups and therapy dog training. He lives in Nutley, NJ, with his family and four dogs.

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Olga Vladi
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