Therapy Pit Bull Helps Girl Get Ready for Fourth Grade at Sandy Hook

Illustration for article titled Therapy Pit Bull Helps Girl Get Ready for Fourth Grade at Sandy Hook

Since even really stupid, useless dogs can be wonderful companions, it stands to reason that especially intuitive dogs can effectively help people cope with the most devastating kinds of psychic trauma. Jeffrey, a nine-year-old Staffordshire terrier that was hours away from being euthanized when he was rescued and discovered to be a naturally-gifted therapy dog, had such a calming effect on Emma Wishneski, a girl who will soon enter the fourth grade at Sandy Hook Elementary.

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When Jeffery’s owner Michele Houston brought him to Christmas party for students at Sandy Hook, he formed an immediate bond with Emma, who, according to a story from Today, stayed with the 73-pound therapy pit bull throughout the entire event. Although Emma was fortunately late to school the morning of Dec. 14, the shooting claimed the lives of several of her friends and teachers.

Therapy dogs have been deployed on college campuses to help stressed students deal with exam anxiety, and they’ve helped amateur thespians overcome holiday burnout to put on a damn mediocre Nutcracker. Jeffrey’s role in helping a little girl get ready for a new school year after a truly horrific school shooting is, however, a different level of therapy — his visits to Emma have made her feel a level of security she might not have ever experienced without him:

In the wake of that shock, meeting Jeffrey had an immediate impact on Emma. The two quickly formed a bond at the Christmas party, and she stayed with him throughout the entire event.

"It was still a really vulnerable time for her, and she just was comfortable sitting next to Jeffrey," said Emma's mother Marykay Wishneski. "He's strong and I think she just feels safe."

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Pit bulls, in case you’ve never been involved in an internet argument about dog breeds (admit it, you have), are supposed to be aggressive, dangerous animals. Canada certainly thinks so. One of the great things about Jeffrey’s success as a therapy dog is that he helps change the perception of the breed — roving urban fighting dog suddenly becomes sweet-tempered playmate with a peculiar affinity for butt scratches (seriously, Jeffrey would like you to scratch his butt immediately). “They’re suppose to be bad,” Emma says during the Today segment, “but they’re actually really nice.”

It’s just like The Fox and the Hound, only in reverse, i.e. all the bad stuff happens in the beginning, and all the good stuff happens in the end.

[Today]

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DISCUSSION

My rescue pit bull mix, Angel, is a certified therapy dog. I take her to nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, where she helps people with memory, socialization, dexterity, sensory integration, and a number of medical treatments. Pit bulls are a very intuitive breed, I've found. They are very focused on people and their emotions.

Angel's not the brightest bulb in the box (she took months to learn "stay" and only remembers it intermittently... just enough to pass all her tests, which she mostly did by winning over the judges with her personality so they overlooked her lack of skills), but she can ferret out an emotionally damaged person in a standing-room-only crowd.