When I think of service dogs, Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes usually don’t come to mind. Then I met Emmett and Maggie Marton.
Maggie writes the blog Oh My Dog. She adopted Emmet, a Pit Bull/Plott Hound mix, from Friends of Homeless Animals in Virginia about four years ago when Emmett was two.
A Pit Bull Service Dog
From the first day Emmett came to live with Maggie, he endeared himself to friends, family, and neighbors. “Everyone just adores him, and he loves everyone right back,” she says. “When we lived in D.C., I started looking for a therapy dog training program, but didn’t have much luck. There was one facility right down the street from us that did training and boarding, but they told us that they weren’t insured for Pit Bulls, so we’d have to look elsewhere.”
Then, two years ago, Maggie and family moved to Indiana and started her search again. “There is a phenomenal program here through the Monroe County Humane Association,” she explains. “They offer a training session every other week, and there’s a Delta Society evaluator right here in town. (Delta Society is a human services organization dedicated to improving people’s health and well-being by providing positive interactions with animals.) It was the perfect fit. We took classes for about nine months.”
Pit Bulls and Children
“Emmett loves children,” says Maggie. “We do a few programs regularly: Animal Reading Friends at the local public libraries, classroom visits, and pet therapy visits at a local mental health facility with the residential kids. He performs wonderfully in all three situations, but he really shines at the mental health facility. He showers the kids with attention, sitting next to each one in turn. They throw their arms around his neck and plant big kisses on his nose. And he just wags his tail the whole time.”
The first day there, Maggie noticed a quiet little boy sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees, peering out at her suspiciously. “When Emmett walked around to say hello to everyone, this little boy touched him lightly and then retreated,” says Maggie. “While most of the kids elbow, scream, and shove to be the first one to get to play with Emmett, he sat quietly in his spot, never yelling or angling to get a turn. After a few visits, he still hadn’t asked for a turn, so as we went around the circle I asked him, ‘Would you like a turn walking Emmett?’ He stood up and smiled, saying ‘Yes, please’ so softly that I barely heard him.”
“Since then, each time I ask him if he wants a turn. He never imposes himself; he sits, waits quietly, and grins this huge grin when he takes the leash. We’ve been visiting for several months now, and a few weeks ago we had to miss our visit while Emmett had surgery. The next time we came in, this quiet little boy dashed over and said, ‘I missed you, Emmett!’ He wrapped his arms around him, Emmett leaned in and gave him a big kiss, and made the boy giggle.”
Fear of Pit Bulls
Despite his winning personality, Emmett occasionally meets people who are afraid of him. “I’ve encountered a lot of people who have really bad ideas about Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes,” says Maggie. “We do several public outreach events, like working at a booth at the county fair. When people ask me if he’s a Pit Bull, I tell them that Pit Bull is actually a generic term that encompasses a lot of different dogs, and that Emmett is an American Staffordshire Terrier mix. I always add that he’s a very friendly therapy dog who adores children. Often that works. Some, however, scoff and say, ‘Until he turns on you.'”
Still Maggie is on a mission to educate people about Pit mixes and pure breeds, and to share Emmett’ love with others.