Meet Achilles, he is a Boxer/Pitbull mix… A big ole’boy (he is eight years old), full gait, huge head, wagging tail, brown puppy dog eyes and softer than butter on a warm summers day. Oh, and he also a Service Dog in training for my wife.
Achilles came into our life after a trip to BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter), we didn’t plan on getting a new dog, we went to adopt a new cat; as a companion for our older cat. We did a tour of the adopted dog kennels and we met Achilles, the first thing he did was wag his tail, walk to his door and then lick our fingers- the second thing he did was steal our hearts and we adopted him.
One thing that stuck out about Achilles was his gentleness, he was a huge softie, the second thing was how well-trained he already was. This old man’s previous owner had taken the time to teach him the basic commands, house train and walk to heel – I actually can verbally walk him without a leash if I wanted too. He even had a few surprises, including picking up his leash, hand to paw and understood hand signals. This got us thinking… My wife (who is disabled) was in need of a Service Dog, nothing fancy, just an animal that could pick things up, and help her if she fell down – Achilles seem’s to be a perfectly sized candidate for this.
And so began his training, Achilles is a fast learner and now has his skills mostly down to rote and has improved the quality of life for my wife tremendously. You could argue correctly that along with his service, he acts like an emotional support dog for her as he is very emphatic. The only thing we need to continue to work on is environment training i.e – store/public gatherings.
He does well in stores, great on crowded streets, is patient and calm at conventions. He still gets a little distracted, but down to rote again he is almost there now. Yesterday, he went out to the local Mall, a new environment for him and he handled it perfectly, he walked on heel, helped my wife, obeyed all his commands and flew the flag for service dogs everywhere.
The only problem is, he is a Pitbull cross, and although I would argue that I’ve seen so many Boxer/Pitbull cross breeds like Achilles (at BARCS he was one of five) that it is a breed of its own now, he still has that stigma over him. This means when walking him around the Mall we saw two types of folk.
- The folk that said he was a good-looking dog, or just smile as he pads past tongue lolling out
- The folk that glare at him, like he was going to attack them at any second
We’ve pretty much got used to the Type 2 Folk, (some folk just have had bad dog experiences), this big-headed, brown-eyed, full of slobber dog can look a might intimidating. It doesn’t stop it from being hurtful, here he is tethered up a response leash to an obvious disabled woman, wearing his service dog colors and walking perfectly. Doing his job and all you can do is glare at him – instead of thinking here is a super-smart dog helping, they think the worse of him.
We also get the high, as I waited outside a store that was playing insanely loud music, I think its to make the customers as uncomfortable as possible so they buy faster, which Achilles was also finding intensely uncomfortable. I got into a discussion about Service Animal training with an older couple, and as they leave, a disabled lady in a mobility chair comes up and he puts his paw on her knee, and sits up to his full size to make himself easier to pet.
That day in the mall not only was he a billboard for service animals everywhere, but he also raised awareness that Pitbull breeds are as smart, as loyal, as loving as any other working dog breed that is out there right now.
I am very proud of him.
We go home, unload the car, Achilles gets out, the Neighborhood kids are out and they all love him, so we let him go over to say hello (they are all hanging next to our yard and asked to pet him) – a reward for being simply amazing at the Mall today, he loves the attention and we always see it as a teaching moment for the children, that Pitbulls are just regular dogs (and you should ask permission before petting). One of our Adult Neighbors appear, then backs away behind her car, saying she doesn’t like ‘that dog’ off his leash. I sadly gather him up on his handling harness and take him in the house, being glared at all the way.
A hard low.
Sometimes folk suck.
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