Piece by: Hanna Fushihara
Thera-Pits Therapy Dog Reading Program was started by Chris Hughes and his non-profit organization Rowdy To The Rescue based out of Ohio.
They currently provide Cleveland area public schools with opportunities for their students to interact with registered therapy dogs, most of whom happen to be pit bulls. The Unexpected Pit Bull did a little Q & A with Chris to find out more about this program that he hopes to take nationally in the future.
Q I know that a big part of the Thera-Pits progam is visiting children in schools. How did you first start getting in touch with the Cleveland public schools? Were they into the idea of having Thera-Pits in their schools from the beginning or did it take some time?
A A teacher from one of the Cleveland City Schools got in touch with us and invited us out to their school to work with his students. Once we got there the other teachers became interested and we started visiting multiple classrooms. When the other schools heard about our program we were overwhelmed with requests to visit and work with their students.
Q There are more schools interested in the program than Thera-Pits can currently accommodate. How many schools are Thera-Pits currently able to get to? What more needs to happen to be able to accommodate the requests of all the schools?
A We have been invited by seventeen Cleveland Metropolitan School District Schools but because this is an all volunteer program we have to work around our work schedules so we are currently only able to visit five schools. Our goal for next year is to be in every school that wants us. In order to make that happen we are holding free training sessions through Elite K9 Training for anyone that owns a pit bull or pit bull mix to get ready for the TDI Therapy Test. The sessions are four weeks long and basically goes through the whole test and works with the fifteen disciplines. If they pass the TDI test they then will take another separate test to join our program which concentrates on children because that is what our focus is. In the schools, we have a reading program in which the children on a one on one basis will go back and sit and read with the dogs. It is helping the kids build confidence in their reading abilities. They know the dogs won’t judge them if they mispronounce a word.
Q Aside from the reading program, Thera-Pits also does work with special needs and emotionally disturbed children. How is that different from the reading program and what do the kids and the dogs do with their time together in that setting?
A Yes, we also work with ED (emotionally distressed) classes in which the kids have some disciplinary issues. When we visit those classes the dogs go in and just spend time with them. The kids play with them and sit and pet them. A great example of why we are there happened a couple weeks into visiting this one school. There was a young boy being restrained by the school security as he was having a huge temper tantrum. He was punching teachers, throwing things, and was in tears and screaming. Thera-Pits member Chuck Stella took his pit bull Butch over to the boy and Butch knew exactly what to do. He gave the kid a big lick up his face and continued to lick him over and over. Eventually the boy started laughing. Butch stayed with the boy for 45 minutes until his parents picked him up.
Q Can you explain your dream for Gremlin's Wish Therapy Center which Rowdy to the Rescue is now raising monetary funds for?
A Gremlin’s Wish Therapy Center will be a community center that families can come to and work with registered therapy dogs at their convenience. Not every family is given the same educational opportunities and not every school district has the availability of these alternative learning programs. So if we have a center they can bring their child to work on reading with our dogs. It makes it much easier and more accessible to the general public. The center will also allow us to take abused and neglected pit bulls from the local shelters and work with them and train them to pass the therapy test and come into our program and give back to the community.
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