Roanoke Rapids therapy dog works to change perception of pit bulls

Posted June 9

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— A Roanoke Rapids pit bull has traveled to Hollywood and Chicago for her work as a therapy dog, but it’s her work at home that’s making the biggest impact.

When Leah Brewer and her 8-year-old therapy dog, Elle, walk into Chaloner Middle School, they are greeted with enthusiasm.

“All you hear is ‘hey Elle, hey Elle’. She’s a celebrity around here,” said guidance counselor, Jennifer Clapton. “It’s not just the kids, when Elle comes in, everybody’s smiling. Everybody’s happy.”

The classroom lesson on how to safely interact with dogs is part of a series the duo started as a reading program at a local library in Roanoke Rapids.

“When I was 4 years old, and they came to the library talking about their program, I was terrified of dogs then,” said student Dylan Blount. “I would watch TV and dogs would always be biting people and my cousin had a dog and every time I moved, it would chase me.”

Blount is now in sixth grade and said reading to Elle helped him overcome his fear of dogs and learn not to judge people, or animals, by the way they look.

Brewer said she began her therapy work with Elle in hopes of changing the perception of pit bulls.

“We used to walk down a sidewalk by a particular school and the parents would be pulling their kids away,” Brewer said. “It was one of the most troubling experiences for me, for people to hate something that they don’t even know.”

The problem she set out to fix through school visits and community programs is now fixing itself.

“The pit bull conversation is still there some, but I don’t stress it because I don’t want people to stress is,” Brewer said.

Elle is also a member of the Roanoke Rapids Fire Department, where she helps firefighters teach children how to stop, drop and roll. She also has her own police badge and holds classes for people convicted of animal offenses.

“Elle is a hero in the community,” said Roanoke Rapids Fire Department chief Stacey Coggins.

Elle was the 2013 recipient of the Hero Dog Award and even has her own coloring book.


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  • Mark Cooper Jun 10, 7:21 p.m.
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    How are any of you defining a breed that does not exist? A breed there is no clear definition of? Show one accredited dog association that has a Pit Bull classification? AKC, USDAA, UKC, etc do not recognize pit bulls as a breed because they have no common DNA. The American Staffordshire Terrier has a diff DNA profile than a Bull Terrier, which is diff from a Masstiff and so on. So what dogs are the guilty ones? The real term you want is Bully Breed (not Pit Bull) and the same institutions above, that have far more knowledge than you or I, are against breed specific legislation as there is no data to actually support it.

    The whole Pit Bull thing is like gold to the media (and it sucks many in). It gets people coming back to the story to read comments and they have no way to be held accountable for the numbers or the stories they post. on more than one occasion WRAL reports an attacking dog as a Pit Bull and a day latter they do a tiny blurb correction that it was not.

  • Chase Truman Jun 10, 5:09 p.m.
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    I never claimed that they don't attack sometimes. Any and every dog can. Thanks and have a great weekend!

  • Malakai Bluebone Jun 10, 4:07 p.m.
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    Not exactly sure why you don't understand when you are a shining example of it.

    Your pit was a stray, perhaps he was a stray because he had a natural tendency to attack other dogs. That is his switch. I would also venture the proposition that he would attack other animals as well as dogs. As you noted, not all the time, but sometimes......

    But to answer your question inferring I was instigating attacks the answer is I was not doing anything. The attacks I witnessed was a child running when the pit broke lose and went after the child. A puppy was near a pit when it lunged and grabbed it by the neck. 2 people were petting a pit while it was laying beside them when they suddenly spun around and bit.

    Perhaps they fell asleep and dreamed someone was messing with them? Venture your own guess. All 3 were hand raised and the "sweetest baby" according to the owners.

    Look at youtube and see hundreds of attacks. See for yourself about switches.

  • Chase Truman Jun 10, 1:40 p.m.
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    I know exactly what I wrote, and I was owning the fact that my pit was dog aggressive. I also said that I got him as a stray, and I don't know what his upbringing was. He could have been trained to fight other dogs, for all I know. I saved him from the streets. You made it sound like you were around pits who "flipped their switches" on people... specifically yourself or in your presence. And my pit, while he didn't like unknown dogs (but actually lived with three other dogs quite easily with no problem, thank you very much. In fact, he CHOSE to be the most subordinate dog of the entire bunch... he was far from being the alpha even though he easily could have been), he never ever had issues or "flipped a switch" on a child or adult. So I again go back to, what were you doing to make these dogs lose it?

  • Malakai Bluebone Jun 10, 1:00 p.m.
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    Perhaps you should look at what you wrote a little more closely, "Yes, my pit was dog aggressive". So you are asking me what I was doing to flip switches when you have one for whom dogs flip their switch. Most dogs have as switch, pits tend to have them more than other breeds. Whether it is a dog, a smell, movement, startling them or just being near.

    So what are other dogs doing to your dog when your dog flips his switch? Do they have to be doing anything or just there?

  • Chase Truman Jun 10, 10:23 a.m.
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    What exactly are you doing to these dogs to make them flip their switches all the time? I have been around plenty of pits, too. Even worked at one of the largest kennels in the area and took care of plenty of them. I have also owned one. I've never once in all my time had a pit flip a switch on a human while around me, and the only dogs at the kennel that we ever had issues with (ie attacked the kennel workers) were australian shepards and shih tzu's. But I'm not saying those are bad breeds, because they are not. Yes, my pit was dog aggressive, but I also took him in off the streets and I don't know what his history was before me. But he was nothing but love when it came to people. So tell me again, what are you doing when all these dogs flip their switches?

  • Malakai Bluebone Jun 10, 8:49 a.m.
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    Pit bulls are more likely to kill children that any other dog breed or human combined. Rotts are a very distant second.

  • Malakai Bluebone Jun 10, 8:26 a.m.
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    This is almost the exact same quote by almost every person explaining to the news their dog after it attacked children or other people.

    Good luck with your dog, hopefully we will not be commenting on your story about why it attacked people when it's switch flipped.

    FYI, growling at person is not a good thing. If you startle that dog while it is doing that you will find out just how sweet and loving that thing is. At least once you can pry it off you.

    And yes I have known many pits, several have flipped when startled or for no reason. I know from experience and fact they are dangerous, not a guess about what I see with one.

  • Anne Havisham Jun 10, 8:26 a.m.
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    Mr. Frei, adult men kill more children than women or children do. Using the same logic you did, men should never be around children.

    (To be clear, I don't believe that all men are dangerous any more than I believe that all dogs are.)

  • Mark Cooper Jun 9, 7:37 p.m.
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    Robin it is a shame more do not actually educate themselves with facts rather than letting the media hype drive thier perception. Like mentioned, there is no breed AKC or otherwise that is a Pit Bull. It is everything from American Staffordshire terriers (The little rascals dog) to examples where some even will put a muscular boxer in that category. So what are these stats really on?
    If you are reading that is a world of misinformation. That is a women that claims she was attacked and a pit broke her arm. Doctors who reviewed the xrays said it was a typical Ulna fracture caused by a fall.

    It's apparent some folks just don't want to believe anything other than this dog non existent breed needs to be eradicated and those folks do not want to see real data. Folks just want to take any muscualr dog with a squared head and make it a breed that does not exist and call it a killer... that is intellectual dishonesty.