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Roanoke Rapids therapy dog works to change perception of pit bulls

Posted June 9, 2016 1:57 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2016 5:23 p.m. EDT

— 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.