Marla Moore and Chance live in Lakewood, Colorado and have been a therapy team for two years. They are certified through two therapy dog organizations: Pet Partners and Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Due to living in a state with some of the most stringent Breed-Specific legislation currently in place, Marla has devoted her advocacy efforts to educating the public and providing community outreach for Animals For Therapy, of which she is a member. This involves being a resource for anyone with pit bull related questions, therapy or otherwise. She believes that having Chance out in the community as an ambassador is the most effective way to change people’s perceptions of pit bull type dogs. They continue to change people’s minds one visit at a time while providing comfort, joy and healing utilizing the powerful human animal bond.
Mary: “Chance was a shelter dog prior to becoming a member of your family. That makes his evolution into a therapy dog all the more remarkable. What were the circumstances under which he came into your life?”
Marla: “We had just suffered the loss of our dog Cisco, who had been a wonderful support to our female pit bull, Willow. Willow is deaf and relied on Cisco to help support her with cues in the environment. Willow was devastated at the loss of her companion. Judy, a friend who works at the shelter, arranged some play dates for Willow at her home near the shelter. We were not ready to adopt another dog, but wanted Willow to continue to have some socialization. Chance had been at the shelter for two weeks and desperately needed a break from that environment. He had been picked up as a stray and was very nervous at the shelter. Judy received permission to bring Chance to our home for a visit, and he and Willow played nonstop until they were both exhausted. As Judy loaded Chance into the car he kissed her on her cheek, and I happened to see it. The rest is history.”
Mary: “Describe Chance’s evolution into a therapy dog.”
Marla: “Once Chance joined our family, we wondered if we had made a mistake. He was unruly, and he and Willow wrestled, played, chased, chewed, and tackled each other constantly. Chance was not neutered and had no previous training. He loved to chase the kids, and destroy furniture. So, how did I know he was supposed to do therapy work? He told me. Anytime anyone on our home feels sad, feels alone, or is sick, Chance is right there. He is incredibly eager to please, and a whispered call of his name has him kissing you. A gentle touch of your hand, and he melts into you. A tear gets you a goofy smile that lights up the room and an “I love you” can make a whip out of his tail. Our journey to therapy work was one of the most difficult paths to follow. We needed help, training and support. Chance started with group obedience, which was very distracting and difficult for him. We had him paired with me in a class that was just too large. We realized it and moved toward more individualized training. He needed work on focus, understanding, and especially being around other dogs. We eventually moved on to a Canine Good Citizen class, which was especially helpful as it really taught us how to work as a team. From there we took a therapy dog class and learned a bit more about the things we needed continued work on. We then passed our Pet Partners therapy evaluation and went on to also pass the Alliance of Therapy Dogs evaluation.”
Mary: “Where do you and Chance currently visit as a therapy team?”
Marla: “Platte Valley Medical Center in Brighton, Fletcher Miller School in Lakewood, and Pleasant View Elementary in Golden. We have also visited the Bruce McCandless State Veterans Home in Florence. We have been invited to various other facilities as well, but often for just a one time visit due to special circumstances.”
Mary: “Tell me about some of the challenges you have encountered with having a therapy dog who is a pit bull.”
Marla: “When Chance was a new therapy dog I realized that he really loved children. We have a school in our neighborhood that is diverse and has a variety of needs from special to socio-emotional. I arranged to begin visiting there and went twice. After two very encouraging visits I received an email stating that we would have to discontinue our visits due to the fact that several parents were uncomfortable with a “pit bull” at the school. This solidified my resolve to continue to show Chance in a positive light. Our visits are sometimes different than other therapy dog teams. We often answer questions about pit bulls. I frequently hear things like “ it is all about how you raise them.” I try to educate as much as possible, since how they are raised is not necessarily the defining factor. If that were the case, none of our stray or abused pit bulls would be able to be rehabilitated. There have been other instances when people have not wanted to interact with Chance based upon how he looks. Our mission is to continue to spread the word about pit bulls, Chance is a true representation of what pit bull type dogs are meant to be, so we love acting as ambassadors. I hope to continue to help decrease the negative stereotypes surrounding these wonderful dogs, and in the process eradicate BSL.”
Mary: “You have served as a mentor for those (myself included) wishing to have their pit bulls evaluated as therapy dogs. What advice do you have for those who are interested in pursuing a therapy career with their pit bulls?”
Marla: “I say never give up. You may have to work harder than other therapy teams to overcome negative ideas, thoughts and stereotypes. Additionally it can be more difficult to find places to visit with our dogs. Some facilities will now allow us, and others will scrutinize you more harshly than others. Stay with it, never act disrespectfully, and always try to share the positives. Not only about your dog, but the “breed” in general. Most of all, let your dog do the work. Dogs are incredibly loving by nature. They often will win someone over without you doing anything at at all.”
Mary: “Describe one of your favorite interactions that you have witnessed between Chance and a person you were visiting.”
Marla: “A nurse requested our help in the Infusion Center at the hospital which is where people with cancer receive their chemotherapy. We approached a very sweet woman who needed to have a line placed in her arm. She had severe needle phobia and each week she comes to the center the IV causes her a lot of anxiety. Chance seemed to know that she was going to be his person for the day. He walked over and gently looked up at her. She looked down and a big smile came across her face. She kept telling him how beautiful he was and his tail kept wagging and wagging. She began to stroke his head and I could see that the nurse was preparing the IV. As the nurse worked, I asked her about her own animals. She was clearly an animal lover so she began to discuss her cats and dog. As she talked and rubbed Chance’s head, the nurse swabbed her arm. The nurse was able to place the IV with minimal distress to the woman, and was very grateful for our assistance. Chance received extra treats, and the nurse gave us extra thanks. The people in the infusion center face so much, even if we can alleviate pain and distress for just a moment it is so worth it.
We also enjoy our work with children, and teach them the proper way to interact with dogs. We have helped many overcome their fear of dogs, and pit bull types dogs in particular.”
Mary: I firmly believe that dogs suited for therapy work have an innate sense for what people need and how to address it. We are very fortunate to have you and Chance here in Colorado not only as ambassadors, but as a blessing to all who encounter you. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of these amazing dogs and the people that benefit from your incredible partnership! You may follow Chance and Marla on his Facebook page, Chance the Therapit.
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Wallace the Pit Bull Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of dogs and the people who care for them.