Suffolk pit bull ‘half human’

Published 11:18 pm Friday, July 17, 2009

The words “pit bull” have a tendency to strike fear into the heart of many people.

Sensational news stories about dog-fighting rings and attacks on children have given pit bulls a reputation as one of America’s most aggressive breeds. However, local pit bull owner Raymond Cross says the stereotype just isn’t true.

“You can make any dog mean if you want to,” Cross said. “People ought to look at the positive side of them.”

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Cross knows first-hand that many pit bulls can be gentle, loving dogs. Just take Dallas, his 4-year-old pit bull that was recently certified as a therapy dog by Therapy Dog International, Inc. and Sentara Obici Hospital.

“I can be laying on the couch with a headache or something and he’ll ease up to me, make me feel better,” Cross said.

Cross and his wife adopted Dallas about a year ago from Suffolk Animal Control, and fell in love right away. Dallas soon began playing football and hide-and-go-seek at night with neighborhood children, Cross said.

“He takes the flashlight and runs around with it in his mouth looking for the children,” Cross said. “He tackles the children in football.”

Cross doesn’t know how he learned it, but Dallas gently tackles the children behind the knees to bring them down during football.

It wasn’t long until Cross realized that Dallas was special, and decided to get him certified as a therapy dog. Dallas took the Therapy Dog International course, and was certified there, as well as at Sentara Obici Hospital.

Besides basic obedience training, therapy dogs must learn how to walk around a wheelchair, IV poles, walkers and other medical equipment, and learn to deal with distractions, other dogs, hospital noises and scents. Therapy dogs can help patients lower blood pressure, decrease depression symptoms, relieve stress and increase mental stimulation, among many other benefits, according to Therapy Dog International.

Cross said Dallas had to work “extra hard” in his therapy classes because everybody had their eyes on him seeking for any sign of aggression, but he displayed none. Some even asked him if he had drugged the dog.

“It’s not the dog that’s the problem, it’s the people,” Cross said. “Pit bulls get such a bad rap.”

Dallas has not yet attended a therapy session, but for now he’s enjoying helping the children in the neighborhood enjoy their summer.

“The kids in the neighborhood just love up to him,” said Linda Austin, a neighbor of Cross. “He’s the most gentle, good-natured pit bull I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“I’ve never even heard him growl,” Austin said.

Not only is Dallas not aggressive, Cross said, he doesn’t even fight back when confronted with a foe. A Jack Russell Terrier recently attacked Dallas, and he backed down, Cross said.

“He came running and stood beside me and looked up at me like, ‘Help me, Daddy,’” Cross said. “He won’t even chase cats or squirrels.”

Dallas even seems to have sympathy for other dogs, Cross said. He once stopped in his tracks in PetSmart to allow a three-legged dog to pass by.

“I say he’s half human,” Cross said.

Cross added that discrimination against pit bulls is wrong, he said.

“Some places in the country, you can’t have pit bulls,” he said. “I don’t think that’s right.”