Photo courtesy of Little Egypt Search and Rescue Team
Axl has long been one of my favorite Pit Bulls. I have given updates on his progress throughout the years but this week I was sent the accompanying photo of him that made the reality of his ability even more dramatic.
For anyone that is not familiar with Axl, he came to me from the Caruthersville Humane Society after being seized during a drug raid. He was something of a mess at that time but it was easy to see he was something special. If you go back through my archives you will find an entry entitled Axlisms. It is a fairly decent account of Axl's first days living with my pack. He truly loves Emma and she is sure it would be a public service to eat him. She holds to this opinion even today.
When I have a dog with the potential to perform a working discipline such as search and rescue, detection or service, I always call Erin, an area certified FEMA handler. I trust her opinion and insight without question. Her first evaluation of Axl was done when he was almost three months old. Even at that young age, it was obvious he had something extra that would take him beyond being a pet. At that same time, the handler that would recognize and develop Axl's talent, Kevin, became aware that a Pit Bull was so much more than what he had been led to believe by slanted media reports.
Kevin had retired his senior German Shepherd Dog and he had worked with, not only Erin's retired SAR Pit Bull but an Illinois SAR handler Susan's Pit Bull. He was already aware of what this breed was capable of when faced with a demanding task.
Stop and consider for a moment the devastation of disasters such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or the tornado that cut through Joplin Missouri. It is difficult to comprehend what events such as these do to areas that until moments before being hit are normal pockets of civilized society. We have all seen the photos but these amazing individuals answering the call to put themselves and their canine partners on the front line to perform the search and rescue or search and recovery tasks, can relate to you first hand what it is like to be the first to behold the scene of such emergencies.
One of the things Erin said to me during Axl's initial evaluation was that what she so appreciated about working the bully breeds was they would continue to work despite physical injury or adverse conditions. Kevin taught me that when looking at a dog's possible working ability, I should find dogs willing to go through a concrete block wall for a toy and continue to do so regardless of obstacles. That is an apt description of most Pit Bulls. Their natural terrier tenacity will over ride all other instinct when they have been set to a task.
Pit Bulls in working disciplines are by no means uncommon any longer. It is becoming more common place, because of the numbers of dogs hitting the rescues and shelters. Fortunately, there are enough individuals with the fore sight to look beyond the misinformation to the possibilities presented by a dog that is intelligent, powerful and undaunted by adversity. All across this country we are seeing more and more public service and law enforcement agencies making use of dogs that would have in recent history been destroyed by ignorance. This is also a dog with a soft side making it an ideal therapy and assistance dog. The possibilities are only limited by our imaginations. These dogs will do whatever we are willing to teach them.
If enough people can be educated to what is possible with all dogs being thrown into the shelter and rescue networks, how many more dogs might we be able to save? This is one more way awareness, education and responsibility could be the saving grace for the animal that has walked at our side for millennium.
I invite you to visit the website of the Little Egypt Search and Rescue team www.lesar.org. Axl is being groomed for search and recovery but you will see he is not the lone Pit Bull in this group. Lexi is also a member of this team and she is being trained as a trailing dog. For someone whose loved one has gone missing, she could well be the Pit Bull reuniting a family.
If you take a moment to also Google working Pit Bulls you will see just how many of these dogs are performing a service that could some day be responsible for saving your life or the life of someone you love.
MAVIS UPDATE: My little house guest went to the training program in Charleston this past Wednesday. She was there for approximately 20 minutes before charming her way into the heart of her future "dad".
We did experience one more bout of food aggression that could have easily turned deadly. On her final Sunday evening in my home, Emma pushed the issue by invading Mavis' space but Mavis was the instigator of the aggression. She learned a valuable lesson in jumping on a dog whose head weighs more than she does.
Since this incident, Mavis has been exposed to numerous different dogs of all sizes and all breeds. She has become outgoing and social in different situations with no signs of reverting back to her red zone dog aggressive ways.
I never advise anyone to allow aggression to go unchecked. I turned my back for only a moment and as mentioned, this could have easily been a deadly occurrence. I got lucky this time but it could have gone the other way. When dealing with dog on dog aggression you must never allow your attention to be diverted and you must educate yourself to the physical signs that a dog is about to react.
Dogs tell us what we need to know. It is up to us to learn what they are saying.