Leo the Therapy Dog
By Christie Keith via Pet Connection
October 30, 2009
I know you’re all jealous of my life. Don’t try to hide it. Jetting from one exotic location to another, mingling with the pretty people, entre to the most exclusive events, access to the power brokers… who wouldn’t envy me?
Perhaps anyone who could have been a fly on the wall when I had to stop an interview in mid-stream yesterday to unwind all the Borzoi hair from the base of the keys on my keyboard. Two years of accumulation meant I’d hit critical mass and lost the “S” and the shift keys.
Fortunately I was interviewing someone who is as much a dog person as they come, Marthina McClay of Our Pack, the rescue group that turned ex-Vick dog Leo into a therapy dog.
I was interviewing her for my column on SFGate.com, but she made some great comments that won’t fit into that piece, so I thought I’d share them with you here. Believe me, they make better reading than the story of how I had to use a knitting needle to untangle Borzoi hair from my keyboard.
I asked her about Michael Vick talking to at-risk youth about dog fighting on behalf of HSUS. She responded by telling me about a visit Leo made to a school for youth who have been in trouble with the law in San Jose, Calif. — some of them with dog fighting in their backgrounds:
We heard the kids going, “Oh, that’s a bad ass pit bull,” when we walked in. It’s like a cool thing to have a pit bull.
When we got into the classroom, I just took off Leo’s leash and let him walk around and do his thing. I let Leo speak for himself. He just connected with everyone, these kids. They went from hard to soft within 20 minutes.
Then the teacher said, “By the way, would you guys like to know where this dog came from?”
The kids said, “Where?”
She told them, “This dog used to belong to Michael Vick.”
You could hear a pin drop. Their mouths were open, their eyes were riveted on this dog. They said, “What?” They couldn’t believe it.
I could hear one of the kids being interviewed by a reporter from the Washington Post, and he said he’d assumed a dog like this, a Vick dog, would be aggressive and mean. Instead, he said, he’s a nice, sweet, friendly dog. “I really like him,” he said.
We’re not a farming culture anymore. We have lost our connection with animals. We almost never work hand in hand with our dogs anymore. We go to work in an office or cubicle, or we go to school, but there’s nothing to give us that feeling of how we fit into the world of animals.
So you bring a dog into the classroom and say, “Would you really want something like that to happen to this dog?” Before Leo showed up, I don’t think they cared. The Vick dogs were distant and not connected to them. But after they met Leo, all that changed. It mattered to them.
So what I’m saying is, don’t bring Vick to talk to at risk kids. Bring his dogs. His dogs will do a lot more for people who need to see the light that these are sentient, feeling, loving beings, and that it’s our job to care for them, than Vick can ever do.
By the way, Marthina told me that Leo has found his forever home… with her. As if anyone thought it would end any differently.