Misunderstood Breed: Pit Bull Mix Goes From Stray to Service Dog - NECN
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Misunderstood Breed: Pit Bull Mix Goes From Stray to Service Dog

Paula Slaasted says she hopes people change their minds about pit bulls, a much-maligned breed that she said is unfairly stereotyped as aggressive

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    Misunderstood Breed: Pit Bull Mix Goes From Stray to Service Dog
    Getty Images/iStockphoto
    In this file photo, a brown pit bull terrier mix looking up at the camera with a happy smile. Merlin, a boxer-pit bull mix, was found as a stray and is now a licensed therapy and service dog who participates in the Racine library's Ruff Readers program.

    About six years ago, Paula Slaasted's husband found Merlin, a boxer-pit bull mix, as a stray running around the campus of USF Holland, a trucking company, near General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    Slaasted's husband sent her a picture of Merlin, saying: "Here's our next dog." The couple took the dog to the Wisconsin Humane Society and found he was not microchipped and showed no signs of abuse.

    A month later, he was theirs. Now, the stray has found a home as a service dog who also participates in the Ruff Readers program at the Racine Public Library, a nationwide program in which children read out loud to licensed therapy dogs to overcome anxiety and develop oratorical skills.

    "He loves it here," said Slaasted, a Racine resident, as she stood with Merlin at the library. "It's his favorite place."

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    A Los Angeles-based photographer is using his studio to take free portraits of rescued pit bulls. Headshots Melrose owner Peter Michelena plans to publish the photos in a book with the hope that it demonstrates, despite common misconceptions, pit bulls are just as loving as other breeds of dog. Michelena adopted a pit bull and fell in love with the breed. Proceeds from sales of merchandise using the dogs' photos will benefit animal rescues and charities.

    (Published Wednesday, July 25, 2018)

    Merlin, with a goofy smile and ever-wagging tail, was greeted by a practically never-ending stream of children and parents eager to meet the gentle dog on June 19. He responded with a fair amount of face licks.

    Slaasted said she hopes that by having Merlin participate in Ruff Readers, she can help people change their minds about pit bulls, a much-maligned breed that she said is unfairly stereotyped as aggressive.

    "The breed is so misunderstood," she told The Journal Times of Racine.

    Not only is Merlin, now about 7, a service and therapy dog, but he also has been through the Canine Good Citizen training program, which the American Kennel Club calls the "gold standard of behavior for dogs in our communities."

    When the Slaasteds are away, Merlin stays with one of the couple's friends, who has two police German shepherd K-9s. The dog gets along with the police dogs as well, Slaasted said.

    "He is a very popular guy, he really is," Slaasted said.

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    (Published Monday, July 31, 2017)