By Robin Ganzert, PhD, President, American Humane Association | A service dog named Elle challenges us to not judge others by their appearance and to teach acceptance to our grandkids |
One of the most important values we can instill in grandchildren is to not judge a person by his (or her) appearance. The content of one’s character is the most important measure of a person, and our grandkids need to learn this at an early age. But did you know this also applies to how some prejudge dogs?
Several breeds are often prejudged to be dangers to society, particularly to children. Perhaps the leading victim of canine prejudgment is pit bulls. Assuming all pit bulls are vicious dogs bred to fight, many communities actually ban people from owning them. Even the term “pit bull” is actually a colloquialism for several different breeds, each of which also has a variety of temperaments.
Every year, we host the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, a celebration of the country’s bravest heroes on both ends of the leash. Our overall winner for 2013 was Elle, one of the sweetest pit bulls you’d ever meet. Elle, who visits residents of the Bayberry Inn Retirement Home in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, was the finalist in the Therapy Dog Category. When not brightening up the days of the folks at the Bayberry, Elle and her mom, Leah Brewer, visit local schools and libraries.
Kids love to read aloud to Elle, and she rewards them for their effort by licking their face. Kids build their confidence around her because Elle does not judge them — and they don’t judge her.
Leah and Elle also teach the children a very important life lesson: dog-bite safety. Many people see a pit bull and automatically assume it’s a danger, but the takeaway from their teachings is that any dog can be dangerous, regardless of breed. It’s always best for children to ask a dog owner’s permission before approaching his or her dog, and if they see an unknown, unattended dog on the street, they should not approach.
We teach children about love, respect, and acceptance as well as to get to know someone before passing judgment. In 2014, let’s resolve to teach our grandsons to do the same with our four-legged friends.
Robin Ganzert, PhD, is President of the American Humane Association, the country’s first humanitarian organization, and the only one dedicated to protecting both children and animals.