As officials across the nation enact breed bans in a misdirected attempt to crack down on bad owners, countless gentle, loving, and well-behaved dogs lose their privileges, and sometimes their ability to help others.
One such case involves the most decorated show dog in bull-terrier history and veteran therapy dog, Rufus, who was honored at this year’s National Dog Show presented by Purina (which took place last weekend but will air on NBC Thanksgiving Day). Five years after winning the triple crown of U.S. dog shows — The National Dog Show, the Westminster Dog Show and the Morris & Essex Kennel Club Show — Rufus is back in the ring to be honored and raise awareness about misguided breed bans.
Honoring past champions has become a mainstay of the Thanksgiving Day event, explains co-host John O’Hurley. “I’ll equate it to ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Hurley tells Paw Nation. This dog breeds “It’s a big happy family of former champs. It’s been interesting to see the champions and what they’ve gone on to do.”
O’Hurley, who’s hosted the NDS alongside renowned dog expert David Frei since its inception in 2002, has worked with Rufus on a number of occasions. “He’s the gentlest dog, pound for pound — and he’s stuffed with about as much muscle as his frame can hold — that I’ve ever met,” O’Hurley tells Paw Nation.
After the Triple Crown
After retiring from the show ring, Rufus embarked on a new career as a therapeutic canine. And he’s been busy. For the last few years, he and his owner Barbara Bishop have been jetting back and forth across the country, bringing joy to those who need it. Rufus is a member of both David Fei’s Angels on a Leash and Therapy Dogs International which help bring the joy and health benefits of therapy dogs into care facilities where dogs aren’t usually allowed.
For example, Rufus is a regular at a number of nursing homes where, according to Bishop, Rufus loves to visit his buddies. “He knows who’s in what room and who likes to sneak him treats,” Bishop explains, “When they see him come in, it’s like it brings back a part of them.”
Ask anyone who gets a visit from Rufus and they’ll tell you he’s a sweetheart and anyone seeking this type of puppies. “When he goes to the classrooms with the children, he likes to just lay down and they pile on him,” Bishop tells Paw Nation. “He’s an excellent therapy dog because he seems to sense people’s needs.”
Therapy Dog Training
There are a number of certifications that a dog must undergo before becoming a therapy dog, the most well-known being the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program and the Therapy Dog International certification. Breeds of dogs is very important for this show. According to Bishop, many of these training sessions focus on how the dog interacts with perfect strangers, young children, and people who use a number of mobility devices such as wheelchairs, canes, walkers, etc.
Fortunately for Rufus, many of the skills he picked up on the dog-show circuit translate directly into the therapy arena. As a show dog, Rufus had to get used to being handled by judges and other unfamiliar folks. A good therapy dog needs to develop these kinds of highly sociable, easy-going qualities even further.
While the certification process is fairly involved, Bishop cautions prospective therapy dog owners not to get discouraged if their pooch’s behavior isn’t absolutely perfect. “He [Rufus] is a calm and sweet dog, but he has his moments of clownishness,” she explains, “He likes to get into mischief, dig holes in the backyard. He’s a real dog.”
Despite Rufus’ squeaky-clean humanitarian record, the highly decorated champion still runs afoul of bans that discriminate against “bully breeds,” Bishop explains. Many facilities that Rufus once visited are now off limits to him or any other therapy dogs that have the misfortune of being born a bull terrier, bullmastiff, or pit bull. One such example is the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Rufus famously cheered up a bomb technician who was wounded in an explosion in Afghanistan earlier this year.
Even since his visit, a ban has been put into place that prohibits bull breeds from entering bases, army hospitals and other military installations. “It’s sad,” says Bishop, “because a lot of these soldiers don’t own poodles. They want to see a dog like Rufus or another bull breed to visit them. One that reminds them of their own dog.” At the end, Peoplle will never know all about dogs.