WESTLAKE, Ohio - "The plight of the pit bull is what I call it."
Chris Hughes calls his therapy dogs loving, loyal and great with kids. But when people see them, they're often afraid.
"I tell them she works with children at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, works with children with autism, and it blows their minds what these dogs can do."
Hughes started Thera-Pits when his pit bull, Gremlin, became a registered therapy dog.
"We started working with schools, reading programs and then Gremlin became the first pit bull accepted into University Hospital's Pet Pals program." Since then, many more dogs have been accepted into Thera-Pits, and the organization has supporters from as far away as Australia and South Africa.
At the Behavioral Intervention Institute of Ohio Summer Camp for Children With Autism in Westlake, Kate Boylan sees the magic that happens when the dogs come to visit.
"We work to increase skills for these children in all areas. The dogs help a lot in that aspect, they're so reinforcing for the kids and able to reciprocate a lot of the emotional need kids often have." Boylan has 15 years of experience working with children with special needs, and sees a parallel between the misunderstanding and myths that are often applied to these dogs and her special kids.
"It's something we can relate to a lot in what we do in the field. We look at the best characteristics of the individual, no matter who they are, look at the best. And support and foster that realization as opposed to negative connotations often attached to both pit bulls and kids with special needs."
Hughes sees the benefits of the dog therapy program working both ways.
"Kids love spending time with the dogs and it helps build up a part of life they may not get elsewhere. And the dogs get played with, petted by the kids. They have a blast."