Blueberry the Pit Bull‘s story does not start off as a happy one, as she was forced to live in a laundry room and birth puppies for her owners to sell. After her 11 puppies were born, she was dumped at Milton Animal League with the reason of suspected mange. With red skin and missing much of her fur, Blueberry was in a miserable state. With proper veterinary care, she was diagnosed with allergies, and treatment began to clear her skin. Maura Porter, a volunteer at the shelter, had recently lost her dog to leukemia and fell in love with Blueberry.
Maura had also lost a friend, Gerry, to cancer. Her friend had never liked animals, but after a dog visited him during hospice care, he began to soften his stance. To honor Gerry’s memory, Maura wanted to do therapy dog work, as well as help change people’s minds about Pit Bull-type dogs.
However, Blueberry’s future as a therapy dog was uncertain because of her past confinement; her only interaction with other dogs was when she was being bred. They began training for the AKC Canine Good Citizen test anyway, and Maura found that her doubts were completely unfounded. Blueberry succeeded in every area. In fact, she was the first dog in her group to pass the challenging CGC test.
After attempting and passing her training at Dog B.O.N.E.S. Therapy Dogs of Massachusetts with flying colors, Blueberry and Maura were finally ready to begin their work. Maura describes Blueberry as a natural. “She is caring and loving and has great compassion. She brings more joy to people that I could ever have imagined.”
Blueberry has been doing therapy dog work for almost three years now, visiting nursing homes, rehab hospitals, and colleges during exam times. They also have assigned hospice patients for weekly visits and have visited with blind and deaf residents of the New England Homes for the Deaf. “What is amazing to see is that her breed does not matter to the people with whom she visits,” Maura says. “All they see is her love. And that to me is perfect beyond words.”
Early into Blueberry’s therapy dog career, she was called upon for a big job — to help comfort those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing. Dog B.O.N.E.S. Therapy Dogs of Massachusetts was asked to send teams down to the site of the bombing after Boylston Street was reopened to businesses.
Those businesses had requested teams because many of their employees were afraid to return to work after witnessing the tragedy. Blueberry went to the bombing site for three weeks. “People whispered in her ear, others told her how saddened they were,” Maura recalls. “It was amazing to see them open up to a dog. It was like it was OK to open up to her.”
Once Boylston Street had been completely reopened to the public, Blueberry and Maura visited Copley Square, where a makeshift memorial had started to form. People were drawn to Blueberry, as well as the other therapy dog teams. “One woman, a trauma nurse, told me that she had not wanted to come back down, but that once she spent time with Blueberry she was so glad she had faced her fears,” Maura says. “At one point, as I sat on the ground with Blueberry, watching her interact with the person she was with, I looked up and saw people waiting — 15 people deep — just to be with her, in that place, at that time. To this day, it amazes me how powerful her presence and the other therapy dogs’ presences were felt.”
Maura and Blueberry’s journey as a therapy dog team has not been without its hindrances. Until the visit at the site of the Boston Marathon bombing, Maura had not taken Blueberry to Boston for visits due to a law that required dogs like her to be muzzled in public. Thankfully, that law has since changed, but other areas still have similar restrictions.
Maura’s closest friend lives in Denver, but she cannot visit her and take Blueberry because Pit Bulls are banned there. Within the therapy dog world, Maura and Blueberry have been turned away from facilities once they learn Blueberry’s breed. “I always say if I can get them to meet her, she will win them over,” Maura says. While it has been difficult at times to get those initial meetings, everyone who has met Blueberry is left with a positive and lasting impression.
Now 7 years old, Blueberry continues to change minds, one visit at a time. To follow her adventures as a therapy dog, like her on Facebook.
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About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.