Thursday, November 6, 2008

A pit bull goes to school and changes some minds

http://www.packetonline.com/articles/2008/11/06/the_lawrence_ledger/news/doc49121a62e9017173793810.txt

A pit bull goes to school and changes some minds
Thursday, November 6, 2008 7:14 AM EST
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer

Brian Mark had heard some not-so-great things about pit bull dogs, but the Lawrence Intermediate School student was left with a different impression after a session with Lulu last week. ”I heard they can be kind of mean. People sometimes send them to fight (each other). Now, I think differently about pit bulls. My mind is totally changed. They can be good and they can be nice,” the LIS fourth-grader said. What changed 10-year-old Brian’s mind was his meeting with Lulu, the pit bull dog belonging to LIS teacher Tami D’Errico.

She brought the black and tan dog to school Oct. 27 to raise awareness of the breed, whose special day — Pit Bull Awareness Day — was celebrated Oct. 25. At Lawrence Intermediate School, Oct. 24 marked the school’s Character Kick-Off Day. The character education program is a national movement that encourages schools to create responsible and caring young people — and that’s another reason why Ms. D’Errico brought the dog to school.

One of the themes in the character education program is empathy, and Lulu is very good at teaching children how to be empathetic, said Ms. D’Errico, who teaches fifth grade at the school.
When Ms. D’Errico visited one classroom, she asked the children how many had heard negative things about pit bull dogs. Seven children quickly raised their hands. Ms. D’Errico was not surprised. ”People think pit bulls are scary and mean,” she said. “What would happen if I brought Lulu over to you? What if I told you she was a pit bull?”

While the children paused and thought for a few moments, Ms. D’Errico reminded them that February is Black History Month. Blacks have been discriminated and separated from the rest of society, she said. ”What’s wrong with that kind of thinking,” she asked the children. ”You might not know how they really are — how nice they really are,” one boy answered. Ms. D’Errico agreed, and said the same thing is true of pit bull dogs.

”I’m not saying you should love every person or you should love every dog,” she said. “Give them a chance. Don’t say, ‘I don’t like that person because of their skin color or their religion or how they wear their hair. I’m going to make my decision on whether we like the same things.’” Ms. D’Errico pointed to former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick as an example of someone who lacks empathy. Mr. Vick is serving a 23-month sentence in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., on federal dogfighting charges. He allowed pit bulls to fight each other on his property in Virginia.

It’s true that pit bull dogs don’t like other dogs, but it’s not true that they don’t like people, she said. Dogs want to please people, but there are “bad” people who take advantage of the dogs, she added. ”People do bad things to pit bull dogs,” Ms. D’Errico said. “I could train Lulu to be mean. If I took a puppy and tried to teach it to be mean, I could. That’s what makes them (mean). Did Michael Vick need to (do that)? He did it because he didn’t have any empathy for other creatures.”

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