Bernice Clifford, Director of Behavior and Training at Animal Farm Foundation knows very well the difficulties pit bulls (and look-alike breeds) have to face.
Often abandoned and difficult to adopt out, pit bulls in New York state are getting a second chance thanks to a unique initiative: a series of training programs that prepares them to become K9 officers or assistance dogs.
We talked to Clifford about the importance of these programs and what AFF is hoping to achieve.
The Honest Kitchen: Can you tell us a bit about the Animal Farm Foundation’s Assistance Dog Training Program? What is it about and how did it get started?
Bernice Clifford: Animal Farm Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation, which has been rescuing and re-homing animals, as well as making grants to other humane organizations, since the mid-1980s. Animal Farm Foundation’s mission is to secure equal opportunity and treatment for pit bull dogs. Animal Farm Foundation’s mission work consists of several programs, like the Assistance Dog Training Program, which feature sheltered and rescued pit bull dogs in roles that help people and communities.
The program shines a positive light on the value of shelter dogs and pit bulls while bringing independence to people who, without the help of an assistance dog, may otherwise be unable to enjoy aspects of life that others often take for granted. The Assistance Dog Training Program is also an important way to show that pit bulls can successfully do the same type of work traditionally reserved for purpose-bred service dogs.
Dogs selected for the program are trained by Apryl Lea, Animal Farm Foundation’s certified Assistance Dog International (ADI) trainer. Following evaluation and training, Lea matches the dogs with a client who meets the requirements established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide increased independence and support. The assistance dog and training support is offered at no cost to the recipient for the duration of the match.
THK: What’s involved in training dogs to become narcotics detection dogs for law enforcement?
BC: Through Animal Farm Foundation’s partnership with Universal K9 and Austin Pets Alive!, the Detection Dog Program trains rescued pit bulls to become narcotics detection dogs for police and sheriff departments across the country at no cost to law enforcement.
The narcotics detection dogs undergo four to eight weeks of training in San Antonio, Texas, with trainer and founder of Universal K9, Brad Croft. During training, the dogs master a variety of tasks by playing games, such as finding hidden toys and retrieving items using their sense of smell.