By Jennifer Chess, for StubbyDog.org
About a year and a half ago, my fiancé David and I decided to get a service dog. The service dog was supposed to be for David, as he was having some health issues and was confined to a wheelchair at the time. We spent months researching and trying to find the perfect dog. David said that he would “settle for nothing less than a Pit Bull,” but I was skeptical, having never really been around Pit Bulls, let alone trained one.
Goliath had been found tied up outside a firehouse in New York City with his mom. A Good Samaritan took them to a no kill shelter upstate so that they would have a chance, and there they were named Henry and Angel. They were emaciated and only had a few days to live if no one had saved them.
Henry was still fairly underweight when we went to visit him on a recommendation from one of the volunteers at the shelter. They let Henry out and he dove into David’s lap, knocking his wheelchair back about 3 feet. You could barely see him he moved around so fast – just one big ball of energy. David looked at me and said, “This is the dog for me,” and he was dubbed Goliath.
I thought David was insane. Training turned out to be a learning experience for both me and Goliath, as I had never trained a dog, let alone a notoriously stubborn Pit Bull. He had tremendous potential and was incredibly smart. It turned out he just needed a job, and after a crash course in manners and about three months of service dog training, we were able to take him with us just about everywhere.
About a year after we got Goliath, David’s sickness went into a sort of remission, but my mental and physical health took a turn for the worse. It seemed like Goliath knew that David no longer needed his help and that I did, so he attached himself to me. Goliath is both a mobility support and an emotional support service dog for me.
He helps deter my panic attacks, giving me something to think about other than whatever is upsetting me. He also helps with my social anxiety, allowing me to comfortably and confidently function in public when I am out and about, and he helps me strike up conversations. He helps to cheer me up when I am feeling depressed too.
I also suffer from severe vertigo and syncope. Goliath somehow knows when I am going to have an episode. If I am sitting, he puts both paws across my thighs essentially blocking me from standing. If I am driving, he puts one paw gently on my thigh. If I am moving around, I get a whine and “the look.” The look is an expression he only gets when I’m not feeling well. It looks sort of like he is saying, “If you don’t sit down right now, I’m going to cry.”
He has a bridge on his vest that helps me to keep my balance while walking, and there have been a few occasions when I have fallen and he has “caught” me. Sometimes I find myself waking up after a fall to find him licking my face, my head safely on his belly. I don’t know how he knows, he just does. I like to think that God trained him how to do that.
It’s not only me – he can sense changes in others, too. If someone is upset or sick, Goliath will make sure they’re OK and then he will cuddle up beside them, licking their face or hand until they feel better. He also has an affinity for children. He will be getting his CGC and becoming a therapy dog so that he can help others even more.
Goliath is incredibly well behaved in public, and he knows that he is working when he has the vest on. He then behaves as such. When we are home, he is just our dog, a goofy “fat head” that sometimes has just as much energy as he had the first day we met him.
Goliath is something of a celebrity everywhere he goes. He is working very hard to change the public’s misconceptions about Pit Bulls. He’s so sweet, gentle, loving and great with kids.
David and I are planning on adopting Angel as soon as we have a bigger place. She has been adopted a few times, only to be returned to the shelter because of her fear aggression. We are confident that Goliath will be able to help her too, and that with patience and love she will turn into a great dog. Because of Goliath, I am happy to say that I too will no longer settle for anything less than a Pit Bull!