BENSENVILLE, Ill. (WBBM) - A Bensenville-based group wants to provide service dogs to wounded veterans. But some may find the breed of dog they're training to be surprising.
That's because Kelly Yearwood is training pit bulls.
"Their temperament has to be that much better than every other (service) dog out there because of what they are and what they're labeled as," she said.
Yearwood has heard it all about pit bulls from those who label them as killers and fighters. But she said that behavior is the result of training.
"The qualities in the pit bull that people use for bad are the same qualities that we use to teach them the good," she said.
Among those qualities, she said, are a keen desire to please its owner, loyalty, tenacity and strength.
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At the same time, she said, the dogs must go through months of intensive training so that they will not mind if their muzzle, ears or feet are touched or even stepped on. Beyond basic obedience on and off the leash, she said the dogs also are trained to retrieve different objects, open doors, turn lights on and off and even punch elevator buttons.
Yearwood's project, incorporated as "Pits for Patriots," has an enthusiastic supporter in Chris Maddeford, a wounded veteran who needs a strong dog to keep him balanced when walking.
"Veterans don't want to walk with canes," he said. "They would rather walk with a dog. Some vets need to put more pressure on that cane, so you couldn't put as much pressure on a Labrador (retriever) than you could on a pit bull" because of its strength.
Maddeford said he falls down a lot, and said the pit bull can withstand his attempts to get back on his feet far more easily than other dogs.
Training can take anywhere from nine to 22 months and the cost can approach $24,000, all of which Pits for Patriots is raising through donations. The group will provide its dogs free of charge to wounded veterans and police officers, and injured firefighters.
Four pit bulls began training earlier this year, and Yearwood said that two have washed out -- one because of health reasons and the other because of temperament. She hopes to have five trained in the coming year, and has an eventual goal of training 50 dogs annually.
Pits for Patriots is the first Chicago-area group to train pit bulls as service dogs, but Yearwood said she knows of two similar groups elsewhere that have been successful, in Florida and in New York.
She said the initial reaction to her group at the Illinois Warriors Summit veterans' gathering in August was "incredible."
"They're the underdog. So are most of the people who will receive them," she said. "So they will be battle buddies and they will succeed."
Pits for Patriots is accepting donations at P.O. Box 256, Bensenville, Ill. 60106-0258. It expects to begin accepting credit card donations online soon through its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pitsforpatriots. Yearwood can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (773) 852-6606.
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