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Abused Pit Bulls Retrained As Service Dogs In Rockland County

POMONA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- From abused to helping veterans, pit bulls in Rockland County are making the ultimate transformation thanks to one shelter in Pomona.

As CBS2's Reena Roy reported Wednesday, many envision pit bulls as rowdy and sometimes aggressive dogs.

"They're having a real difficult time being adopted," said Frank Pugliese, owner of Behavior Plus. "Some of them come from difficult backgrounds."

Hi-Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona said many of the dogs have been abused and neglected.

"They're in bad conditions," said Hi-Tor President Debbie DiBernardo. "They're cut. They're beat up. They need operations."

But earlier this year, expert trainer Pugliese partnered with the shelter to slowly turn the pit bulls into loving service dogs specially trained for veterans.

'They're not innate bad," DiBernardo said. "They're trained or they're neglected."

Volunteers teach the dogs the basics, such as discipline from other service dogs. The dogs try again and again until they get it just right, and then learn how to guide and care for their owners over the course of three to four months.

"The dogs respond phenomenally," Pugliese said. "Even some of the most abused dogs will turn over right away."

The training goes well beyond the shelter. You can see the volunteers bring the dogs to public spaces such as grocery stores to make sure they handle day-to-day activities.

The program was inspired by Pugliese's son, who has a brain injury from football and relies on his dog, Bella, to get around.

"I have a balance disorder," said Matthew Pugliese. "Some days, I'll have problems speaking, or if I've fallen, Bella will just with me until I'm able to get up."

The Puglieses saw success there and started the program in January. They recently placed the first dog to graduate with a veteran upstate suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"His dog provides companionship; comfort," said Frank Pugliese. "When the veteran gets confused or dazed, the dog provides center."

Staff will soon be choosing the second dog to be trained, and then placed with a veteran in need.

The shelter plans on launching an educational campaign soon to help break the stereotype of pit bulls being seen as aggressive.

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