Former Marine Joe Bonfiglio suffers from PTSD after a traumatic tour in Afghanistan, so he knows what it’s like to have people form opinions about you before they know you. His dog Zen understands, too. Zen’s a rescued Pit Bull.
Zen is a service dog who guides Joe through his daily life, whether he’s at school or just hanging out. But Joe is not blind. He sees perfectly. The guidance that Zen provides is of another nature.
Zen and Joe participate in the Animal Farm Foundation’s Assistance Dog Training Program, a program dedicated to using rescued Pit Bulls as service animals.
The purpose of using Pitties is twofold: to help those in need of service animals, and to help Pit Bulls earn the reputation they deserve. Other programs, such as Pits for Patriots, also emphasize the value of Pit Bulls as service dogs, especially for returning veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Veterans… can identify with Pit Bulls because they either have seen a lot of trauma or been through a lot of trauma,” said a co-founder of Pits for Patriots.
In the case of Zen and Joe, Zen has the special ability to calm Joe down if he experiences a panic attack or has strong memories of his time in combat. Should Joe have a flashback in the middle of the night, Zen will wake him and return Joe to the comfort and safety of their bed.
“Zen is a fantastic dog; the best thing that’s happened to me since I’ve been home,” said Bonfiglio.
Hopefully the Animal Farm Foundation and Pits for Patriots will pave the way for other organizations and individuals to embrace the abilities of Pitties, then the world will understand that a dog is just a dog—no matter the breed.
“They are all great supporters,” Joe said of Zen and the other dogs in his life. “They don’t talk back, just put a smile on your face.”