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Why rescued canines make the best service dogs

Dogs from shelters aren’t usually the first choice when it comes to organizations looking to train service dogs. But I hope one day that can change: Nearly 4 million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year, and many of those are breeds best known for making wonderful service animals—golden retrievers, labs, German shepherds and the like. (But did you know pit bulls and “mutts” make great service dogs, too?) Here’s another factor worth mentioning: Dogs rescued from shelters know what it means firsthand to be abused and neglected, easing that connection with people in need who have found themselves in similar life circumstances.

As animal lovers know, companion animals often surprise us; they melt hearts, break barriers and make miracles. And as you’ll see, the following dogs do just that. Read on to see how these seven smart canines went from shelter dog to service dog—and now dedicate their lives to making this world a better place.

1. Foxi the chihuahua, adopted from Best Friends Animal Society, loves people so much she now works senior centers as an Emotional Support Animal.

2. Junior, a rescue from Chako Pit Bull Rescue who was trained as a service dog, now dedicates his life to aiding two family members: his person, who has a disability, and a special needs child.

3. Jericho, also a pit bull, came from the Animal Farm Foundation, which trains rescued pit bulls as assistance dogs and aims to change the stigma associated with pit bulls. Today, Jericho helps a combat veteran fight his PTSD.

4. Remember Eddie the Terrible, the “unadoptable” chihuahua from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley? Well, the little terror not only got adopted—but his personality turned around once he was out of the stressful shelter situation, and he’s now a bona fide Emotional Support Animal for his dad (and reportedly a loving and loyal companion).

5. Otis, a quiet, well-mannered bulldog adopted from a shelter, transformed the life of his human, a veteran with PTSD who’s now off almost all of his meds, thanks to Otis. Otis has even inspired his person to think about pursuing a certificate in training therapy dogs.

6. Zuri was rescued from a shelter and trained by nonprofit Merlin’s Kids—and today she’s the best friend and companion of a little boy with autism, lowering his anxiety levels every day and even accompanying him to school. I got all misty-eyed watching this video of the two of them on

7. Kiah is a different kind of service dog: This beautiful pit bull was rescued from a shelter by Animal Farm Foundation and today serves as the first-ever pit bull K-9 to join the Poughkeepsie Police Department in New York. Kiah is just another example of pit bulls working to change breed stereotypes and discrimination.

These dogs remind us all that when we rescue shelter dogs, they often rescue us right back. A big thank you to organizations like Animal Farm Foundation and Merlin’s Kids, which tap local rescues—not backyard breeders—for the service and therapy animals they train and rehabilitate.

Note: Here’s a closer look at the formal differences between the terms “service dog,” “therapy dog” and “Emotional Support Animal.”

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