Chicago's Austin neighborhood is notorious for its violence. Gang wars, drugs, murder, and prostitution are common occurrences.
Stray dogs, many of them castoffs from dogfighting, roam the streets and alleys, weaving between the abandoned houses with plywood-covered windows.
Stopped in the Nick of Time
Twelve-year-old Terrence Murphy and his pit bull Elmo are refreshing exceptions in this grim neighborhood.
Terrence was on his way to becoming another dogfighting statistic when End Dogfighting in Chicago Anti-Dogfighting Advocate Sean Moore spotted him in an alley, about to engage in a dogfight. Moore, a reformed dogfighter from Austin, convinced Terrence to join the program's Pit Bull Training Team (PBTT).
Not only did Terrence show up at the next PBTT class, but he and Elmo became star students, eventually earning their Canine Good Citizen® certificate.
"Terrence knows what he did, and that's exactly why we got him involved in this program," recalls Moore. "Our hope was that by bringing Terrence into the classes with other young men like himself, we could turn him away from the violence that has victimized so many dogs and men in Austin."
Hard Work and Triumph
Terrence didn't disappoint. He and Elmo practiced diligently as each week went by, tackling the jumps, A-frames, and tunnels in the obstacle course until they had perfected each element. In time, the duo was winning agility competitions against older class participants and their dogs.
In December 2009, PBTT members tested for their Canine Good Citizen® certificate. One of the highest achievements any dog can garner, the CGCC requires that the dogs pass intense testing, measuring their obedience and stability amid distractions. Testers try to rattle the dogs by startling them and putting them into situations that might unnerve the average dog.
When Elmo passed his test with flying colors, Terrence jumped up and down, showering the happy dog with hugs and kisses.
On Jan. 16, 2010, at the graduation ceremony for the End Dogfighting program, head trainer Jeff Jenkins and Sean Moore presented Terrence with Elmo's Canine Good Citizen® certificate. The young man from the Austin neighborhood of Chicago stood proudly while holding his sitting dog's leash and posing for pictures.
An Unbreakable Bond
Today, Terrence gushes as he talks about his love for Elmo. In return, Elmo wags his tail and looks up into Terrence's sparkling brown eyes, eager to please.
The dog and young man who once seemed destined for disaster have become star pupils with an unshakeable bond. They are shining examples of how The HSUS is stamping out dogfighting, one dog at a time.
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For more information, please visit www.humanesociety.org
Nadya Vera is public relations specialist and Ariana Huemer is animal cruelty case manager for The Humane Society of the United States.