Pitbulls For Recovery

By Victoria Kim 05/05/17

The Pitbulls For Recovery program offers people going through hard times a support system by way of a new four-legged friend.

pit bull with tongue hanging out of mouth.

What do pit bulls have in common with individuals in recovery? They’re both affected by negative stereotypes. 

A young woman from Massachusetts is taking this shared stigma and using it to heal, by bringing together pit bulls and the recovery community with her Pitbulls for Recovery program.

“I had an idea. I had a dream,” said 23-year-old Marissa Burke. “Around here, the opioid epidemic is so bad.” Burke combined her love of dogs and her desire to help people going through hard times and in need of social support.

The program, which launched last year, is open to volunteers, dogs, and participants. It’s currently working with a team of six dogs including Burke’s own pit bulls Zeus and Montana, both rescue dogs.

“Pitbulls have the worst reputation,” Burke told the Herald News. “I want to show everyone what positive and beautiful dogs they are.”

Each participant is paired up with a dog and they go for therapeutic “pack walks” for one to two hours each week. It’s a great way for both dogs and humans to get some fresh air and some quality time with a friend. 

Some of the PFR volunteers have been personally affected by opioid abuse. “I lost my son and this is a good way to heal,” one volunteer, Ryan Tripp, told the Herald News. Tripp and another volunteer, Dawn Trask, both lost a son to a drug overdose. 

“We’re trying to get people together to walk the dogs,” said Tripp. “It’s great to get out and get the unconditional love from a dog.”

And it’s not just about addiction recovery, Trask adds. Pitbulls for Recovery is for anyone who could use some positive interaction and a support system, including individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. 

Participants “build a relationship with these dogs,” she said. “I have people that are not just battling addiction, but PTSD.”

Marissa Burke built the program from her own experience growing up with a father who suffered from addiction. She’s also lost friends to drug overdose. Her father had a pit bull rescued from dog fights, and Burke said she fell in love.

“When I turned 18, I went and got myself a dog and I started working with dogs then,” she told the Herald.

Pitbulls for Recovery currently operates in South Coast and Cape Cod, and is hoping to expand to Fall River and all throughout Massachusetts. Burke says she’s dedicated to reaching more people in need.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr