Christina Laderoute, a junior English major, found 70 pounds of comfort in a pink polka-dot collar.
That source of comfort was Molly, a 9-year-old pit bull rescued from the streets of Lowell, who found a second life as a therapy dog.
“She’s so precious,” said Laderoute at a recent stress-reduction event at University Crossing. “I love animals in general. I just had to come see her. She is so innocent. And I do feel more relaxed.”
Molly has been a life-changer for her owner, Katie Robinson, who earned a degree in biology from the Kennedy College of Sciences in May. Since adopting Molly five years ago, Robinson has discovered her passion for training dogs and hopes to eventually make a career out of it.
Five years ago, Robinson “wanted a dog, but didn’t know anything about them.” She visited the Lowell Humane Society and met Molly, who was then 4 years old and had been living on the streets.
“She had been a breeding dog, and when she couldn’t have puppies any longer, her owners just opened the door and let her go. The Humane Society said she lived on the street for a year before they could get her.”
Molly was “a stereotypical pit bull then,” says Robinson. “She’d had to fight for her life every day. I knew nothing about the breed, and I’m sort of glad. I might not have picked her.”
Months of training and patience turned Molly around. Now, she responds to hand gestures and words on signs and loves being around people, Robinson says. Four years ago, Molly was certified as a therapy dog.
Despite Molly’s even temper and friendliness, Robinson says some people have steered clear because of the breed’s reputation for aggression.
“I got so tired of walking around and having people judge me because of her breed,” says Robinson. “She is therapy-certified, but she was turned down by four therapy organizations because of her breed … I do know she was born to be this way, and not a fighter.”
UMass Lowell is just one of the places that Molly visits to help people de-stress, heal and laugh. She visits hospice care and schools and will go to a psychiatric hospital later this month.
“She adapts to whatever the situation is,” says Robinson, who trains dogs part-time at a Nashua Pet Smart outlet in addition to managing a tanning salon. “At hospice, she’ll just sit on the bed and hang out. At schools, she can play with the kids.”
The duo will return to campus Dec. 7 for a pre-finals stress-relief session for students at the Campus Recreation Center from 3 to 6 p.m.
And Robinson will be back on campus next semester to begin working on her master of business administration. She says she would love to merge her experience training Molly with her business expertise to open a dog-related business.
“She has literally changed the direction of my life,” says Robinson. “I realize I got a dog everybody hated for no reason, and I really never expected it all to come out like this. If you had known her when I first met her, you wouldn’t believe this is the same dog.”