Unless you are a senior in Asbury Park High School, Charmaine Handler is probably someone you don’t know. She may be your new hero, however, if you have ever come across a pit bull companion canine and realized it is the most misunderstood breed around.
Handler, a teacher for 12 years and Structured Learning Experience Coordinator, is a bolt of blonde lightening positive energy and an undisputed hero in my book, making a difference one pit bull at a time, leveraging her unique position to educate students about the importance of caring for pit bulls.
TBP: How did you become involved with educating your students?
Handler: I have always developed a great rapport with my students and that has led to a lot of honest discussions. The topic of dog fighting comes up and I use the opportunity to share stories of bait dogs and fighting dogs. When we discuss a specific dog’s story it really drives home the sadness of fighting.
We also discuss the dangers of feeding dogs chicken bones and the importance of worming the puppies and look at why it is important to spay and neuter.
TBP: How do your students respond?
Handler: They are always receptive to learning new information. My students are great young adults who just need support in their care of pit bulls. I explain to them that they have to be the guardians for the dogs that can’t protect themselves.
Years ago, there was a news story about a dog that had been chained, starved and eventually rescued by the Humane Society. I was pondering the best way to talk with my students about this. When they came to class two of them said they were hungry because they did not eat lunch. I told them to think about what they were feeling physically and mentally, multiply that by days. Then I explained that was the reality for the dog in the news.
So we used the news story as a discussion and learning opportunity to create a Pepsi Refresh project proposal. My students helped me write it and agreed to be involved if our project was chosen.
Our goal was to get funding for Pit Bull education clinics, spay and neuter, worming, leashes and collars, food, heart worm medications and so forth for residents of Asbury Park. The project never made it through but if anyone wants to see the proposal, the kids were proud of it.
TBP: You have the respect with the young minds that have the power to change. I admire you so much. Do you find yourself involved in your mission after school hours?
Handler: I have bought dog food for my student’s and delivered it to their house. I purchased a puppy that was in danger of being used for fighting and found a home for him.
Like a lot of people, I had pre-formed negative opinions about pit bulls before I owned three of them. Now I know what loving and extremely loyal dogs they are.
For me, to imagine any dog suffering is sad and if I can do something to help why wouldn’t I? I love to teach so educating students about the many aspects of dog care is something I enjoy. There is a very large pit bull population in Asbury Park so the topic is very relevant.
By providing my students with the physical items they need to care for their dogs, we are working together as a team and my students are learning.
We share stories about our dogs and enjoy talking about things like blue pits, or brindles, or a red nose, or various lineages, American Pit Bull Terrier versus Staffordshire Terrier, height, weight, temperament, and so forth.
For me it’s not about formal lessons or a specific mission but rather simply a shared love of pit bulls.