September is National Service Dog Month, a time designated to raising awareness and celebrating the extraordinary work service animals do every day for the people in their care; people like Matthew Smith, age 42 of Bel Air, M.D., who lost the use of his legs in a car accident and uses a wheelchair.

Like many individuals who’ve gained independence through the help of a service dog, Matthew shares a special bond with his service dog and companion, Jericho.Unlike most service dogs, Jericho is a “pit bull.”

Jericho is one of many to graduate Animal Farm Foundation’s (AFF) Assistance Dog Training Program, proving that rescued and sheltered “pit bull” dogs can perform the same work traditionally reserved for pure bred, purpose bred dogs. Jericho helps Matthew with balance, mobility and retrieving dropped items. Together, the two enjoy an active lifestyle; including fishing trips on Matthew’s boat, four-wheeling excursions and a recent cruise the pair took to Alaska.

For four years now, AFF has been successfully training rescued “pit bull” dogs, received through nominations on behalf of shelter staff and volunteers nationwide, to be service dogs. The dogs are trained by AFF’s certified Assistance Dog International (ADI) trainer, Apryl Lea, and matched with a client who meets the requirements established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), at no cost to the recipient. Lea works with the dogs to master a variety of tasks such as retrieving dropped items, helping with balance and mobility, and using the phone in case of an emergency.

The program is giving independence to people with disabilities while shining a positive light on the value of shelter dogs and “pit bull” dogs.