When you picture a therapy dog, a pit bull might not immediately spring to mind. However, Aladdin, a 5-year-old pit bull, may just be the hardest-working therapy pit bull out there.
Laddy, with his adorable pout, is bringing joy and comfort to thousands of people through several charities. He is working to break down stereotypes about the breed by showing the world that pit bulls are full of love, one patient, child, and person in need at a time.
However, like many rescue dogs, Aladdin didn’t have the best start to life. In fact, he was in such poor shape that the world almost missed out on this loving pup.
Found “discarded like garbage on the street” as a stray in April 2013, Aladdin was taken to the Camden County Shelter in New Jersey. He weighed in at a drastic 18 pounds, which was only a fraction of the 40-50 pounds that he should have weighed, and was barely able to stand. Worse than that, both of his back legs were broken, his tail had been fractured in several places, and twelve of his teeth were missing.
Michele Schaffer-Stevens of Haddenfield, New Jersey, was known within the rescue community for fostering emaciated pit bulls. When she got the call from volunteers at Camden County Shelter about Aladdin (named by her son after the Disney “street rat” character because of how he was found), she took him in right away to begin nursing him back to health.
The process was long and difficult, with Schaffer-Stevens fearing at times that Aladdin might not make it at all, but he managed to pull through.
Though adopting Aladdin into her already-full family of three sons and three rescue pit bulls “never crossed her mind” when Schaffer-Stevens began fostering him, she knew right away that he was a special dog.
“The minute I picked him up [from the shelter], he was so weak that he couldn’t do anything,” she told PupJournal. “But he wagged his tail at me, and he never stopped wagging.”
A few months later at an adoption event, a volunteer told someone that Aladdin was available for adoption. When hearing this, Schaffer-Stevens nudged the volunteer with her leg and said, “No, he isn’t.” She officially adopted him through Lilo’s Promise Animal Rescue, an organization she works closely with, on July 4, 2013.
Within eight months from the time he was rescued, Aladdin had earned his therapy dog certification. He began volunteering with Schaffer-Stevens at The Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, something they continue to do every Monday to this day. His visits are highly anticipated by patients, family, and staff alike.
Schaffer-Stevens first realized what a great therapy dog Aladdin would make while he was recovering with her at their family beach house. They would sit in their respective lounge chairs as people passed by, and Laddy would wag his tail at everyone that passed. “I could always tell when someone was coming,” Schaffer-Stevens mused. “He has never lost that spirit.”
“He has this amazing connection with people. He just knows who to go to and what to do, whether it’s to curl up, lay there and comfort, or play. Sometimes he will even go to the parents instead of a sick child if he can tell they need his presence more.”
Since the time he first began service as a therapy dog, Aladdin has become an ambassador for several programs. He works with the Baltimore-based organization Show Your Soft Side, which advocates against animal cruelty.
He is a part of State Farm’s “Kindness is Powerful” humane education program, where he visits schools and hangs out with students while they discuss topics such as anti-bullying and breed-specific legislation.
He visits Ronald McDonald Houses in as many states as he can while traveling, and is part of the Purina National Therapy Dog Team. He’s even an ambassador for Tito’s Vodka, a company that frequently helps rescues raise money (last year they helped Laddy raise $340,000).
As if that weren’t enough, Aladdin recently received recognition from Pennsylvania Senator Bob Mensch for all of the wonderful work that he does in the community. In fact, Laddy visited legislators in Harrisburg, PA, to lobby for Bill 1238 — which makes animal abuse a felony instead of “the equivalent of a traffic ticket.”
Related: 9 Ways To Stop An Animal Abuser
Aladdin visited Orlando last year after the tragic mass shooting at Pulse nightclub. Schaffer-Stevens vividly recalled a moment when Aladdin, who generally works off-leash, went up to a specific victim at an event with nearly 1500 people. The man knelt down to Laddy and said, “This dog knew that my heart needed him.”
“He has this uncanny ability to connect with whoever needs him most,” Schaffer-Stevens said. “People have traveled for hundreds of miles just to meet him.”
Not only that, but Schaffer-Stevens and Aladdin receive messages from all over the world telling them how much the Aladdin Nation Facebook page and his pictures cheer them up. “I know what he does for me every day, but to see what he does for people who have never even met him is incredible,” she said.
Who would ever think that a pouty face (most likely a result of Laddy’s missing teeth) could produce so many smiles?
Don’t be fooled by the look, though. Laddy laps up the attention of people who think he looks sad (and often gets some free scraps of food), but he’s actually a very happy boy. His all-time favorite activity is swimming. Schaffer-Stevens uses a long-line and shark fin life vest for Laddy’s swimming, because he will do it until he’s exhausted.
“It’s the only time he won’t listen to me,” she said. “And it’s also the only time he makes noise — when he wants to go into the water or doesn’t want to come back out.”
This hard-working pup does so much good, in fact, that he is running for the Therapy Dog title at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards. Schaffer-Stevens entered him for the first time in 2015 and though he didn’t win, his work is so commendable that they have written her to enter him again the past two years.
He was a finalist last year, so we hope that this is Laddy’s year for sure! You can cast your vote once a day until May 3rd to help ensure that he gets into the finals.
Schaffer-Stevens and Aladdin are also raising money to fund two surgeries to repair issues in his back legs related to the previous breaks via the Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group in Maryland and Project Go. They are constantly fundraising for Lilo’s Promise Animal Rescue and various other organizations, so be sure to follow Aladdin Nation on Facebook to see where they’ll be next, or to get a daily dose of that cute pout!