About six years ago, Paula Slaasted's husband found Merlin, a boxer-pit bull mix, as a stray running around the campus of USF Holland, a trucking company, near General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Slaasted's husband sent her a picture of Merlin, saying: "Here's our next dog." The couple took the dog to the Wisconsin Humane Society and found he was not microchipped and showed no signs of abuse.
A month later, he was theirs. Now, the stray has found a home as a service dog who also participates in the Ruff Readers program at the Racine Public Library, a nationwide program in which children read out loud to licensed therapy dogs to overcome anxiety and develop oratorical skills.
"He loves it here," said Slaasted, a Racine resident, as she stood with Merlin at the library. "It's his favorite place."
Merlin, with a goofy smile and ever-wagging tail, was greeted by a practically never-ending stream of children and parents eager to meet the gentle dog on June 19. He responded with a fair amount of face licks.
Slaasted said she hopes that by having Merlin participate in Ruff Readers, she can help people change their minds about pit bulls, a much-maligned breed that she said is unfairly stereotyped as aggressive.
"The breed is so misunderstood," she told The Journal Times of Racine.
Not only is Merlin, now about 7, a service and therapy dog, but he also has been through the Canine Good Citizen training program, which the American Kennel Club calls the "gold standard of behavior for dogs in our communities."
When the Slaasteds are away, Merlin stays with one of the couple's friends, who has two police German shepherd K-9s. The dog gets along with the police dogs as well, Slaasted said.
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"He is a very popular guy, he really is," Slaasted said.