CHICAGO — The Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation has helped save countless abused pit bulls.
Now the Blackhawks' forward and his wife are hoping abused pit bulls can help save abused children.
The foundation's latest endeavor is the recently launched "Paws for Strength," an eight-week program that pairs rescued pit bulls and the people who adopted them with kids residing at The Hephzibah House in Oak Park — a home for abused or neglected children and their families.
"We’re just proud of what we’ve accomplished and how many dogs we’ve saved and we’ve helped," Bryan Bickell, who helped the Hawks win their third Stanley Cup in six years, told DNAinfo Chicago. "Hopefully we can do it with the kids, too."
The program is in its infancy, but Amanda Bickell said she's already seen tremendous benefits.
The children — ages 3-14 — teach their new dog pals tricks and present them during a graduation ceremony at the end of the eight weeks, which includes the kids receiving a certificate.
Amanda Bickell and others also read the children books, including a story about one of Michael Vick's abused pit bulls that was saved and now has a happy life with a new family.
Bickell said after she finished telling the tale, she asked the children what it meant to them, and one 8-year-old said, "that's hopefully my story."
"Right then, we knew this program was going to work," Amanda Bickell said. "The kids are able to relate to these dogs. The dogs live with families now, they're able to love again and be happy again. It gives the children hope that they can have a bright future. It's pretty touching."
When asked Sunday about how they feel about "Paws for Strength," the children, who are not identified for safety and privacy reasons, said they were "excited, relaxed and happy."
"It helps me feel calm," said one of the kids.
"Dogs know when you feel sad and curl up around you," said another.
Added another child: "I like the dogs and they like me back. And I love the owners because they are so nice."
Amanda Bickell said "Paws for Strength" is just one part of her and her husband's foundation, which since its 2012 founding has promoted the virtues of pit bulls as loving and compassionate dogs. It also has assisted in numerous adoptions of rescued pit bulls.
"The amount of opinion we’ve changed on the breed is breathtaking," Amanda Bickell said. "We keep saying it’s not the dog, it’s the owner in the majority of circumstances. It’s just like these children. They have a lot of issues, but it’s not because they were born with a lot of issues. It’s because of their parents and how they were raised and situation they were brought into."
Added Bryan Bickell: "We're really passionate about this, and we're excited to help others and see where the foundation is going."
Those interested in joining "Paws for Strength" with their pit bulls must go through an extensive interview process. For more information, click here.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: