When Sandra Riesett did her first “Show Your Soft Side” campaign in 2011, she had zero experience with pit bulls. Riesett told PupJournal,
“I had never met a pit bull. My only knowledge was from the media, and I believed what I saw. I thought they had some kind of ‘psycho’ gene.”
However, it only took meeting one pit bull to change her mind. That pit bull was named Prince, and he belonged to Baltimore Ravens’ football player Torrey Smith. “He was a big galloopy guy — a total couch potato. He just wanted to sit in Torrey’s lap the whole time.”
Riesett, the founder of Show Your Soft Side, worked in advertising for many years before starting the non-profit organization. The cruelty stories that she was seeing in her city of Baltimore, particularly at the hands of children, became too much for her to bear.
She began brainstorming ideas of how to promote kindness to animals, and came up with the idea of getting local celebrities and athletes to pose for posters that she could put in schools.
“It really took off in an unexpected way,” Riesett told us. Since that first campaign, SYSS has grown to feature over 150 celebrities and athletes across the country. They officially became a non-profit about a year later in 2012, and their advertisements are now being shared around the world.
Though Show Your Soft Side isn’t solely dedicated to pit bulls, they do work with them frequently. Of the 150 models (dubbed “Softies”), many are pit bull owners themselves. Some of these names include football players Ryan Jensen and Lawrence Guy of the Baltimore Ravens, comedienne and founder of Stand Up For Pits Rebecca Corry, famed photographer Mike Ruiz, Army veteran Sgt. Matthew White, former MMA fighter and animal activist Gordon Shell, and many others.
“We’ve never had a problem photographing pit bulls — not even so much as a snap — and we’re constantly pushing them around into poses, lifting their butts up like Muppets,” Riesett went on to say about their behavior in high stress environments. In fact, she described this scene from a school visit that they did with Ravens’ player Lawrence Guy and his pit bull Bubbles last year:
“There were 320 middle school kids in one room with us — even I was a little anxious around them. They were loud and some kids were scared while others came right up to pet Bubbles. She just wagged her tail the whole time — she even kissed the principal! She would go up to the disabled kids and lay down next to them. She was just so calm and gentle.”
This is a common personality trait those familiar with pit bulls describe. They absolutely love people.
In fact, while some argue that they were “bred to kill,” most don’t understand that even those that were bred to fight in the pit centuries ago were also bred to be kind to humans so that they could be handled. It’s a trait that still holds true in a lot of cases today — even those with owners that attempt to train them to be mean.
Riesett recalled a day prior to starting SYSS where she was working in Baltimore on a PSA about domestic violence, and they were conducting interviews at a basketball court in a particularly menacing area of the city. She saw a little pit bull puppy tied up in the corner of the court, but when she went over to pet it, the owners told her to stop because they “were making the dog mean.”
Riesett still remembers that story to this day, because it holds a lot of weight after so many years of working with pit bulls (particularly the abuse cases in Baltimore) and seeing their truly loving natures.
Sadly, not everyone is on board with the work that Show Your Soft Side does regarding pit bull types. Riesett recently posted on her Facebook that she gets nervous when she sees that SYSS has a private message. She receives quite a few messages chastising her for relating her experiences with them and praising their sweet dispositions, as she has yet to see anything to the contrary.
“I don’t get it,” Riesett told PupJournal. She went on to say:
“You don’t have to be personally discriminated against to see the injustice [to pit bulls]. Jeffrey Dahmer was a blond, but we don’t go around saying all blonds are serial killers.”
Show Your Soft Side works with many rescues and shelters, particularly in the Baltimore area. One of these is the state’s highest open intake shelter, BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter).
Riesett says BARCS is frequently full of pit bull type dogs, with many of them having seen some kind of abuse. Other groups that SYSS works closely with include Baltimore Bully Crew, Tara’s House, Bella’s Bully Buddies, and the Stand Up For Pits Foundation, to name a few.
They also host a variety of events in support of adoption and animal rescue. Perhaps their most famous is the Pawject Runway fashion show. The fifth annual Pawject Runway took place in May 2016, and raised a whopping $250,000 to donate to BARCS animal shelter and the 12,000 animals they take in each year.
Of the 15 adoptable dogs (and 15 adoptable cats) that were showcased on the runway, Riesett estimated that at least 2/3 of them were pit bull types. Even Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan strutted down the catwalk with a pit bull.
Despite any negative feedback Show Your Soft Side and Riesett get regarding their work with pit bulls, they have no plans of slowing down or changing their stance on the breeds. Riesett is constantly amazed at the resilience and love these dogs have, even after all that they suffer.
If there’s one thing she can say for certain about working with pitties, it’s that everyone walks away from those photo shoots with “the cleanest faces on earth” — thanks to all the sweet pibble kisses they receive.
PupJournal is proudly hosting National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW, to celebrate blocky-headed wigglebutts, otherwise known as “pit bulls.” It’s time these pups are able to live their lives free from discrimination and harm. You can find articles, videos, and adoptable dogs on ourNational Pit Bull Week page and on Facebook. Join us by tagging National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW!