In Purpose and Happiness

April 30, 2012  

A pit bull guardian discovers that a Robert Kennedy speech applies to more than just humans

By David Risley of Pit Bull Interactive

Read part one, “A Broadway Story

“That they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness.” — Robert Kennedy

I want to point out the irony of reading Robert Kennedy’s speech "On the Mindless Menace of Violence" prior to adopting my first pit bull. In entering this world, you enter a war zone. When you research everything you need to know about pit bulls in order to properly raise them, you come across endless information on the horrific mistreatment of them – from the Michael Vick case through society’s hateful opinion of them. In his speech, Robert Kennedy is discussing man’s violent ways toward fellow man and the need to end it for a better world. I couldn’t help but think of man’s violent ways toward dogs, particularly with this maligned breed, as I reviewed each word in his speech.

I’ve had a lot of different dogs in my lifetime, all meant the world to me, but none have compared to the genuine companionship of these pit bulls. It doesn’t take long to fall in love with their personality. They are incredibly loving, their devotion is unsurpassed, and their emotions are parallel to a human’s, in my opinion. People assumed I lucked out with Bob. I heard a lot of, “Oh, you got one of the good ones – you’re very lucky.” Lightning must have struck twice when I got Honey and yet again when I got Chan. Truth is: It has nothing to do with luck. Pit bulls are extraordinary to begin with.

Changing Hearts and Minds

My sister Debbie Boyd lives in Connecticut with her husband and children. When I got Bob, I said he was a pit bull and was met with the traditional pause. A year later, when I got Honey, she finally expressed a little concern over them being pit bulls. I told her over and over that there was nothing to worry about with these two. One night, she came to the city to see a show and we met at my apartment. She met Honey and Bob for the first time. I was wary of her reaction, and trust she was nervous. But they approached her with so much love; she was smitten within five minutes. That year, she attended the Broadway Barks event with me and adopted a pit bull herself. Not only is she crazy in love with her pit bull Max, but she now advocates for pit bulls as well.

What is not visible to most is the discrimination a pit bull guardian faces. I am met with judgment all the time. I have been told to my face that my dogs should be “exterminated,” and on several occasions have been told they have “no souls.” I used to get offended and naturally would retaliate with a few choice words. In one instance, a woman with her husband and I got into a very heated exchange over sidewalk space. She dramatically scooped up her dog and started mumbling hateful things in my direction. I asked her what she was saying. Her husband was very quiet, but she went off on my having these “dangerous dogs” in our neighborhood. She spewed: “Oh, big guy thinks he’s so tough with his pit bulls!” I walked away burning mad, swearing audibly, blaming them. A block later, I stopped. I immediately turned around and sought her out. I found her on a corner and said, “I would like to tell you the stories of my three dogs,” even though I was trembling with rage. With the three of them at my side, I talked about what each had endured. She listened, her eyes softened and she even started to pet Chan. She, in a polite voice, explained to me that her dog was bitten by a pit bull and she’s terrified of them. I listened and understood, and long story short: We became friends. Now she and her husband always stop to give my dogs love and attention. But it was the moment I realized the issue was with me, not them; the change needed to start with me. I needed to understand the fear and instead of fueling it with more fear with a combative approach, I needed to accept their fear and use it as a chance to show them how unfounded it was.

The Real Deal

Through it all, I have had the support, sympathy and understanding of my friend, actress Bernadette Peters. She is the first I write to share comical stories about my pit bulls and the very first I call when something is wrong with any of them. She is the real deal. I’ve never seen a person more devoted to anything in my life; she lives and breathes the animal rescue cause, and her devotion to the dogs is similar to that of, well, a pit bull.

To explain Bernadette Peters, I often tell this story: I had attended “Sondheim: The Birthday Concert” at Lincoln Center where she had an onstage reunion with Mandy Patinkin to sing “Move On” from “Sunday in the Park with George,” as well as a solo in the second act where she sang “Not A Day Goes By” from “Merrily We Roll Along.” The concert was moving, memorable and she, of course, was mesmerizing.

After the show was over, Bernadette’s publicist Judy Katz said, “Come with me to her dressing room to say hello.” My heart sank. I thought to myself, “What am I going to say?” For the first time, I was nervous – I didn’t have a dog talk coupon to work with here. I wanted to compliment her performance, but didn’t want to sound like an industry fool, nor did I want to sound like a “Stage Door Johnny.” The closer I got to her dressing room, the more a lump developed in my throat. I walked with Judy, smiling and chatting, being “cool,” but trying hard to figure out what I was going to say. My mind was flooded with knowledge that I was going to mess up and sound like an idiot. As we approached her door, there were other performers from the concert like Audra McDonald and David Hyde Pierce. Lump intensified. Now, I thought, I was going to sound like an idiot to not only her, but in front of these people, too. When I walked in, she was putting on her lipstick in the mirror, looking jovial and beautiful as always. She saw me, gave me a hug, and just as I was about to vomit a chain of stupid words, she said, “How’s Honey?” That is Bernadette Peters.

Mixing Business and Rescue

I decided to call my company, which specializes in online presence for the theater industry, Pit Bull Interactive and use my pit bull Bob as the logo, as he was my first. Ironically, it was my sister that came up with the name. I wanted a logo that reflected the true nature of the pit bull: happy. I also thought it would be great to hear the term “pit bull” said in a positive light every day by clients. I must admit, it is really fun being on a serious conference call with industry folk and hearing them say the word “pit bull” when referring to us.

My colleague Allison Cabellon and I pledge for New York City dogs on death row on a regular basis using a portion of the profits from Pit Bull Interactive. By pledging, I mean we add a dollar amount along with many other wonderful people to raise the proper funds to move a dog from the euthanasia list to the safety of a rescue or foster via the Facebook page Urgent Part II. Smaller rescues don’t have advertising budgets and need donations to be able to pull these dogs. The majority of the dogs we pledge are pit bulls only because the bulk of the dogs being killed nightly are pit bulls. However, we don’t discriminate to only save pit bulls. If a dog needs help, no matter what the breed, we donate what we can to move them to safety. Of course, we pledge a little extra for the seniors in honor of Chan. Even with these efforts, some dogs still don’t make it and that can be very hard. But more and more people are joining this underground movement, and I hope that we will see days when every last dog on the list is moved to safety.

And of course, there is Broadway Barks, co-founded by Bernadette with Mary Tyler Moore. Both Bernadette and Mary have pit bulls themselves, and they are both crazy in love with them. They both spend endless time and resources advocating for them as well as all shelter dogs in New York City, and once a year we have our annual adoption event in Shubert Alley. Their aim is to make New York a no-kill city. In watching the euthanasia rate decline each year over the past 10 years, I believe we might just get there someday. And someday, pit bulls will no longer dominate the nightly death tolls and will return to the honor that they once had at the turn of the century: perfect, lovable companions.

About the author: David Risley is the owner of Pit Bull Interactive and the proud “father” of his two pit bulls, Bob and Honey, and three cats, Diana, Hugo and Boo. Pit Bull Interactive is a full-service online marketing agency devoted to its clients and animal causes. The company specializes in providing business solutions for clients in the entertainment industry. Services include: website design and development, website maintenance, e-commerce, e-mail marketing, newsletter development and distribution, social network advertising, social network management, social networking promotions, blog development, blog management, online video production, online grassroots outreach, online promotions, online advertising, search engine marketing and more. Pit Bull Interactive uses a portion of their profits to pledge for pulls for death row dogs in New York City. Although “pit bulls” make up 75 percent of the list, we participate along with an amazing community of rescue organizations and individuals to move dogs of every breed scheduled for euthanasia to safety.

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7 Responses to “In Purpose and Happiness”
  1. AdrienneClegg says:

    All I can say is thank you. You have found a brilliant way to share your love with others in a very real way. We are as a group some of the most passionate people out there, we are united in our love and devotion and made stronger by the discrimination we face..Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. dkenor says:

    It is always refreshing to hear good stories about pit bulls. Two months ago, we had to put our pit bull Dillinger (he was also a rescue) down as his body was not as young as his mind and soul. My family and I always he was the best 15 years of our life.  Well two weeks after we said goodbye to our beloved family member, Dillinger we rescued our pit bull, Brownie who was going to be euthanized the next day. He had a horrible case of mange and giardia. Even though he is at the vet every week for his mange vaccine and his daily medications, and bite marks on our shoes :), we cannot imagine our life without him. They are a loyal, smart and obedient breed. Maybe one day people will realize that it is people NOT the breed that gives this great breed their horrible reputation.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @dkenor We are sorry for your loss and we wish Brownie a speedy recovery for his mange and giardia. Thanks for your comments.

  3. SharonStewart says:

    I love to hear good stories about Pitties….having two rescues myself, one of which is very big, I get disapproving looks all the time when I walk him. People cross the street rather then walk by us, and when his tail is wagging because he just wants to say hello and give kisses they think he’s in attack mode and want to rip the to pieces. I’ve read some much to educate myself about these dogs so when I do come in contact with people like this, I have information to try to change their minds. It unfortunately all they believe is what the media sells. It’s very hard being a pit. I’ll owner but I wouldn’t change it for the world. My babies are so loving and affectionate, it boils my blood when people turn away from them because they think they’re bad..anyway I’m rambling I LOVE your page and I check it daily…thank you for promoting these precious dogs

    • SharonStewart says:

      Sorry auto correct was in effect and some of my words got changed lol

    • StubbyDog says:

       @SharonStewart Ramble away Sharon! That’s what we are here for. We love having such a dedicated community of pit bull lovers. Thanks for rescuing your two babies. Just keep showing everyone you meet the great example that is your dogs, and sooner or later, people will change their perceptions.

  4. HolisticPetService says:

    David I’m glad you found your teacher-pit and feel with you…  losing a pit-friend…its hard but teachers come and go and they come again…or they are back already,,, they show themselves when we are ready to see them…The sad thing is that they are in shelters to gain experience some will not be here tomorrow and some are in foster care to challenge humans. 
    I was lucky to have few of them here…few moved on one stayed few are still here and will move soon….