A Broadway Story

April 25, 2012  

Actress Bernadette Peters leads the author to adopt not one but three pit bulls as well as create a business that helps New York dogs on death row

By David Risley of Pit Bull Interactive

Back in 2004, I met actress Bernadette Peters. I was working on the website for a Broadway show she was in called “Gypsy.” Her publicist and my friend, Judy Katz, asked me to meet with Bernadette to talk about doing her website and more importantly, a website for Broadway Barks, an annual adoption event co-founded by Bernadette with Mary Tyler Moore; an event that I always had a deep affection for. With our mutual love of dogs, we hit it off right away. We spent many hours, e-mails and phone calls talking about dogs. It might sound like an odd relationship, but when you are a dog lover, there is no other dialogue as important as “dog talk,” and we were both very fluent.

My dog Belle, a German Shepherd/Basenji mix, had passed away due to old age. While mourning, Bernadette in a very gentle way said that when I was ready for another dog to let her know. I, of course, was still not over the loss of Belle at that time, so I brushed it off as another form of condolence. A few weeks later, though, she called and asked me if I was ready yet. Truthfully, I still wasn’t, but she had my attention with the urgency in her voice. She told me about this dog who was about to be euthanized at the Brooklyn Animal Care & Control (one of our high-kill shelters in the city). She had met him a few days earlier, and the staff was telling her how incredibly sweet he was, so she kept her eye on him. However, one night, she found out that he was scheduled to be euthanized the next day. He was going to be put to down due to a required surgery on his knee. She said she couldn’t sleep thinking about him. The next day she sprang into action, started making calls to her no-kill shelter friends, and she had him transported from the AC&C to an animal hospital in Manhattan. Her voice was full of concern, and I resolved to say, “Yes.”

I went to the hospital and got him sight unseen. By now, Bernadette and I were communicating nightly to talk dogs, so even though I had a nervous feeling in my stomach as she mentioned he was part pit bull – yes, I was one of “those” people – I trusted her. When I arrived, they brought him out in a huge crate fit for a bear, but when the door opened, out came this black puppy with a big cone on his head. With no hesitation, he came right over to me with a wiggly butt and just had a look of, “Let’s go!” We did.

The night before, I had read and absorbed a great speech that Robert Kennedy delivered in Cleveland in April 1968 called "On the Mindless Menace of Violence." It had a tremendous impact on me, so I named my new boy Robert, which quickly became Bob and then, Bobby.

Though my neighbors had always embraced Belle, they were very wary of Bob. I was surprised – I had never experienced it before. He grew to be a very big boy, and though he was large and menacing on the outside, he was just a fragile, sweet, goofy dog who would prefer to kiss a fly than hurt it. I saw him as a puppy, but people clearly did not. Very few would say hello to him, and no one would let him play with their dogs. It was a little painful for me because I had to pull him past to accommodate the cold stare of the other guardian. People would go to great lengths to avoid us, moving aside, crossing the street, etc. It got me angry, as it would any parent who wants their child to be accepted by society. I decided to get him a partner. The rebellious side of me was saying, “Fine, you judgmental neighbors, if you don’t like my one pit bull, how about I get two?” But really I just wanted Bobby to have a friend other than me.

Bernadette Strikes Again

Broadway Barks 2008 was coming up. In our industry, you are “required” to go to a lot of events, and unfortunately I have never been “that guy.” I’ve worked on many shows and what used to be fun had turned into a chore by this time. This particular year, it even held true for Broadway Barks. Truth be told, I just wanted to stay home with Bob. So, I decided that I would just go to the press room, say “Hello” to my friends, let my face be seen by those who needed to see it, and then scramble to get back home to Bob. Terrible I know, but I just didn’t have it in me that day.

So I went into the Broadhurst Theater, found Judy and Bernadette, said “Hello,” and then when I thought it was safe, I mounted the stairs to make my escape. I opened the stage door, and there she was: this little pit bull standing there with a volunteer, with her tongue hanging out (it was a hot day), but clearly in happy spirits. She came right over to me with her entire hindquarters wiggling. When I kneeled down, she kissed me feverishly, and I knew. I had let my face be seen to the one who really needed to see it that day. Her name was Honey, and I adopted her without knowing anything about her.

The next day, I went to Bobbi and the Strays and got Honey. I introduced her to Bob at my friend’s apartment, where he had been waiting, and they both hit it off like they had known each other for years. We all walked home to my apartment, and they have been inseparable ever since.

The discrimination and distaste for my dogs continued in my neighborhood, but at least now it didn’t bother us much, as Bobby now had a companion. It wasn’t until I next spoke with Bernadette that I found out that Honey was actually “Honey Peters.” Yes, to my surprise, I found out that Honey was yet another pit bull that was directly rescued by Bernadette herself. It was fate.

Three is a Charm

My third adoption was a result of yet another late-night correspondence with Bernadette. She sent me a picture and a shelter evaluation on a 10-year-old pit bull named Chan who was at AC&C and in jeopardy of being euthanized. By this time we had exchanged many photos and stories about dogs on death row, so it didn’t seem any different at first glance. I thought maybe I could help spread the word about him; maybe I could pledge a few dollars toward his rescue, etc. But then I saw his picture. And I saw his eyes. Not the traditional pit bull almond eye – they were round, so expressive and so sad on a war-torn face and body. Bernadette and I both agreed: They were like human eyes. We were both so deeply moved by him, and it stopped us in our tracks. I read his evaluation further to discover that he was dumped at this kill shelter, and his previous guardian wanted nothing to do with him. I knew that he wouldn’t stand a chance: No one would ever adopt a senior dog, so damaged, and especially a pit bull. Reading further, it said that Chan was scared, confused and was looking for his previous family. That made my heart cave in, and I immediately and irrationally called Bernadette and asked her to help me stop the euthanasia scheduled for the following morning.

The next day, my friend Paula Azevedo met me at AC&C, and we went in together. We followed the attendant assigned to introduce us and for some reason, she could not find Chan. Bernadette called and stayed on the phone as we looked from cage to cage. She was talking in one ear, Paula in the other, my eyes darting from cage to cage. We were all over stimulated, very excited, and I felt crazy. I was asking myself, “What am I doing? Three pit bulls? I am off my rocker.” Then we got to the end of the row of cages, and there he was – in the very last cage against the wall.

The attendant opened the cage, and he walked out. He was large, lanky, his body covered in scars. But he came right out – wasn’t afraid, no cheery greeting you get from the other dogs – just walked with me and Paula as if we knew each other his whole life. He seemed almost bored with us, but comfortably bored. We went outside to the courtyard, and then I saw the limp, the caved-in chest, and the ears cropped with jagged edges, but I kept going back to his eyes. He was defeated, or maybe just tired from a night of being in a steel cage, confused and alone. I told the woman I would take him.

I took him home to Honey and Bob and spoiled him rotten. He got his very own big puffy bed, which he stretched out on, and he got treats galore. Golden Oreo cookies were his favorite, as well as pizza night when I buy a large pizza and we all share it. Here’s when they showed me just how unique each one of them were. I would give Bob a slice, and he would eat just the cheese off first and then eat the bread and crust. Honey would wait for me to cut it into pieces, and Chan would eat the slice taking tiny bites, eating it from the pointed tip to the crust like a human. You would assume they would just wolf it down like “dogs,” but on the contrary, they each have eating habits that are as unique as ours.

One rainy night, Chan found a little blue stuffed toy fish in the street. He picked it up and carried it home. I wasn’t too keen on having this sloppy, wet stuffed animal in my apartment, but he was so happy with his find, I couldn’t help but let him bring it in to show Honey and Bob. He stayed very close to his new dirty fish, so I didn’t interfere. When we went for a walk the next morning, he took it with him. Of course, the fish didn’t last long, so I went and bought him a new stuffed toy. From then on I bought him so many stuffed animals that he had his own toy box, and he always carried one of the stuffed animals on walks with him. It was heaven seeing him so happy, living the puppyhood he never had. When he would carry the stuffed animals, the neighbors would stop to look and even smile; the mere addition made a “menacing” pit bull look acceptable to people.

My time with Chan was too short though. I had this magnificent trio of pit bulls for two years when he succumbed to old age and illness this past January. A year into his being a part of this family, he started to suffer from seizures. The vet determined that it was due to a head injury he sustained in his youth. He spent his final year enduring seizure spells every month, which grew more intense until he passed. His death was very hard on me, harder than I thought it would be, and continues to be. It doesn’t matter if you have them for their whole life or two years, they become your children, you love them and when you lose them, it hurts.

See part two of David’s story, In Purpose and Happiness .

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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17 Responses to “A Broadway Story”
  1. Stubbydog you did it again…can’t stop crying.  David this is a beautiful love story and how Bob & Honey get so well from first glance.  Chan knew loved when he passed and that’s that matters. Humanity at times really work my nerves then there are those such as yourself that make me smile.  Your attitude towards your neighbors remind me of myself lol I love it, ok you don’t like my baby I’ll get another one and lets see how you act lol LOVE the attitude in the end you did it for the right reason to give Bob a friend!

  2. millermorgan says:

    Of course, thank you for taking these “euthanasia list” dogs, but, in particular, for taking in an Elderbull and giving him the best years of his life. And, thank you, Bernadette Peters, for your work to save dogs from death.

  3. pitbullsrock says:

    Oh my goodness, what precious stories. And David succintly describes how probably all of us have felt at one time or another with the distrust and often dislike of our wonderful dogs. It makes me proud to be part of such a super group of dog lovers and responsible owners.
    Thank you so much, David, for giving Chan a wonderful end to his life. That story really touched my heart. We have an organization in my state called Old Dog Haven that rescues elderly dogs that owners either cannot afford or are not adoptable at local shelters. I fully intend someday to adopt an older dog just like Chan when circumstances allow and love hm/her to “death.”

  4. anneviolet says:

    David – what a sweet story! I too have a rescue pit bull from The (Manhattan) AC&C that has become my constant companion. Thank you for saving so many pit bulls!

  5. avegas72 says:

    What a great story! I love it. You not only saved 3 precious lives, but made the last couple of years for Chan the best he’s probably ever known.
    My hat off to you!
    Thank you for the inspiring story.

  6. leomarie5 says:

    what a wonderful story.  sorry to hear about chan but i’m sure that he had a great life with you until he passed.  enjoy bob and honey for as long as they live.  you have such a big heart; you’re a very good and kind person.  i haven’t rescued pits but my dogs are both rescues.  i volunteer at a shelter that does have a lot of pits and pit mixes up for adoption and they are wonderful dogs.  all they want is to be loved and that’s what you did for chan before he died-provided him with love that he didn’t have when he was  younger.  

  7. BaltimoreGal says:

    Just what I needed to read on an otherwise stressful day. I love that pit bull stories always bring me back to what is important.

    • StubbyDog says:

       @BaltimoreGal Glad we could help you today. Stay tuned for part 2 of David’s story next week.

  8. KayFogleman says:

    What a wonderful ,caring animal lover ! If only there were more like him ,more wonderful dogs would find a loving home . God bless him .

  9. rn4pitbulls says:

    David, you are an Angel!!!  my heart breaks for your loss but boy will you be greeted with tons of love at the Rainbow Bridge!!! Keep lovin your babies and keep up the AWESOME work….Much love from California <3

  10. DavidRisley says:

    Thank you everyone for your kind words.  Means a lot to me.  I certainly miss my Chan, but know I did what I could for him.  I recommend everyone get an elder bull at least once in their life (or any senior dog for that matter) – I promise it changes you in ways you cannot even imagine.  When he died, I sat down and wrote as part of my “process” of dealing with his loss.  I figured it would be a page or two, but once I got going, I suddenly had 50 pages single spaced – lol.  He taught me a lot, not just about dogs or pit bulls, but about life. I plan to get another when the right time comes (or two, or three). In the meantime, Bob and Honey make me happy every day of my life – Bob is my rock and Honey, well, I wake up to that smile every day and trust me, there is no better way to start a day.  Thanks again.