An estimated 2,800 pit bull-type dogs are euthanized (read: killed) each day in the United States alone, adding up to approximately 1 million lost lives annually. Sadly, simply being born a pit bull-type is practically a death sentence for dogs awaiting their forever homes in shelters, largely due to misconceptions about their “breed”. And that’s where Pinups for Pitbulls (PFPB), Inc. comes in. Founded by pinup model Deirdre Franklin in 2005, the nonprofit is a tireless advocate for pit bull-type dogs and dispeller of negative perceptions about these innocent animals. In honor of National Pet Month, we chatted with Franklin about her work, next year’s fundraising pinup calendar (which PFPB has become known for), and how we can combat negative attitudes toward pit bull-breed dogs.
Betty Confidential: What are the most common misconceptions about pit bull type dogs?
Deirdre Franklin: People believe that pit bull-type dogs do not feel pain the way other dogs feel pain. This is untrue. Many people believe that pit bull-type dogs are considered an aggressive breed. This is also untrue; there is no such thing as an aggressive breed. All dogs are individuals. What you put into a dog is usually what you will get out of a dog. Another common misconception is that people believe pit bull-type dogs are born with an ingrained desire to fight other dogs. This could not be farther from the truth. Like all dogs, pit bull-type dogs are individuals. Many people try to encourage negative behaviors in their dogs for fame, money, or accolades in the dog fighting industry. The dog always suffers.
BC: How did you come up with the idea for Pinups for Pitbulls and how has the nonprofit grown?
DF: I started Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc. because of the breed specific legislation in Denver, Colorado. Animal Control went door-to-door collecting registered pit bull-type dogs and euthanized family pets because of the breed they were registered under. These weren’t dogs that had created harm or foul, they were just born as pit bull-type dogs. At the time I was gaining ground as a Pin Up model in my region and wanted to do more than just be another pretty face. I wanted to help dogs like my own gain their freedom and help people understand that all dogs can bite, but we can help keep that from happening if we educate ourselves.
I never thought it would grow the way it has, nor did I think that people cared like I did about dogs. I was very happy to learn that I was wrong. The Associated Press picked up our story a few years ago and that helped bring our name out virally across the U.S. Today, we’ve been written up in Italian fashion magazines, dog-centric magazines, in Russia, and many other countries. We have a following of nearly 100,000 on Facebook alone. Since our growth, we have ramped up our efforts to travel nationally on a regular basis to help on the frontlines and educate people in person. We have booth space at many comic conventions and tattoo conventions so that can we can reach people who may not understand our cause but understand being discriminated against because of how they look. We have been very successful in this regard and have changed many minds at these events. Many large organizations are only available through their social media but there are rarely faces to the names. We believe being on the front lines helps to facilitate change and real conversation.
BC: Have you always been so passionate about the rights of pit bull type dogs?
DF: No, but I have always been passionate about animal rights, even as a child. I became a dog advocate after I adopted my first dog, Carla Lou, in 1995. I learned first-hand how challenging it could be to have a pit bull-type dog as a renter and in public. People were very quick to tell me that I had a “dangerous dog” or that I could not rent from them because they didn’t want my dog to randomly attack anyone. This was an absurd reaction to one of the most cat-like dogs I had ever known. She was lazy, loved to lie in the sun and was happy to meet and greet anyone who wanted to show her affection. She died in August of 2012 and is buried in Hamilton, NJ. She is the founding dog of Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc. and was the love of my life.
BC: What’s a normal day like for you on the job?
DF: It depends on the time of the year. I spent the last month on the set of photo shoots at Celeste Giuliano Photography’s studio working with her and our recently selected human and dog models to shoot our 2014 calendar. A more typical week would involve travel on a Thursday for a 3-day convention somewhere in the United States. We normally work 40+ hours in those three days talking to people at our booth about our mission and selling our merchandise to further our cause.
I just completed grad school and will have my M.S. in Public Policy. My case study work was spent studying breed specific legislation and whether or not it can be effective in creating community safety. I was able to create more solution-oriented outcomes for communities to consider as opposed to outright banning dogs based on how they look (instead of behavior). So, in addition to my work for Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc., I was going to school at night and writing papers regularly. It was a crazy time period and it has prepared me for our future goals of opening a store front, traveling the country offering seminars, and furthering our mission by whatever means necessary until all dogs can be safe from blanket laws that do not keep anyone safe from harm.
BC: What’s the most fun part about your work?
DF: I love meeting all of the dogs and dog lovers that follow us. I love building relationships and bridges between organizations and rescues. We help a great number of dogs get adopted through our Fan page on Facebook, and this is just an extra that we offer to help market dogs. We are not a rescue. It means the world to me to meet people who let us know that we helped them grow as an advocate or changed their mind about pit bull-type dogs.
BC: What do people need to know about pit bull type dogs in shelters?
DF: That they are just dogs like the other dogs in shelters. They need a bed to call their own, food, shelter and love. They make great companion animals and deserve a chance. I’ve met so many people who work in shelters that tell us that people come in saying things like, “We just know we don’t want a pit bull” before they have ever met one. If people understood that they have been given an unfair amount of negative press, they would find themselves snuggling an amazing and sweet pup that might just be a pit bull-type dog. When people see that they are just dogs and are not inherently different than other dogs, we can alleviate a great number of dogs from shelter life into home life.
BC: Can you share any details about next year’s calendar with us?
DF: Yes! I would love to! Our 2014 calendar was shot exclusively by Celeste Giuliano Photography. The theme this year is adventure. We were able to push the artistic and creative boundaries of our calendar process since this was our second year working exclusively with Celeste and her team. We have beautiful women from all over the world being featured in various adventure themed situations with pit bull-type dogs. We have one adoptable dog in the calendar named Romeo who has been living in a no-kill shelter in PA for six of his seven years of life. We are hoping to find his forever home through our “Adopt a Pinup” campaign that we have been building around him. He’s a very sweet boy who gets overlooked at the shelter because there are a great number of puppies to choose from instead.
We are really excited about the Pinups in this year’s calendar who come from all kinds of backgrounds and careers. Some work for large animal organizations, one works as a doctor without borders and is a surgeon, and we have a beautiful deaf dog being featured as well. Unique Vintage in California outfitted our calendar with the exception of some vintage costuming pieces that were used. Overall, this is easily the best calendar we’ve ever created and we’re so excited to see it go to print. [Note: For bulk orders or to sponsor/purchase advertising, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.]
BC: How can people do some good for pit bull type dogs during National Pet Month and all year round?
DF: My first recommendation would be to ensure that people educate themselves about the dogs. They can do a great disservice to dogs by misspeaking on their behalf. Some people unknowingly deliver incorrect “facts” about these dogs and do not realize that they are creating more harm by accident. We have some great FAQ’s on our website that are available for free download as PDF’s. Also, removing prong, shock or choke collars on these dogs and exchanging them for a martingale and easy walk style harness would not only help their image but it will also help you walk them better while reducing the chance to harm your dog by accident. Another great way to help these dogs is to share adoptable dogs in their region with people who might be looking for a furry companion. Additionally, making a donation or volunteering for a rescue organization or shelter to help further their reach would affect change exponentially if more people were widening the networks for these groups.
BC: How can owners and supporters counter the negative attitudes about pit bull type dogs?
DF: Educating themselves can help shape the way people perceive their dogs, especially when confronted by a negative situation. People need to remember that they are their dog’s voice and speaking on their behalf (along with actions) will be how things change for the better or for worse. Many people get agitated when confronted by a person with preconceived notions. We are their voice. It is our duty to our dogs to speak well on their behalf and to know what we are talking about. Take a deep breath before speaking on their behalf if confronted negatively. We need to create a positive shift and the best way to do that is to be the best dog advocate that we can be, every day.
Diana Denza is BettyConfidential’s contributing editor.
Photos used with permission from Pinups for Pitbulls