Using Photography to Change the Negative Stigma Surrounding Pitbulls

Two years ago, I adopted a lovable Pitbull mix named Emma. She's afraid of thunder, loves belly rubs, is sweet with kids and great with other animals. Sadly, a lot of the general public perceive my Emma as a monster, and that's probably why over half a million Pitbulls are put to sleep in the US alone each year. I decided to use my photography to start a positive PR campaign called Not A Bully to help change the way people view Pitbulls.

When my Boxer and best pal, Winston Churchill, died a few years back, I was devastated. I couldn't imagine getting another dog for a long time. In fact, it took about 2 years before I felt ready to adopt a new pup. I went to an adoption event at a Petsmart in the Virginia area with full intention to adopt another Boxer, but fate had a new plan for me. This is where I would meet Emma (formerly known as Midori). Due to her appearance (aka being a Pitbull) and her dark fur, she spent the majority of her life just inches away from being put to sleep on numerous occasions. She would be put in foster care for over 9 months until I finally met and adopted her.

Emma and her Valentines Day card Emma and her Valentines Day card

 

You can call me a softie, but it made me emotional imagining that people would try and put this sweet little baby to sleep just because of how she looks and negative interpretations of the Pitbull breed. In fact, studies show that Pitbulls are the least aggressive dog breed. Sounds crazy right? Then why all these dog attacks? Well, sadly (in this case) they are very receptive to training, eager to please their masters, and also inherently strong. It has been bad bad bad humans that have trained these dogs to be aggressive. Still skeptical? Read this article about how a majority of Michael Vick's fighting dogs were placed in homes with new families after some love and structured training.

It's funny when you adopt a Pitbull. All of your friends with Pitties will come out of the woodwork to share with you their challenges of being responsible owners of the breed. Not because of the dogs mind you. The issue comes from our communities. For example, to get a lease approved in most properties, you may have to fib about your dog breed. Personally, people have scowled and looked at me as if I was a piece of trash with my loyal pup behaving by my side. Some cities have created breed specific legislation that actually bans Pitbulls from being allowed in city/county limits or you risk having your dog automatically confiscated and put to sleep. It goes on and on because some terrible people have trained these otherwise great dogs to be monsters.

I decided that I wanted to do something positive for dogs like Emma. I started a website called NotABully.org which is dedicated to sharing the positive stories of rescued Pitbulls that have been through the worst (bait dogs, abused dogs, dogs that were kicked/shot/starved) and have every reason to hate humans, but with some love and training they have made positive impacts on our communities. I want to show people that these dogs are not naturally aggressive. That even after facing every hardship possible, these dogs are still fantastic.

rocket

junior Cesar Millan's dog Junior

I've started with a series of dog portraits (examples above), which I will post more examples at the bottom of this post, and articles for a few sites and magazines to raise awareness. Emma and I even visit schools in low income areas to teach about dog adoption and the negatives of dog fighting and dog abuse. I am hoping to expand to other avenues such as short videos sharing inspiring dog stories and arranging dog adoption events. As you can tell, I am very passionate about the subject.

Visiting schools with Emma Visiting schools with Emma

I've always told people that ask me advice about how to get more success and fulfillment out of their photo careers that personal work is absolutely KEY. Every time I have pursued something that I'm passionate about for a personal photo series, it has always gone somewhere.  Well, this project is no exception. The moment I started the portrait series, I admittedly started blabbing about it to everyone that would listen. Well, that paid off! About 2 months in, the folks from the National Geographic channel reached out to me and asked me to come into their offices in downtown DC to discuss a project...

Little did I know National Geographic Wild and Cesar Millan (aka the Dog Whisperer) were planning out a TV special about trying to change the negative stigmas around Pitbulls, exactly what I was trying to accomplish with my site / positive PR movement Not A Bully. They actually wanted to have Ceasar fly to the east coast and film him coming to visit me in studio as I took Pittie portraits as well as have me share about Not A Bully and how it was inspired by Emma and pups like her. Filming happened late in 2013 and after many months of excitedly waiting, the special "Love My Pitbull" is finally coming out THIS FRIDAY on April 18 at 9pm on National Geographic Wild channel.

At the premiere At the premiere

I went to show's premiere in LA last week and saw the show and it is awesome. They even asked to put some of my Not A Bully portraits up on display! If you were ever curious about how Pitbulls got their bad image and what we can do to make a difference, you have to see the special!

Please follow Not A Bully on Facebook to get updates or get involved in helping save some wonderful dogs!

See more of my photography on my website: www.SondersPhotography.com

This campaign has been awesome and has grown larger than I ever thought possible. I've gotten HUNDREDS of emails from folks wanting to help as well as share their stories. I've loved every moment and so excited to share Not A Bully with the rest of the world!

Remember, personal projects keep your work fresh, your creativity on its toes, and can get folks excited about what interests you most! Consider this a perfect example! Funny though, I'm normally a human and car photographer and I never thought I'd get so much press for dog portraits, but I am happy it is for an excellent cause and will hopefully help make a difference.

Again, please watch the special on Nat Geo Wild channel this Friday April 18 at 9pm!

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pitbull

oliver

Emma Emma

BTS photo of my dog portrait setup. Ring light on my Phase One, overhead beauty dish, and two strip lights behind BTS photo of my dog portrait setup. Ring light on my Phase One, overhead beauty dish, and two strip lights behind

On set with Cesar Millan, Emma, and Junior. Photo by my shoot assistant Jonathan Taylor On set with Cesar Millan, Emma, and Junior. Photo by my shoot assistant Jonathan Taylor

Awesome shout out! Awesome shout out!

 

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294 Comments
Peter's picture

There's a negative stigma around these dogs because they kill little kids. But now that I see these photos, my kids don't seem that important. Seriously, people. WTF.

Jaron Schneider's picture

Someone missed the point and is stuck in aforementioned stigma.

Spy Black's picture

Unfortunately pitbulls and rottweilers are two breeds that you never know when they're going to go ballistic. Too many stories of these dogs going off on someone, sometimes unfortunately a child or very old adult, occasionally fatally, and the owner making a typical comment like "I don't understand, he's never been like that before, ever"...

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

I am glad to see people being positive on this subject, however I still think people should always look out for dogs snapping no matter the breed. I have seen the nicest pit bull snap and it was nuts.

Sara's picture

Dogs don't SNAP! They are either well socialized and well trained or they're not.

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

Animals are unpredictable.

Jaron Schneider's picture

I feel like the owners who say "I don't understand, he's never been like that before, ever" either haven't known the dog long enough or have done a poor job interacting/training their animal. I look around all the time where i live and see a plethora of poorly trained dogs. Every single chihuahua who is poorly trained and has "big dog" syndrome would be a killing machine if it had the body of a pitbull. Pitbulls and Rotweilers have incredibly strong bodies, and when they get nervous or anxious and react, their reactions are far more noticeable than when a Yorkie acts out. You can't blame the breed for that, it's really any dog that lacks discipline and a strong pack leader.

Spy Black's picture

Yeah, I don't think so. Pitbulls and rottweilers are just landmines waiting to be stepped on.

Monica Daniel's picture

You are a low information idiot.I hope you don't own a dog.

callie malone's picture

rottweilers arent that bad, take it easy . I agree with you about pit bulls but rottweilers are ok IMO.

KibbleKrunch's picture

... Haha, classic!!

Sara's picture

Bingo! Of course they're going to say that. What are they going to say, "Oh, right -- this was totally my fault!"?

Chris Balduc's picture

The owner of Nico would beg to differ. Nico was a perfect well trained wigglebutt with an extensive pedigree right up to the moment he killed 4 year old Mia DeRouen. It's the dog, not the owner.

Kristy Graham's picture

And what proof of that training do you have? What I saw was a poorly bred dog, that meets no breed standards being sold for stud for $1500 and locked in an apartment with an in-heat female. NONE of that is responsible ownership.

Chris Balduc's picture
Kristy Graham's picture

Exactly where, in that "blog" does it prove that dog was well cared for, loved or trained? It shows he is a mix that was bred to be called an American Pit Bull (and there is a reason a lot of the registry at the UKC is currently closed, because of these people hanging paper). NOWHERE does it say he was trained, loved or anything else. Was he fat and healthy looking? Yes. that doesn't mean anything. Was he locked in an apartment with a female dog in heat while he was NOT neutered? Yes. That says a LOT.

Clay Partain's picture

Your source is a bit misleading on the Riverside incident, the dog having no previous incidents is not true. In fact the dogs had multiple complaints yet the owner refused to confine the animal citing the lack of a leash law
. The incident involved a roaming dog, who had recently had surgery and from what I is my understanding didn't maul the child as your source says it bit the child one to 3 time. This is what is often referred to as a warning bite. Unfortunately it happened to hit an artery.
The child's father has even stated that the lack of a leash law play a huge role in this.

The part of the statistics site like then one you cite is that often the dogs are free roaming, tethered on a chain, miss identified, or neglected.

They also fail to show if there was any preventable human connection to the incidents.
All they focus on is "reported" breed and severity.

Are there potentially dangerous dogs? Yes, of all breeds. Is there a potentially more dangerous breed? No all breeds can bite.
Until there is a better way of identifying the dog simply relying on visual or reported Guesses will always throw the numbers off.

Sandra Lewis's picture

Niko was bred for one reason. $$$ and I would bet he's got Mastiff in him somewhere and sporting hung papers. 130 pounds? Get real. And in your little blog did you forget to add the dog was probably given and on steroids? Nooo? I looked at your blogs and seems you want to be a reporter without all the facts. Sort of one sided isn't it?

Sandra Lewis's picture

And to add: This was an intact male dog let in an apartment with a female in heat....wow doesn't take much of a rocket scientist to realize the outcome there does it?

Kathy Ramirez's picture

Nico wasn't even a pit bull! He might have had pit in him but there are no 130 lb pit bulls. Pit bulls weigh between 35 and 65 lb. There are some who may weigh a little more but not 130 lb. That dog was a genetic freak!

Mary Olson's picture

it's not the dog ..and pretty much all the experts and orgainzations in the canine world disagree with you balduc..responsibility is a hard thing for you DBO culties to swallow. Take a spoonful of sugar and open wide.

Karen's picture

"It's not the breed", "It's not the breed", "It's not the breed" "It's not the breed".... It is purely *coincidence* that almost every single disabling and fatal mauling involves "the breed", BUT "IT'S NOT THE BREED" , nope!

Mary Olson's picture

that's right it is not the breed..most of them are mixes..would you like me to borrow you a cup of sugar?

Mike Whitaker's picture

Mary, invariably the 'mixes' you refer to include PB's so you blame the other part of the mix. Guess what it is the PB part of the mix that causes the issue. You mix a PB with a spanial or a Lab or beagle I think you will find it's the PB gene that causes the issues. How about you take a big dose of reality PB are an aggressive fighting breed. I am not a hater or a foamer but I do recognise that PB's are a dangerous breed. A breed that cannot be trusted (nor can any dog fully) but PBs are the worst of the worst. So how about you have some of your own sugar. Cheers, Mike

Mary Olson's picture

I never said I blame the "other" part of the mix.. and do you have a link for that pit bull meeen gene theory? there are over 4 million dog bites reported in the US each year..which part of the mix do you blame for those?

Chris Balduc's picture

Mia, Kara and Nephi were all mauled to death while playing with their beloved pets. Imagine what they must have been thinking before they succumbed to a savage killing. Why did my pet do this to me? Imagine the pain and confusion before their short lives were snuffed out for good. Imagine it might be YOUR kid.

Kristy Graham's picture

Imagine them wondering where their parents were. Nephi was reported to have been riding the dog like a horse..and that was a RESIDENT dog that was not allowed in the home.

Katy Wilkerson's picture

I was bitten by 3 black labs on 2 separate occasions. Was it the breed there?

KibbleKrunch's picture

Correlation does not imply causation.

I mean... pirates and global warming, man.

Sara's picture

PROOF! THere's a book! Or, in this case, there's a blog! WIth numbers!

Chris Balduc's picture

Take a good look at Mia playing with her beloved wigglebutt, Mary.

Mary Olson's picture

take a look at the millions and millions of pit bull type dogs that don't and never will bite attack or maul.. take a look at all the children who die a year in fords..and yet there are millions of children a year that won't die in fords..should we all stop driving fords because there "might" be an accident in a ford? lets just toss the human factor in the garbage..forget safety..or education..and never take responsibility for what we do or say..what a way to live..if you want to be a slave.

Kathy Ramirez's picture

BS Chris Balduc! - the owner of Nico got him to breed. He was an unaltered male in a house with a 6 month old female who was in heat or going into heat. He comes from a bad pedigree where the breeder knew he was throwing human aggressive pups but kept breeding and selling them for 4 generations, failing to mention it to buyers. Nico was the 3rd dog to be put down for human aggression in his litter! Nico was the product of irresponsible breeding and irresponsible owners!

Peter's picture

Wow. You are really dumb. Sorry.

KibbleKrunch's picture

Likewise, Pete.

Brigette Eckert's picture

having grown up with Rotties if properly raised they are super sweet dogs whose biggest issue is they are unaware of their size (aka want to be lap dogs). Rotties and Pits do take more responsible owners because they can do more damage than little dogs if they attack.

Spy Black's picture

"...they can do more damage than little dogs if they attack."

Therein lies the rub, especially when a small child unknowingly accidentally provokes one. And it doesn't matter how "properly raised" they are, they can still snap. It's happened time and again.

Charles's picture

How about keep your child under control so they don't "unknowingly" provoke. Sounds like bad parenting to me. The number of times I've had parents just let their kids come running up to my dogs (German Shepherd and a Pit Bull) is crazy to me. This is fine with my dogs, they don't freak out, but many normal dogs would. Come on folks on both sides, take responsibility.

Spy Black's picture

Right. Blame the parents for the dog's behavior.

Kristy Graham's picture

No, blame the parents for the childs behavior.

Spy Black's picture

Right. Blame anyone except the dog.

Mary Olson's picture

we are supposed to be the superior race..we are the ones in control..we are the rulers of this planet. adults are responsible for their small children..and dog owners are responsible for their dogs..thats a no brainer. I know it's hard for you DBO members to swallow..but when you have children or animals.. responsibility goes with the territory.

Spy Black's picture

"we are supposed to be the superior race..we are the ones in control..we are the rulers of this planet."

Tell that to the dog that mauls you.

Clay Partain's picture

Funny you yourself said "when a child accidentally provokes one" then turn around and complain about people saying poor parenting. As both a parent and a dog owner It is MY responsibility to not only keep an eye on how my children Interact with any dog but it also MY responsibility as an owner to make sure my dogs are supervised with any child.

So which do you want? All the blame solely on. A dogs owner or all the blame solely on the child and parents.
It is a two way street. Keep your dogs under control and your kids supervised.

Spy Black's picture

Right. You'll be with your child 24 hours a day.

Clay Partain's picture

Obvious troll is ... well obvious.

Please respond with something intelligent, instead of just trying get to stir the pot.

Spy Black's picture

Just because you don't like a simple and straightforward reply, that you're obviously having a problem dealing with the reality of it, doesn't make me a troll.

Clay Partain's picture

For one you directly respond to me not knowing anything about my family with a simple one line quip that is often used to try to incite an argument. Just so you can be enlightened I don't have to be around my kids all the time. A. They are teenagers and B. They more than likely have more education on handling dogs in a proper manner than you do.

Until you can realize that any dog can be dangerous and actually offer some form of intelligent conversation instead of the typical one line quips please leave your pathetic trolling to sites like DBO, cravensdesires or 4chan... Although I have a feeling 4th an would make a mockery of your pathetic attempts.

Chris Balduc's picture

DBO reports on ALL DBRF's across ALL dog breeds. Pits are over represented because they kill more. Don't shoot the messenger. Find me a DBRF in the last 20 years that isn't recorded in DBO. I will be waiting...

Clay Partain's picture

Relying on. DBO reports is paramount to asking Hitler for reports on Jews. DBO has on numerous occasions cited reports that are inaccurate. Colleen Lynn has an agenda her on view on her "incident" has changed numerous times. DBO refuses to recognize the difference between a pit bull type and the actual breed. Of course there will be more type attacks because your lumping several breeds as well as mixed breeds and possible pit bull due to miss identification.
Try looking beyond what DBO reports, look at the CDC, ASPCA And various other ACCREDITED foundation reports say. I would love to point you to these but I am responding from my phone.

The information is out there and easily found you just have to put down colleen 's Kool aid cup and look at it.

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