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.
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.
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.
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.
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!