This may come as a surprise to some – no matter how many times someone labels me as such, I am not a “pit bull” advocate. I became one once, but then something happened. No, I didn’t have a negative experience with an alleged “pit bull” dog and decide to change “teams”, as if any debate has only two sides. But, for the record, there’s always at least three sides – that side (pointing to the right), the other side over there (pointing to the left)…and the truth.
Previously, I published a blog entry titled “The Defining Moment How I Got Here: The Intro“, which is the first part of a short series briefly outlining crucial steps that became important. No other event was more critical than that morning 14 years ago sitting in my tiny apartment on Cleveland’s westside eating my breakfast while watching SportsCenter to catch up on all the latest sports news and highlights…and seeing the breaking news come across the bottom of the screen of Michael Vick’s Virginia property being raided by federal authorities and finding dozens of dogs.
Without that Vick case, I wouldn’t have started a documentary about dogfighting. Without starting a film about dogfighting, I wouldn’t have reached out to Shana at Cleveland-based – For the Love of Pits, seeking information. Without Shana allowing me to visit her home and meet the dogs in her foster care, I wouldn’t have met Preston. If I didn’t meet Preston, there’s no way I would have become the person I am today. I’m sure that last statement may be good or bad depending on who you talk to, but Preston was always the reason…even if at my own expense sometimes.
Up until that morning on April 25, 2007, I was just a dog-lover. But since, I have spent much of these last 14 years extensively researching two key issues that seem synonymous with dogs labeled “pit bull” – dogfighting and breed specific legislation (BSL). The former is an illegal form of animal cruelty, punishable by law as a felony at the Federal and State levels, while the latter is a legal form of cruelty to the same dogs the former is supposed to protect, but is paraded around as a public safety measurement to reduce or eliminate attacks by dangerous and vicious dogs by generalizing which ones will based on their generalized physical appearances.
There were people fighting for equal rights for dogs labeled “pit bull” long before I ever started, but so much has changed over this timespan since I’ve been involved. There was still very much a sense of doom and gloom back then, because BSL was being proposed and enacted much more than it was being repealed. In every council meeting I have ever attended, dogfighting is always brought up by proponents of BSL as some strange excuse for why they should pass law.
And, dogfighting arrests increased after the Michael Vick case, too. But, that very well could likely be more attributed to the exposure his highly publicized case received and a heightened awareness in both the general public as well as in law enforcement than it was about the illegal participation of the crime becoming more prevalent and widespread. In other words, it wasn’t made a priority and people just weren’t getting caught because of that.
Nowadays, those tables have seemed to flip where the vast majority of people have some semblance of common sense to realize these alleged “pit bull” dogs are the victims of each of these acts of cruelty towards (hu)man’s best friend.
It was easy to become a “pit bull” advocate. You sorta become one whether you want to or not. News stations have interviewed me on several occasions where they’ve directed a question and framed it as a “pit bull” advocate or activist, and when I’ve prefaced my answer with – “I am not a ‘pit bull’ advocate, I am a dog-lover”, my title during the newscast is always: Jeff Theman, Pit Bull Advocate.
It’s not that I am ashamed or embarrassed to become one. I spent some of the first couple years being a “pit bull” advocate, where the only thing that came out of my mouth was “pit bull this, pit bull that…pit bull, pit bull, pit bull, pit bull…” I’ve just learned it’s an unnecessary box that I don’t really fit in anymore, because after I started questioning my actual effectiveness in advocacy, I recognized that I am and always have been a dog-lover, who champions for all dogs. And, that’s who I am going to be.
Not only do I dislike the label upon myself, I haven’t called my own dogs “pit bulls” in years when people have asked – what type of dogs do I share my home with. Before Preston and Fergie passed Era’s health started declining last year, I’d respond with their names.
“Well, this is Preston. This is Era. And, this is Fergie (aka Ferg or Fergan).”
“No, no,” they’d say, “what breed are they?
“Well, they all came from the shelter, and I didn’t get an opportunity to speak to their parents and ask what their ancestry is,” I’d reply with some intended snark.
What people don’t understand is, it’s a test of trying to make them think outside the norm. We preach how every dog is an individual, but forget what that means. When I tell them their names, I’m not deceiving anyone or attempting to dodge the question. What I’m doing is being accurate and quite literal. “What” they are isn’t as important as who they are. And, the “what” usually has too many unproven guesses and questionable assumptions with asterisks next to them to hold any truth at all.
With all that said, I am absolutely fascinated with the ongoing “pit bull” debate. I’m fascinated with the dogs and the history. I’m fascinated by the fact if you ask 10 people what a “pit bull” is, you’d likely get 10 different responses. I’m obsessed with always learning more about these two causes – dogfighting and BSL, which have ties to and often associated with dogs labeled “pit bull”.
In my personal collection, I have archived thousands of newspaper articles dating back as far as the mid-1800s. I have acquired dozens of original postcards, photographs and other collectibles from the turn of the 20th century. Magazines from the 70s and 80s discussing dogfighting and “the pit bull problem”. Every bit of it tells a piece of the puzzle to the story.
As a way to raise necessary funds for production of this film, I have started a Patreon account, which is a subscription based service where supporters can receive exclusive content in return for their monthly contribution.
I’m partial to “The Historian“; For a $3 subscription – twice per month (released 1st and 3rd Friday) Patrons or subscribers get a look inside my vault of digital archives of some of these items I’ve collected over the years…many of which will be seen in the finished documentary series.
Please consider contributing to the $1, $3 or $10 perk at Patreon. For this and other ways to help make this doc-series a reality, please visit: https://prestonfilm.com/help/
Thank you for your support!
Filmmaker | River Fire Films