by Brook Bolen
For Deirdre Franklin, it all started with one dog.
The CEO and founder of the grassroots nonprofit Pinups for Pitbulls, Franklin is the driving force behind the organization’s popular annual calendars. She not only holds a Masters degree in public policy, but she is also an authority on dogs with two books under her belt. She spends upwards of 26 weeks of the year traveling across the country raising awareness and educating people about Pitbull breed dogs and the issues they face—most notably, breed specific legislation (BSL).
Franklin launched the organization in her living room in 2005, several years after she had adopted an abandoned female Pitbull without ever meeting her. Her name was Carla Lou, and her pictures revealed a muscular, fawn-colored young dog with an effusive grin on her broad face.
A lifelong animal lover, Franklin was volunteering at a Philadelphia animal shelter with a policy of killing Pitbulls when she watched a stray dog sentenced to death. “I was at the front desk and a lady came in with a stray Pitbull,” she says. “The staff told her the dog would be euthanized. I knew of the policy, but I never witnessed it. I didn’t think it through. I took the dog back to the back [sic] and put her in a cage. I’d always dreamed of having a wolf hybrid or a Husky, but I couldn’t bear for this sweet Pitbull to die. I made the decision to take the dog, but they said it was too late; she was already on the books to be euthanized.”
Determined to save the dog, Franklin went home and started researching the web for rescues that might take the dog. “This was in the days of dial-up and there was no Google,” she laughs, “so it took a while to find, but I found a [Pitbull] rescue in Texas. I sent them an urgent email and they got back to me and said they would take the dog. But the shelter said ‘We’re sorry, the dog will be euthanized.’”
The dog’s death affected Franklin deeply, and she was given another, different chance to save an innocent Pitbull. “Not long after, the rescue contacted me and said they had two dogs they wanted to put into adoption. I decided then to adopt the female dog. It just felt right to me. It took about a month—I had to go get a police report on myself to show I didn’t have a record of dog fighting. I went through an incredibly complicated process. It got me to thinking: What’s so different about this dog? Why am I being put through so many hoops just to adopt a dog? I picked her up at the airport, she’d flown all day. She was brought out in a pallet, on a forklift…every aspect of it was over the top,” she laughs. “I opened her crate and she bounded out, full of life, and I thought: She’s just a dog. She just wants kisses and food and walks and shelter, like any other dog. I realized that we’re doing these dogs a great disservice by treating them like they’re different.”
After falling madly in love with Carla Lou, Franklin became increasingly aware of how legislation around the country was targeting Pitbulls and their owners. “In Denver, they were reinforcing BSL, taking dogs from families simply because the dogs had been registered as Pitbulls. I lived in a non-BSL state, it was outlawed there, but I was scared it could come to my door and harm my dog. I thought: Something needs to be done; somebody needs to do something. And then I called myself out and said ‘Why don’t I do something?’”
Utilizing her background in pinup modeling and burlesque, Franklin decided to launch an annual calendar featuring “beautiful ladies and beautiful dogs hanging out, just being awesome.” The visually stunning calendars are an integral part of Franklin’s work to show just what normal dogs Pitbulls are.
“What we do with the calendar and our different events is normalize [Pitbulls]. Things that are going on culturally, like with Sir Patrick Stewart and his foster dog, Ginger, are awesome. The more regular they seem helps people. A lot of people are scared, but usually when they meet one they change their minds immediately. Some people have had bad experiences,” she continues, “But it’s not dogs, it’s people. People are putting dogs there, in bad situations. BSL doesn’t keep folks safer. Bites aren’t being reduced. What we need are science-based facts to undo ineffective policies.”
Science-based facts regarding BSL are something Franklin is well-versed in, having researched and written a thesis on the subject for her graduate degree. “I was open to see if it worked, if it kept people safe. It didn’t work. There were zero peer-reviewed cases among the 17,000 in the database I used. When it comes to the topic of Pitbulls,” she says, “the market is dominated by opinion pieces. We need to get that info to the masses; we’ve all been duped. Pitbulls are just dogs.”
“Recently, in Atlanta, they tried to create different rules for Pitbull-type dogs, including large breeds like Boxers and Huskies. In Omaha, they looked at muscular dogs. Pitbull isn’t technically a real breed,” she continues, “What we call Pitbulls today our grandparents would probably called Heinz 57 dogs; they’re mutts.” Considering that in the context of the news media’s tendency to characterize and/or emphasize biting dogs’ beefy or muscular stature, “then people presume a biting dog must be a Pitbull-type dog.”
While the issues Pitbull-type dogs and their owners face are often dire, the good news is that the number of people working to improve these conditions is increasing. Franklin credits TV shows such as Pitbulls and Parolees and Pit Boss with helping to humanize these dogs entertain and educate people about these dogs. “I’m of the ‘whatever it takes’ variety when it comes to helpings animals,” she says. “Having more ways to educate people just makes things better overall.”
Through Pinups for Pitbulls, Franklin has helped educate myriad people about Pitbull-type dogs as well as save countless dogs’ lives through rescue, rehabilitation, and sponsorship of health care and veterinary bills. She looks to the future for more ways to help dogs, including a foundation named in Carla Lou’s honor. It may have started with one dog for Franklin, but now it’s about all of them—what a beautiful thing.
For more information or to support their initiatives, please visit www.pinupsforpitbulls.com.