By Patrice Wilding, from The Times-Tribune
Shorty Rossi, the star of the hit Animal Planet series "Pit Boss," will make appearances at several area stops Saturday and Sunday to espouse the value pit bulls can have as therapy dogs and family pets.
He'll also encourage spay and neutering while promoting his book, "Four Feet Tall & Rising."
The timing couldn't be better for the breed, as recent news reports of a dog attack in Olyphant in which a woman was severely injured and her small dog was killed by a loose pit bull, that was subsequently shot and killed by a neighbor, have perpetuated ill will toward the canines.
Upon hearing about the attack during a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, Mr. Rossi acknowledged that reports of run-ins with pit bulls can undermine his message, but it's nothing he isn't used to.
"People don't understand these dogs were bred to be very powerful, and when you have a very powerful animal and don't train it right, bad things can happen," he said. "These dogs are high maintenance.
Same old story
"No matter if it's the owners' fault, (media reports of attacks) always backtracks us, and a lot of times the story is not what it seems," Mr. Rossi continued. "Dogs need to be well secured in (their) backyard. Some things will never change as long as there's people with stupidity in this country."
One of the biggest misconceptions most people have about the breed, he added, is that the dogs are more likely to attack innocent people and animals than other types of dogs.
"You have a one in 15 million chance of being bitten by a dog, and only 6 to 8 percent of that is a pit bull," Mr. Rossi said. "People need breed awareness of pit bulls.
"That's why I bring Hercules, to show he is a well-mannered dog," he explained. "It does make an impression to let everyone see (him) and see how much of a docile dog he is."
Hercules, of course, is Mr. Rossi's pet pit bull and his main therapy dog. The animal has gained its own fan base by being the focus of the show in which Mr. Rossi works to provide support and awareness through his business Shorty's Pit Bull Rescue. Mr. Rossi also manages and owns a talent agency for other little people like himself in the entertainment industry called Shortywood Productions.
After he was released, Mr. Rossi found work as an actor and at events calling for a little person. Throughout all of his ups and downs, pet pit bulls were a constant in his life, and helped him weather many difficult times.
Turned it around
His own story of redemption is not unlike theirs, Mr. Rossi said.
"No matter what happens in your life, you can change," he said. "You can turn it around.
"People need to give back something to humanity, and my redemption is my pit bulls," he said. "They, like little people, are misunderstood, so we have a bond."
When they're not filming, Mr. Rossi and his dogs travel around the country for autograph and book signing events and to help local pit bull groups. He also makes appeals to the government for stiffer penalties for reckless dog owners and to further the cause of spaying and neutering to cut down on dog overpopulation.
This year alone, he and Hercules have logged more than 11,000 miles on the road, he estimated, but it's all well worth it, Mr. Rossi said.
"I think he's happy traveling with me and always (being) by my side," he said. "I think the show itself has done a lot. We've made some changes, made shelters reconsider policies on euthanizing pits. Or when you meet people all across the country who say, 'Because of you, my father let me get a pit bull,' it's a good thing.
"It's very much impacted not just the U.S., but Canada and Latin America, too," Mr. Rossi said. "But there's a lot more to go."