I’m going to let you in on a secret. I like my job. I get to write about my guide dog and interview celebrities about their dogs, but what I like most is that when I come across an animal cause that is doing fantastic work, I get to spread some light about it.
Which is why when I heard about the Show Your Soft Side campaign, I had to learn more about it; any cause whose focus is to prevent the harm of animals gets my attention. I recently spoke with Sande Riesett, the founder of the campaign, to learn more about the Baltimore-based organization.
Brian Fischler for Dogster: When did you come up with the Show Your Soft Side campaign?
Sande Riesett: In 2011 we had a lot of really horrific animal abuse incidents happen in Baltimore. A lot of them were being done by kids, some as young as 10 years old. I guess I live in ignorant bliss, as I just thought that everyone who had a pet took care of him or her. Pets are one of the best parts of childhood, so I couldn’t even imagine that kids were doing this.
When I heard about these incidents I was so pissed off I couldn’t even function. A friend introduced me to someone at the Anti-Animal Abuse Commission in the city, and I wanted to help, but thought to myself that the only thing I know how to do is advertising. Originally I wanted to put together a campaign that would go in to schools, so that’s kind of how it all started.
How did the first photograph come together?
You didn’t need to have a Ph.D. to realize that the kids who were harming animals were not going to care what you or I thought. However, the people they do look up to — athletes and rockers, who are kind of like America’s royalty — would have the kids’ attention.
The idea itself kind of came from watching my husband with our cat. Our cat showed up at our door about 10 years ago all beaten up and weighing about four pounds, and we now have our whole life based around this cat. Around the cat my husband totally changes; his tone with the cat is very different than it is with me; he’s like a big marshmallow with the cat. And I thought, “I wonder if a lot more guys out there are really like this?” So it led to the original idea: to find out if these big tough guys really did have a soft side.
Show Your Soft Side is such a perfect tag line. Where did you come up with it?
It was pretty simple. Our cat’s name is Little Man, and when my husband is with our cat, you see a whole other side to him. I thought he’s really showing his soft side, and it just kind of evolved from there.
What were the first steps to rolling out the campaign?
The first step was trying to get to these guys who we wanted to photograph for the campaign. A girlfriend of mine suggested I contact the local rock station, as they are the local flagship station for the Baltimore Orioles. I went in to meet with her, and every square inch of her office was covered with a photograph of either an athlete or an animal, so immediately I knew she was the right person. She got the Orioles’ Adam Jones to be our first Softie.
We then got mixed martial artist John Rallo, a big tattooed guy. He absolutely loves kitty cats, and our third Softee was Baltimore Ravens Jarret Johnson. From there the campaign has just taken off. We’ve have had Tommy Lee from Motley Crue, UFC’s John Jones, and basically athletes and rockers from every field imaginable. We also had one woman, comedian Rebecca Corry, who we felt fit in perfectly with our message.
How do the rock stars and athletes with these hardcore images react when you approach them for Show Your Soft Side?
It’s really been very interesting, as every single guy we have been able to get to personally has immediately said yes. Having worked in advertising for a long time and been involved with a lot of celebrity photo shoots, they usually come in, get their photo done, and are gone. You never hear from them again. Everyone who has been photographed for the campaign has really continued to care and stay involved with us. It’s not unusual to get an email from someone like Henry Rollins, who will check in to see if there is anything he can do.
Is there more to the Show Your Soft Side campaign than just photos?
We recently had an event where some of our Softies were guest bartenders for the night. They all really do care about the animals. We also hold a yearly event called Pawject Runway where our Softies model adoptable cats and dogs.
Tell us about one of the more memorable experiences from the campaign.
Torrey Smith from the Baltimore Ravens NFL team was photographed, and then he threw out the first pitch at an Orioles game. We were discussing the astronomical number of dogs living in shelters, and right there Torrey decided he wanted to rescue a dog. We put him in touch with our contact at the local shelter.
What was really cute was he has these two Pit Bulls (one who he got from the shelter), and he was going to propose to his girlfriend, and he wanted his dogs to be part of it. He called one night and asked if we could set up a fake Soft Side shoot so he could propose to Chanelle and have the dogs as part of it. It was really great, and very memorable.
What are the primary goals of Show Your Soft Side?
When we started our goal was to reach the kids. I don’t know if we are doing that, and there’s no real way to track the impact the campaign has had, but what we have found is that our local shelter, Barks, will tell you they have seen an increase in donations, adoptions, and volunteerism at the shelter. Some of it is immediately traceable from Soft Side. Our goal is really to help the shelters and rescues.
There’s three of us who make up the team. Myself, Lori Smith and Caroline Griffin. We are also very fortunate to have a great photographer — Leo Howard Lubow has done about 90 percent of the photos.
Are there plans to expand Show Your Soft Side outside of Baltimore?
We are trying to replicate it in Philadelphia. The advertising for the campaign was recently released with billboards and transit ads. We also get a lot of letters from teachers, and we send them out materials to help where we can. I recently heard from a teacher in Camden, New Jersey, that the animal abuse was really bad in her area, so we sent out photos so she would have something positive to show the kids.
We would like to expand to Washington D.C. next, as it’s the next logical market. But beyond that we would need people in other cities to get involved. Having a group on the ground locally that can make things happen is important for the campaign to be a success.
How can people get involved?
Right now the best way to get involved is through sponsorship, buying merchandise from our site, or attending Pawject Runway. Hopefully in the future we will be expanding to more markets, making it even easier for people to get involved nationally.
You started out wondering if tough guys do have a soft side. Have you reached a decision?
Considering we have had more than 70 rockers and athletes pose for Show Your Soft Side, I would definitely say all tough guys have a soft side!
If there is a celebrity you would like to suggest and help secure for the Show Your Soft Side campaign, feel free to contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the Show Your Soft Side campaign on the site and follow it on Facebook.
Most of the photos for Show Your Soft Side are by the awesome Leo Howard Lubow.
Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at email@example.com.
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About the author: Brian Fischler is a standup comedian and writer. He has been seen on The Today Show, published in Maxim Magazine as the Comedian of the Month, and on Top Gear USA on The History Channel. Brian also runs Laugh For Sight, a bicoastal comedy benefit featuring the biggest names in comedy that come together to raise money and awareness for retinal degenerative eye disease research. Connect with Brian on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.