I recently attended BarkWorld Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, along with several of my Dogster colleagues. One of the keynote speakers was Luigi “Shorty” Rossi of Animal Planet’s Pit Boss fame. He brought along his service dog, Hercules, and gave an impassioned speech about Pit Bulls, rescues, and respect.
Shorty’s love for animals, particularly bully breeds, can be traced all the way back to his childhood. As a teenager, he got involved with the notorious Bloods street gang in Los Angeles and was subsequently involved in a gang-related shooting, after which he was arrested and convicted of several felonies. He spent 10 years, 10 months, and 10 days in Folsom State Prison, where animals may very well have been his saving grace.
While in prison, Shorty took to feeding the resident felines, even though he’s “not too fond of cats,” and helped set up a spay/neuter program for them. While in prison, he also had a lot of time to think about his life and what he wanted to do with the future.
“I needed to do something good. I needed to do something not for myself,” Shorty said about his decision to help Pit Bulls. “I bonded with them because most of the people in this world don’t know what they really are. Before you knew me as Pit Boss, I was just another little person.”
Shorty’s rescue journey began with one dog, Geisha. After his release from prison, he went to the North Central Animal Shelter in Los Angeles, California. For Shorty, meeting Geisha, who was scheduled to be euthanized that day, was love at first sight. He filled out all of the necessary paperwork and was told to come back later, after her spay surgery.
On his return, Shorty learned that she didn’t get spayed and would be euthanized in accordance with city law because her 72-hour hold was up. He had a friend at the shelter who helped him sneak Geisha out the back door.
“I thought I was saving her, but no, she saved MY life,” Shorty said. “If it was not for her, I would not be here.”
Geisha was his first service dog, and she inspired him to start Shorty’s Rescue. Although the rescue is no longer active, his work with Pit Bulls is far from over. He continues to rescue Pit Bulls on his own, and leaving traditional rescue as well as his reality TV show has made him feel more effective.
“I’m the reason Pit Boss is not on the air anymore. There was even more drama off-screen than there was on,” said Shorty, who has shifted his focus to education, the anti-BSL movement, and spay/neuter promotion.
Because of his strong message about spay/neuter, I had to ask why his constant companion, Hercules, is still intact.
“Hercules is allergic to anesthesia,” Shorty replied. “We almost lost him when he was a puppy. He’s never spread his seed, though, and he won’t.”
To have an intact dog and keep him from reproducing takes an extra level of vigilance and responsibility. When asked how this affects his fight for spay/neuter, he responded, “It just means I have to push that much harder.”
Shorty included a message to rescues and supporters alike in his speech, calling for a return of respect and cooperation.
“Not everyone can rescue a dog, but there are other things [you] can do,” he said. “Support the rescue groups.” He asked for supporters to give their time and/or money. “Two dollars won’t kill you.”
During Shorty’s speech, Hercules lay nearby onstage. Hercules has to be one of the most relaxed, well-trained dogs I have ever met, but Shorty doesn’t take credit for his behavior.
“A team of good trainers” taught Hercules to be the calm and responsive dog that he is, even though he was quite the rabble-rouser as a puppy. “He cost me almost $4,000 in drywall damage in his first year,” Shorty said. “He didn’t believe in doors; he went through walls.”
He wanted to make it known that, despite his current good behavior, Hercules is still a playful pup. He demonstrated with a toy from the audience, which Hercules eagerly destroyed in seconds upon Shorty’s command.
Shorty also reminded everyone to respect dogs and their space. Being a celebrity himself, Hercules is often petted without anyone asking Shorty’s permission to do so, despite the fact that Hercules is wearing a service dog vest.
“Ask the owner’s permission before touching,” Shorty advised. “If you don’t know who my dog is or how he acts, ask permission before you touch him. Treat him as you would treat yourself.”
This is sage advice when dealing with any dog who is not your own.
To follow Shorty on his journey to educate others about Pit Bulls and related issues, like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter, and visit his website.
Read more interviews on Dogster:
- Retired Navy SEAL Dog Chopper Gets His Own Smithsonian TV Special
- We Chat With Pet Portrait Artist Thomas Dalsgaard Clausen
- We Chat With Animal Advocate Tracey Stewart About Her New Book
About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.