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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pin-ups for Pit Bulls

pinups for pitbullsDeirdre Franklin of Bucks County, Pa., is a mild-mannered mortgage counselor by day, a burlesque queen by night, and, ever since childhood, a confirmed lover and rescuer of dogs, with an especially soft spot for pit bulls.

She has two pit bulls of her own, she traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to assist in pet rescue and recovery efforts, and she once worked as a volunteer at a privately operated Philadelphia animal rescue center.

It was in her work there -- specifically, when she learned that the shelter regularly euthanized pit-bull type dogs, based more on their appearance than anything else -- that her empathy for the breed was born.

She quit after trying to take home a particularly friendly one that arrived one day. The shelter said it was against their policy. Then they euthanized the dog.

The outrage she felt during that episode -- "How can you call yourself a rescue organization, if you're not willing to save a dog's life?" she asks -- was rekindled in more recent years, first with continuing tales of pit bulls being abused and used for fighting. Then came the movement to pass "breed specific legislation" that often requires their owners to chain and muzzle pit bulls -- not because of any bad behavior, only because they are pit bulls.

That made her mad enough to gather some pit bull-owning female friends, shed some clothes, outfit herself and friends in stilettos, bikinis, tight nurses uniforms and the like, strike some provocative poses (often with their dogs) and put together the first "Pin-Ups for Pit Bulls" calendar in 2007 -- the proceeds from which go to organizations that rescue and shelter pit bulls.

Franklin says sales of the calendars -- and revenue from the ads printed throughout them -- raised more than $4,000 last year, and $10,000 so far this year.

Tonight, Franklin and some of her calendar models will be appearing at a fund-raiser at the Sidebar Tavern in downtown Baltimore, trying to raise more money for the cause. The calendars, and more information, are available at her website,

"I really want people to understand that this breed is getting a bad rap," Franklin, 30, said. "They are very wonderful and good dogs. ...They're not the monsters that they're made out to be."

Pinups for Pitbulls is dedicated to helping homeless pit bulls and removing the stigma from the breed that results from irresponsible and abusive pet owners, Franklin said. Pit bulls, she says, are loyal family members, have been war heroes and, before the bad image befell them, were American icons -- Petey from the Litte Rascals, the RCA dog Nippy and Helen Keller's service dog, to name a few.

To improve the breed's image, and to reach an audience that might not normally care about its plight, Franklin came up with the pin-up calendar as a way to grab attention. "A lot of people don't like pit bulls, but everyone likes pretty girls," she says.

Franklin now has two pit bulls, Carla Lou, 12 years old, who she paid to have shipped by air from a shelter in Texas, and Baxter, about 2, who she adopted from Pet Rescue of Mercer County in New Jersey, where she has also worked as a volunteer.

Franklin, who performs burlesque under the name "Little Darling," appears in the 2007 and 2008 calendars. That's her and he dogs in the photo above from this year's October.

Baltimore County considered breed-specific legislation last year but declined to enact it. Baltimore City rejected a proposal for breed-specific laws seven years ago.

Many other cities, including New York and Denver, have passed breed-specific laws, which can range from requiring the animals to be muzzled and fenced-in to prohibiting ownership of them altogether. Even in cities without such laws, discrimination exists against pit bulls, Franklin noted, with landlords refusing to rent to families with pit bulls, insurance companies charging more or refusing to cover homes where pit bulls live.

Franklin said the organization contacted the Sidebar Tavern after holding a benefit in Washington in December. Tavern owner Richard Ashburn says he backs the group's effort. "I don’t want any breed to be written off the earth because we as humans said they can’t be here. I’m in agreement with what they were doing," he said.

Friday's event to promote the sale of the 2008 'Pinups for Pitbulls Calendar, will also feature several Baltimore bands, and an auction of the works of Wilmington artist Ric Frane. It starts at 9 p.m.

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