It is the ultimate goal of the Show Your Soft Side campaign to stop animal cruelty before it starts.
It is an ambitious goal born of outrage. Outrage that human beings could soak a dog in accelerant and set her on fire. That dog was named Phoenix, and sadly, she was not the only animal tortured on the mean streets of Baltimore at the time. There was Mittens, a nursing cat who was restrained and set ablaze, and an unnamed puppy who was beaten to death with belts and a branch on a public golf course in broad daylight.
The common denominator among all these sadistic crimes? They were perpetrated by boys, some as young as 10-years old. I was serving as Chair of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission at the time and it appeared as if these perps viewed animal cruelty as a “right of passage” for proving their manhood.
It was at this critical juncture that our founder, Sande Riesett, contacted me with a novel idea for a campaign. Sande is a former Creative Director who wanted to change the mindset of these boys. She told me she had two options: she could either become a vigilante or create an ad campaign that showed that real men don’t not hurt animals, but rather, they protect them.
Sande also approached our third Musketeer, Lori Smyth, promotions director for 98-Rock and WBAL Radio, to recruit acknowledged hard men for the campaign. Not only did Lori know celebrities in the music world, she was on a first-name basis with several athletes. Lori initially recruited Adam Jones of the Orioles, Jarret Johnson of the Ravens, and celebrated MMA fighter, John Rallo, creator of the Shogun Fights. Each was a respected athlete who loved animals and was appalled by the insanity of these horrific crimes. And so the Show Your Soft Side (SYSS) campaign was born.
Each athlete sat for a photo shoot with our photographer, Leo Howard Lubow, who took hundreds of photographs revealing the close relationship between each athlete and their dog or cat. Sande wanted to avoid the campaign from becoming overly sentimental, so she paired their images with the provocative tagline of “Only a Punk Would Hurt a Cat or Dog.”
The response to the campaign was overwhelming. The initial goal was simply to raise funds to print posters to distribute to Baltimore City schools. Once the business community learned of the campaign, however, media companies donated nearly $200,000 of outdoor space and several businesses donated funds to cover printing and production costs. In addition to providing posters to 250 schools, the SYSS campaign launched with 10 billboards, as well as light rail panels and multiple bus kiosks.
In less than four (4) years, the Show Your Soft Side campaign has photographed nearly 100 athletes and public figures, including celebrities as diverse as Tommy Lee of Motley Crüe, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting of the Big Bang Theory, and Dr. Marty Becker of Good Morning America fame. In 2014, the campaign launched in Philadelphia. The roster of Soft Side models now includes football players from the Titans, Giants, Eagles, 49ers and Colts, baseball players from the Orioles and the Nationals, and hockey players from the Washington Caps and Philadelphia Flyers.
Recently, however, SYSS veered from its celebrity studded campaign to honor and showcase the work of the Animal Abuse Unit of the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office. In a few short years, prosecutor Adam Lippe and his paralegal, April Doherty, have created a remarkably effective unit that boasts a stellar conviction rate.
While Baltimore County faces significantly less violent crime than Baltimore City, the A-Team has tackled a broad range of cruelty cases, including dogfighting, horse neglect, and the pending prosecution of Baltimore Raven Terrence Cody, who is charged in an indictment with multiple counts of animal cruelty for starving his dog to death.
As a result of their efforts, animal abuse reporting has increased in Baltimore County and abusers are being held accountable for their crimes. SYSS leveraged this initiative by printing oversized postcards with the SYSS image of Adam and April along with information on reporting animal cruelty in Baltimore County. These postcards have been distributed to veterinary hospitals and other offices throughout the county and SYSS also purchased outdoor media to share this information.
We salute the work of Adam and April and all those who bring abusers to justice. We’ll keep you posted on their cases and will report from the front in August when Terrence Cody is scheduled back in court.
Written by SYSS Board Member and Legal Beagle, Caroline Griffin.