John Fulton host of "Must Love Cats"

"Must Love Cats" episode filmed in Baltimore and Gaithersburg airs Saturday March 17. (Animal Planet)

When the "Show Your Soft Side" campaign debuted last year, Baltimore learned that real tough guys treat animals with soft hands -- and people across the county took notice.

They were impressed to hear about the likes of Raven Jarret Johnson, MMA fighter John Rallo and Oriole Adam Jones were posing on city billboards loving up their pets with the message "Only a punk would hurt a dog or cat."

The campaign went viral and one upshot is the TV show "Must Love Cats" came to town to film an episode which will air at 8 p.m. Saturday on Animal Planet.

The episode -- which I previewed and I can tell you is rather adorable -- showcases Rallo, who goes to the Baltimore Animal Care and Rescue Shelter to adopt a new kitten. It's worth setting your Tivo if for nothing else than seeing Rallo wrap his arms (some tree trunks wish they had the girth of these arms) around the little furball and announce he's found his cat. 

Sande Riesett, who founded the Soft Side campaign, is thrilled with the publicity the Animal Planet spotlight might shine on her cause -- to stop young people in Baltimore from abusing animals. (Her inspiriation was the Phoenix case, where two young brothers are accused of dousing a dog with gasoline and setting her on fire -- the dog had to be put down because of her injuries.)

Since she was on site during the "Must Love Cat" filming, Riesett also has some dirt about interesting bits that didn't make the show. For instance -- she knows Rallo has since named the kitty Dexter. And she knows that while 92Q personality Lil Black (another local celeb who's done "Soft Side") was at BARCS for the taping, he happened to see someone drop two little dogs off at the shelter -- both of which he adopted on the spot.

"Must Love Cats" host John Fulton -- who made sure to stop at Baltimore's Frank Zappa statue while in town -- said guys like John Rallo could go along way toward debunking the stereotype that men with cats are something less than manly.

"A lot of people think there’s something suspicious about a man with cats," said Fulton, who has two rescue cats of his own. "I think you have to have one. Once guys have one, you have a different take on it. Or, cruise over to John Rallo's house and ask him. One of toughest guys in world and you see him with a little cat, it’s not awkward at all."

Some fun bits about John Fulton:

-- Yes, he really does love cats

-- His first cat was named Kitty and he sees a look-a-like of his second, Gusto, at BARCS while filming the Baltimore episode.

-- His cats now are shy sisters named Betty and Billie -- after Billie Holliday and Betty Davis -- not the actress, the wife of jazz legend Miles Davis.

-- He's allergic to cats.

-- He liked what a woman told him during a taping of one episode -- that someday she'd like to have a cat for every window of her home. At his California place, he's got about 11 windows, so.....

To celebrate the airing of Baltimore "Must Love Cats," BARCS is waiving adoption fees on cats from today through Sunday -- March 16 to March 18.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

@BaltInsider