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Baltimore athletes 'show their soft side' to stop animal cruelty

Marketing campaign of billboards and other ads rolls out next week

By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

5:13 PM EDT, September 25, 2011

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Oriole Adam Jones giving his dog Eskimo kisses. Fighter John Rallo hugging a cat tight to his muscled chest. Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson proudly calling his dog his best friend.

These are the images people across Baltimore will begin seeing next week, as a new campaign against animal cruelty rolls out across the city. Creators of the campaign, called "Show Your Soft Side" and featuring tough, strong athletes, want to convince kids in a city where youngsters have recently been charged with burning, beating and stoning animals, that real men love cats and dogs — they don't hurt them.

"I think if kids see these very macho guys in these photographs, it will perhaps change their thinking," says Caroline Griffin, who leads Baltimore's Anti-Animal Cruelty Commission. "Hurting an animal is not a rite of passage to show your manhood."

The campaignwill feature more than a thousand posters, dozens of signs on buses and trains and a number of prominent billboards. Nearly everything from the advertising expertise to the photography to the media space was donated.

Leading the charge was advertising executive Sande Riesett, who'd heard one too many stories of abused animals. The one about Mittens the cat, who lost her ears and suffered severe burns after teens allegedly put her in a milk crate, poured lighter fluid over her and lit a match. The one about the puppy that boys bludgeoned to death on a city golf course. Of course, the story of Phoenix, a Pit bull twin brothers are accused of setting on fire, a case that brought national attention to animal cruelty in Baltimore.

The last straw for Riesett came earlier this year, when the trial of the brothers charged with abusing Phoenix ended in a mistrial.

"The day the trial ended in a hung trial I was outraged," says Riesett, who owns Outlaw Advertising. "I didn't know what I could do. And then I thought, I create ads."

"Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog," is the message that will appear alongside the faces of Jones, Rallo and Johnson.

More than a year ago, Griffin's group drafted a 45-page report assessing the city's animal cruelty problem and how to stop or reduce it. The recommendations included a citywide campaign with signs and bus advertisements.

But even as they turned the report over to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Griffin and her committee knew there was little chance that the financially strapped city would fund it.

By volunteering her time and skills, and convincing others to do the same, she wanted to get Baltimore that campaign anyway.

"I want to get enough people together to say this is not tolerated," she says. "And whatever resources we have to put against it, we put against it."

In "Show Your Soft Side," martial arts fighter Rallo, who lives in White Marsh, cuddles a black kitten with white paws — it's his Doobie, who he says follows him around the house, laying his body across the computer table as Rallo checks his email. He calls his relationship with Doobie "unconditional love" and says he jumped at the chance to appear in the campaign.

"What enjoyment does someone get out of causing pain to something that's innocent and depends on you for their survival?" Rallo asks. "You can be tough and still not hurt animals."

She's placing the ads where troubled young people are likely to spot them. They'll go up at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, sheriff's offices, police departments and targeted schools.

The billboards will pepper intersections along heavily trafficked streets and in some of the city's rougher neighborhoods.

There will also be public service messages for radio, including one where Johnson, the nearly 300-pound linebacker, is softly baby-talking to his dogs.

Later this year they'll open a contest for Baltimore's "Softy of the Year," where people will be invited to submit pictures of themselves with their pets along with a short essay on why the animals bring out their soft side. Winners will get a photo shoot with Leo Howard Lubow, the photographer who shot the athletes for the campaign and their own ad that will appear in local news outlets and a billboard.

Riesett is already thinking about a second wave of ads, and calling rappers and actors.

"I'm not sure how," she says, "but I want to keep going."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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