You’re facing down a muscular, 100-pound dog with the jaw-strength of a small crocodile. The great beast approaches you, sizing you up as you do the same, albeit while trying to keep your cool. Finally, you and the dog are face to face, his round head and pointed ears within biting distance – he could kill you in an instant if he wanted.
But he doesn’t want to kill you, he licks your face, and you’re completely disarmed. The dog is a pit bull, and he only wants love.
Pit bulls are quite possibly the most misunderstood breed of dog in America and the world over. Characterized as killers, pit bulls are the most common dogs found in animal shelters – often put to sleep either for a lack of prospective owners or one-time aggression.
But all aren’t killers, in fact the majority of them aren’t. These much-maligned dogs need a champion, someone looking out for them when they’re so often abused. This is what the New York Bully Crew does.
Founded in East Patchogue, New York by Craig Fields in 2010, the New York Bully Club is a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding new homes for abused and abandoned pit bulls. Fields is an entrepreneur, former mixed martial arts fighter, and animal rights activist.
Heavily tattooed, tough, and a self-proclaimed “scumbag destroyer,” Fields is a character. His defense of animals isn’t restricted to the real world; On his Instagram profile, Fields’s motto is, “You hurt them, I hurt you.” On multiple occasions, Fields has threatened abusers online, challenging them to physical fights and calling them out by name in videos.
John Votta, 37, is the adoption coordinator and has been with the Bully Crew since before it even had a name. Votta worked at Fields’s financial business when the idea to start the organization came to be.
“He had his dogs in the office,” said Votta. “I would come into work to call banks and I would be petting his dogs and hanging out.
“One day, one of his mutual friends had called and asked him – because he knew he had pit bulls and he just knew he was a dog lover – if he could watch a dog that the guy had found,” said Votta.
And so, there was yet another pit bull in the office. Everybody loved the dog, and Fields was able to find someone willing to adopt him. This experience floored Fields and he started the New York Bully Crew shortly after, getting their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in early-2011.
Both pit bull owners themselves, Fields and Votta knew how great the dogs could be, but the general public thought differently.
“People use the dogs to make themselves look tougher in certain areas of the world,” said Votta. “Certain people like to take these dogs and fight them. They exploit the dogs for strength – their positive characteristics are exploited for sport or gambling.
“People take these dogs particularly for the wrong reasons a lot of the time, and that has happened time and time again. People know that they can breed the dogs without a license in their backyard, we call them backyard breeders, and they do it for money.”
By and large, pit bulls are overbred and trained for fighting. They’re made to be vicious, they’re not born that way. The New York Bully Crew, who pride themselves on being a “no-kill” organization, take in all manner of pit bulls – from the sweet to the aggressive.
“Ultimately here people know that regardless of the dog’s nature, we will always do our best to keep that dog alive,” said Votta. “And if we know that it’s super-aggressive and we know that there’s a zero-percent chance that the dog will be adopted, that dog will be with us in our facilities until it passes away.”
The New York Bully Crew cares deeply for their dogs, of which there are at least 90 at any given time in their Long Island facility. The dogs all need homes, but the organization has a rigorous application process to ensure that both the dog and family are safe.
“They’re full of personality, they’re so in-tune with humans that if you give them a chance and you meet a well-balanced pit bull, it’s nearly impossible to not change your mind about the breed,” said Votta.
The New York Bully Crew mobilizes quickly to rescue dogs, welcomes volunteers, and hopes to adopt out as many dogs to loving, responsible families as possible while changing the stigma surrounding the breed.