Show Your Soft Side
Show Your Soft Side, To End Animal Cruelty
By Joan Allen
Photography By Leo Howard Lubow, Lubowphotography.com
In 2010, the gruesome deaths by torture of two dogs and a cat made national news. The common thread in all three cases was that grade school and teenage boys in Baltimore’s inner city had committed the senseless killings.
These horrific cases of abuse against animals became the defining moment when Caroline Griffin, Sande Riesett, Lori Smyth and photographer, Leo Howard Lubow took action to stop the violence against animals; and the public service campaign Show Your Soft Side was born.
Show Your Soft Side was created to change the mindset of young people who often view the maiming and torturing of defenseless cats and dogs as a sign of “toughness” or “manhood.” The campaign’s message that compassion toward animals is a strength, not a weakness, is one that quickly resonated with children and adults, and grew into a local and international phenomenon.
Promotions Director of 98-Rock/WBAL Radio Lori Smyth, says, “Sande Riesett first contacted me through a friend of a friend and said that the problem was she didn’t have connections to recruit athletes for the photos. At the time 98-Rock was the flagship for the Ravens and WBALRadio was the flagship for the Orioles. I also had connections with record labels. So initially I was in charge of getting the celebrities like Tommy Lee from Motley Crue to model.
And according to Lori Smyth, they couldn’t have done the campaign without Leo Lubow. “Leo Lubow’s first career was in law. Later in life, he grew tired of practicing law, and he wanted to give back to the community. So he started taking photos for non-profits. Sande asked him to take photos for the Show Your Soft Side Campaign. Leo is our photographer extraordinaire. All of his time and photography is free of charge.”
In 2011 this team of four determined volunteers arranged photo shoots with Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson and Oriole Adam Jones, adoringly cuddling their pet dogs, and local mixed martial arts fighter John Rallo holding a shelter cat in his muscled and tattooed arms. The campaign featured celebrities, known as “Softies,” along with the campaign slogan, “Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog—show your soft side” Incorporated as a non-profit in 2013, Show Your Soft Side is run entirely by volunteers and boasts a team of more than a hundred athlete, rockers, and celebrity “Softies” who are determined to end animal abuse.
Caroline Griffin, secretary and treasurer of Show Your Soft and board member of the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C., an organization with a global reach, says, “Our ultimate goal is to stop animal cruelty before it starts. In just six years, we’ve grown from three original “Softies” to over 150 nationwide. We had such modest expectations initially, but the campaign literally exploded overnight and continues to grow. We were fortunate when we launched in 2011 that several businesses donated billboards and media space, but we’ve experienced steady growth because the campaign resonates with people of all ages and walks of life.”
“It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve shipped posters to teachers around the globe and while their students might not know our Softies by name, kids universally gravitate toward these tough, successful athletes with their pets. “Adults are drawn because the campaign raises awareness regarding a crime about which they care deeply. For many people, animal cruelty is simply too disturbing to even contemplate and the campaign galvanizes people without making them turn away.
Today, Show Your Soft Side, which now reaches 350,000 to 1.3 million people a week, uses its reach and resources to build a better world for animals and, in doing so, build better adults. In an effort to reach young people, Show Your Soft Side posters are made available, free of charge, to teacher and schools across the country.
Full-time Show Your Soft Side volunteer Sande Riesett says, “Our goal has always been to pair Softies with a local shelter or rescue and certainly in terms of Baltimore and BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter), the beneficiary of the campaign, we’ve had the most success. Softies like John Rallo and Frank Remesch now sit on the BARCS board, and others like NFL players Torrey Smith and Ryan Jensen have not only adopted from BARCS but gone on to hold their own fundraisers and promote the shelter.
Jennifer Brause, Executive Director of BARCS, says, “The Show Your Soft Side Campaign has been instrumental in spreading the message of kindness to animals throughout the Baltimore community and beyond. Show Your Soft Side is more than just a campaign, it’s a movement. The role models and celebrities who are designated as “Softies” have not only posed for the campaign, but they are also getting out in local schools and talking to children, they are creating awareness of the work shelters do and are promoting adoption, and they are also walking in Pawject Runway to raise money for homeless pets.”
“Pawject Runway was the brainchild of Butch and Melanie Hansen and a small group of volunteers who wanted to host a runway-type fundraiser for BARCS,” explains Caroline Griffin. “They invited us to join forces and we proposed that the Softies “model” adoptable animals. We held the event the first two years at the Bay Café in Canton, but for the third year in a row, we are hosting the Pawject Runway at the Royal Farms Arena, thanks to Frank Remesch, the General Manager, and a Softie.
Frank Remesch, GM of Royal Farms Arena says, “The Arena is very much a part of the community as much as we’re a part of Baltimore’s history. Hosting Pawject Runway made sense for us. Our Arena family are animal lovers so it’s not hard to get them to step up to the plate and volunteer their time for this worthy cause.”
Sande Riesett says, “When kids see their heroes – guys who are the best and baddest in their fields – turn into marshmallows when they’re around their cat or dog, it sends a very powerful message. And that message is one that’s touched a nerve with young and old alike. The campaign has truly been a win/win for animals and for our Softies, which has resulted in us no longer having to beg, but instead having agents, athletes, and rockers come to us and ask to participate. “Show Your Soft Side is a great way to bring attention to animal abuse. Everyone sees the gruesome pictures. The Soft Side Campaign reminds us all of the happiness animals bring to our lives; their intrinsic value. And they do it in a way that we hope will reach kids. Kids look up to these Softies. If these tough guys who have fame and money care about animals maybe we should too. That’s the goal. To get these kids thinking in a different way…”
“This year some of our Softies include Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles; Lane Johnson; Offensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles; Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Baltimore Ravens; Lawrence Guy, Defensive End, New England Patriots; and Ryan Jensen, Center/Guard, Baltimore Ravens.” “Our Pawject Runway motto – “You Can Go Home With a Model Tonight” – holds true and many homeless animals find homes, “says Caroline Griffin. “Since the event started, we’ve raised $400,000 in cash and in-kind donations for BARCS. Pawject Runway is super-fun, kid-friendly, and festive, but it’s also a bit glamorous, in that 35 celebrities join together to help animals and stop abuse. Jennifer Brause of BARCS says, “The money raised over the years has allowed us to save thousands of lives here at BARCS. We are grateful to Show Your Soft Side for bringing awareness to this issue in a way that can truly reach the community and for supporting our shelter to directly save thousands of lives.”
The Soft Side team is working hard to expand the reach of the campaign and grow on a larger scale. Photographing athletes in other cities and working to get businesses to help broaden their reach in those cities. “In the meantime, we are doing our best to harness the talent and energies of a roster of Softies that have so much to give, It’s a good problem to have,” said Caroline Griffin.