the Dog

Preston (September ‎16, ‎2008)

WOOFobia™ became a political advocacy organization on May 7, 2017, but there’s a case to be made that the legacy of it started way back in April 2008. During a chance encounter of fate, I met the dog who changed my entire future in a single afternoon. His name is Preston.

This journey initially started while my video production company, River Fire Films, LLC, was producing a documentary film about the illegal, inhumane activity that is dog fighting, and crossed paths with the owner of a local Cleveland, Ohio pit bull rescue – For The Love Of Pits. In an effort to learn more about the dogs often associated with dogfighting, we arranged a time and day for me to come by her home.

Earliest known photo of Preston, taken at the shelter (July 2006)

Preston was saved from an Akron, Ohio home on July 6, 2006, where his previous owners allegedly used him for dog fighting purposes. From there, he was taken to a local humane society to be kept as evidence for the case, and shelter staff quickly fell in love with this little black dog they originally named Eeore. He was estimated to be one year old. The perpetrators ultimately were only charged for drug crimes, so much about Preston’s story is unknown through public records since they were never charged for the crimes associated with animal fighting. During his stay, the two dogs he came in with on the property were euthanized, and his clock began to tick.

The owner of pit bull dog rescue For The Love Of Pits, Shana Klein, visited the shelter to walk and bond with him, setting up the possibility that he would be saved, yet again. Then on Friday, July 28, 2006, Shana received the only courtesy call she has ever had, letting her know Preston would be euthanized at 4. From there, she scurried and successfully found a foster home she could take Preston to, and was brought to the house of a woman named Janine.

Preston stayed in this foster home for several months, before making his way to Shana’s house, where he and I finally crossed paths. And on that sunny, spring April day in 2008, I fell head over heels in love, and immediately made my intention known that I would adopt him…but that is easier said than done.

Preston (2008) at his foster home.

About two weeks later, city officials of Lakewood, Ohio (suburb of Cleveland where I lived) proposed and eventually passed a ban on the ownership of pit bull dogs within city limits. Additionally, since 1987 the state of Ohio had breed specific legislation (BSL) statewide, in the form of a restriction, which forced owners to comply with a laundry list of prerequisites in order to keep their family member, which included carrying $100k liability insurance, special leashing and containment requirements.

I began to search surrounding suburbs that would allow Preston, where we could call home together. One more major obstacle presented itself, as a State Representative, Tyrone Yates, proposed a bill that would ban pit bull dogs completely in the state of Ohio within 90 days of passing. There was a time I thought I would have to leave my family and home state to be able to adopt this dog I felt such a connection to. Fortunately, this bill died and was never even considered by his colleagues. And the search continued…

At every turn it seemed I was confronted with hurdle after hurdle locating a rental property that allows pit bull dogs. Furthermore, since the state had an existing restriction, finding an insurance company willing to insure me to be in compliance was also a challenging task. Ultimately, nearly six months later, on October 4, 2008, Preston was able to come home where he was meant to be all along. I’d be lying if I said at this stage this didn’t become personal.

GTPI documentary cover.

From there I changed the direction of the documentary to cover breed discrimination, and renamed it “Guilty Til Proven Innocent” (GTPI). I became determined to discover the truth about these laws, letting the chips fall where they may, to put this conversation to bed…even if it meant the results conflicted what I wanted to find. I read every article I could find – regardless whether they were for or against these laws, to ensure I knew every argument or point of view there was, so that I could speak intelligently about the topic and gain confidence and credibility for the film I was directing and producing.

For the next five years, we contacted and interviewed leading experts in the debate, and pieced together a case study of sorts using Ohio as the backdrop, before premiering the original “Rescue Version” of the documentary in Cleveland, Ohio on April 28, 2013. And, yes, of course, Preston made his way into the film as a side story, as well as gracing the cover of the film and any promotional images related to it. In total, we screened GTPI 23 times, including two official film festival selections (2013 St. Louis International Film Festival, 2014 Kansas City Film Fest), and one of the leading national animal welfare organizations, Best Friends Animal Society, used the film as a tool to send legislators around the country faced with this issue.

Articles were written about him and the film in magazines, newspapers and websites. He’s appeared in books. At least three artists have painted him. And he remains my biggest inspiration for blog entries, Facebook posts, photography, among other creative outlets. Now 12 years old, and slowing down, WOOFobia™ was created and inspired by a little black dog who every encounter changes minds.

Image by: Greg Murray Photography © gmurrayphoto.com (04/09/2017)

I often call Preston my souldog. I felt for many years that he and I were meant to meet and be together, even as far back as the day I met him. This belief was reinforced in 2011 when I was lucky enough to be able to see his intake paperwork at the shelter where he spent his initial days after being saved. It was there where I noticed the day he was set to be euthanized – July 28, 2006. Even though, he and I didn’t meet for almost two years later, on that day, my family and I were celebrating my 29th birthday. Preston’s new life started the day of my birth.

Signed,

Jeff Theman
WOOF
obia™ Founder and Executive Director