Fighting For the UnderDog

BAD RAPSophie was about as unlikely to find a happy ending as any shelter dog could be. She was 11 years old. She was a pit bull, a breed that frightens away many adopters. And she was covered with the telltale scars of a fighting dog, a career that also cost her one eye and part of an ear.

Her jaw and wrists had been broken and left untreated, leaving her with a permanent hobble. She’d been bred so many times her teats sagged. Her skin was in terrible shape, and well, she wasn’t exactly the kind of dog you see gracing the cover of Dog Fancy.

But Sophie had soul, and as soon as she danced up to Donna Reynolds in Oakland, California’s animal shelter, Reynolds spotted it. “Her one brown eye just sparkled,” says Reynolds, age 45, who co-founded BAD RAP, a pit bull education and advocacy group based in Oakland, California. “She looked like a monster, but she had the most tender soul.”

Landslide of issues
It’s a quality Reynolds sees again and again in the pit bulls she’s rescued, even those coming from situations as grim as Sophie’s. That “soul” inspired her and her husband of 21 years, Tim Racer, to launch BAD RAP, or Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, in 1999. “We thought we’d put up a website and adopt out a few dogs,” says Reynolds, who lives in Oakland. “We had no idea.”

What started out as a part-time adoption effort mushroomed immediately into a full time education and pit bull advocacy campaign. “We found ourselves tackling an avalanche of issues,” says Reynolds, who quickly got invited to speak at conferences and workshops organized by the Humane Society, ASPCA, and several other well-respected animal welfare organizations.

In no time, BAD RAP quickly became the go-to group for high-profile issues involving pit bulls. BAD RAP coordinated the rescue of unclaimed Katrina pit bulls. It was also the group the ASPCA contacted after Michael Vick was busted for dog fighting.

Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail on December 10. In his apology he failed to mention the suffering of the dogs even once. “We wish he’d gotten the maximum, which is five years,” says Reynolds. “But it has been a landmark case in helping people see how cruel this sport is.” More at

Meet Hector, one of Michael Vick’s dogs

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