togetherRafa’s story is much like other shelter dogs. He was alone in a cage – but Rafa was only twelve weeks old.  He had been there half of his life. His intake paperwork claimed that he was abandoned because they “didn’t have room”  and he was left at a kill shelter at only six weeks old.

This is a critical time in puppy development and he was dumped.  Between five and seven weeks of age, puppies begin learning socialization.  At this point in their development, a puppies fear response to sudden noises can begin to emerge and without anyone to reinforce positive experiences during this time, Rafa just remained balled up in the corner all alone.  This is also the time when puppies play with their litter-mates and learn bite inhibition and mouthing.  Rafa had no litter-mates and  no humans at this point at all.  He knew no one, knew nothing and was all alone.

Kristy had just lost her pit bull, Tucker only a week earlier.  She wanted another companion but knew no dog could replace him.  She was at the shelter when her friend pointed out Rafa in the corner of the pen next to the dog she was considering.  They had to squint to see his little body in there, way in the back and all alone.  Because he was black, and a pit bull – Kristy knew that his chances were very slim on getting an adopter.  She knew this was her boy.

Rafa had no bite control, no manners and was basically feral at the time of his adoption.  Kristy worked very hard with him and now trains him exclusively with LARPBO (Los Angeles Responsible Pit Bull Owners). At one and a half, you’d never know the rough start he had. Pits have a wonderfully resilient personality and Rafa is a shining example of this.  Blessed with a tremendous sense of loyalty, it’s clear that Rafa sees Kristy as his savior, his mother, his best friend.

In the time I’ve been photographing pit bulls, it was Rafa that truly demonstrated to me that pit bulls wear their hearts on their sleeves collars.  He jumped around in the sand and I could hear his heart sing!  He is a comedian, he is a lover and he is Kristy’s best friend.

As a pit bull advocate I know that Kristy does everything in her power to help change public opinion of these dogs.  Rafa’s Facebook page has nearly 3,000 fans!  But sometimes words are not necessary. I hope these images help to redirect a conversation to how loving and beautiful these dogs are.

“Rafa couldn’t be more different than Tucker was and yet I still love him just as much.  I fall a little more in love with him every day.” -Kristy