Canine cuties: Photo exhibit shows soft side of pit bulls

Pretty pooch: Sophie Gamand takes photos of pit bulls wearing flower crowns in order to counter negative stereotypes associated with the dogs.
Sophie Gamand

She’s throwing a pit-y party!

A new art exhibition will celebrate the beauty of pit bulls! “Pit Bull Flower Power,” by photographer and animal advocate Sophie Gamand, features portraits of the much maligned doggies, each adorned with a hand-crafted crown of flowers. Gamand hopes that her exhibit at the Invisible Dog Art Center, and a book collecting the images, launching at the gallery on Oct. 20, will change negative perceptions of the dogs — and reveal something about the breeders who created them.

“The fate of the pit bull is so emblematic of how messed up humans are. We created these dogs, we made them strong, and then we decided we don’t like this anymore, let’s just destroy, euthanize you and hate on you and have all these legends around you,” said the Brooklyn Heights photographer.

Gamand, who has volunteered with animal rescue groups for the last eight years, said that shelters all over the country are full of unwanted pit bulls.

“The first thing a lot of people say when they come to a shelter is ‘I want a dog, but anything but a pit bull.’ I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that,” she said.

Gamand herself was wary of pit bulls because of a bad experience with a big dog as a child — even though the canine that attacked her was a different breed. When she noticed her prejudice against the dogs, she decided to challenge herself through her art.

“I realized I was not giving them my best and that it was unfair and prejudiced towards the dogs. So I wanted to do a project that would force me to interact with them and get to know them. I thought there might be an opportunity there to shift our perception a bit,” she said.

Rather than portray the dogs as vicious, growling brutes, she put the rescued pit bulls in elegant poses and made bespoke flower crowns for them. The project quickly became an online sensation, and over the last four years her work has found hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. She gets messages every day from pit bull fans and converts, including one cute story of a girl who saw Gamand’s photos and began referring to pit bulls as “flower dogs.”

Gamand’s exhibition and book also aims to draw attention to the more sobering side of animal rescue and shelters, with images of used collars and a virtual reality experience showing how confining shelters are for dogs, according to Gamand.

“It’s beautiful that we’re saving all of these animals, but shelters are not a fun place for an animal, it’s like solitary confinement in many ways,” she said.

Gamand hopes that her book will raise awareness for the plight of pit bulls, which she calls “the invisible dogs of animal shelters,” in the same way that her online work has already converted skeptics.

“Many pit bull fans told me that ‘Finally the dogs are being seen the way that we see them,’ ” she said. “So even though the work is mine and it’s my baby, it has gone beyond me and spread this message of having an open mind and an open heart.”

“Pit Bull Flower Power,” at the Invisible Dog Art Center [51 Bergen St. between Smith Street and Boerum Place in Cobble Hill, (347) 560–3641, www.theinvisibledog.org]. Animal Haven Fund-raiser with food and wine on Oct. 18; 6–9 pm. $50. Exhibit on display Oct. 19–21; Fri–Sat, 1–7 pm; Sun, 1–5 pm. Book release party on Oct. 20, 4–7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

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