Show your soft side
Brandon McMillan, TV producer and trainer of CBSs Lucky Dog. All images courtesy of Leo Howard Lubow.

This non-profit public service campaign has paired with hundreds of celebs, athletes and public figures to end animal abuse and support animal rescue.

“Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog.” This is the motto behind Show Your Soft Side, a public service campaign dedicated to ending animal abuse. It all began in 2011, after a streak of animal cruelty cases plagued the Baltimore, Maryland area. Animals were beaten, stoned, and even set on fire. Disgusted by these horrifying crimes, advertising professional Sande Riesett set out to make a difference. She put out a call for help, and shortly after, the first “Softies” campaign was launched.

From early on, the Show Your Soft Side campaign has been directed at young people through the use of impactful posters in schools. “Throughout our many discussions, we realized that the worst cases of animal cruelty were being perpetrated by groups of boys, some as young as ten,” says co-founder Caroline A. Griffin. “It was as if they viewed the torturing and killing of animals as a rite of passage for proving their manhood.” Show Your Soft Side set out to prove these kids wrong, and decided that an effective way to reach them was to use images of their idols – strong men and women promoting the strong message that “only a punk would hurt a cat or dog”. “The campaign initially featured three athletes who were aggressive on the field or in the ring, but who adored their animals,” says Caroline.

“Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog.”

The message quickly took hold of thousands of hearts, not just regionally, but around the globe. By promoting compassion, Show Your Soft Side was simultaneously speaking out against animal abuse – and the strategy was working. Soon, more famous faces began to join the movement. “Over time, we expanded the campaign to include rockers, such as Tommy Lee of Motley Crue and Brent Smith of Shinedown,” says Caroline. In 2014, the first female celebrities – comedian and actress Rebecca Corry, and Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory – joined the team. Today, 175 “Softies” are using their voices to stop animal abuse before it starts.

Show Your Soft Side has also captured the attention of local and international media outlets. The campaign has been featured on BuzzFeed, The Dodo and Animal Planet, and it reaches up to 1.2 million people each week on social media. This exponential growth came as a huge surprise to Sande, Caroline and others who started the campaign; back then, they simply sought to provide posters to public schools in Baltimore. Now, posters are distributed, free of charge, to teachers and schools across the country, and the images also appear on computer and mobile phone screens worldwide.

In 2014, comedian and actress Rebecca Corry, and Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory, joined the team.

Show Your Soft Side uses its wide reach to support animal organizations that house and heal battered dogs and cats. Their signature annual event, Pawject Runway, has raised more than $500,000 for a shelter in Baltimore, and regular donation drives garner thousands of pounds of food and supplies for local rescues. The campaign often arranges for “Softies” to pose with abused shelter dogs. This exposure helps drive their primary mission to end animal abuse, while locating forever families for homeless pets – a win-win for all involved.

Not surprisingly, the Show Your Soft Side advisory board consists of a panel of strong people with a passion for animal welfare – a teacher, a martial arts expert, a wide receiver, and a law enforcement official, to name a few. And, of course, a brilliant photographer. “Leo Howard Lubow is our photographer extraordinaire, who always travels with his beloved rescue Chihuahua, Archie,” says Caroline. “His images are masterful and reveal the vulnerability of animals – and the need to protect them – better than any words.” And just like the others, Leo is doing this work out of the kindness of his heart. Boasting non-profit status since 2013, in fact, the campaign is run entirely by volunteers.

In a world riddled with mistreatment, neglect and abuse, Show Your Soft Side serves to remind people of all ages that kindness toward animals is a strength, not a weakness. This campaign is helping to build an ethical world for our four-legged companions, shaping better humans, and showing us that compassion comes in all shapes and sizes. “For many people, animal cruelty is simply too disturbing to even contemplate,” says Caroline. “The Show Your Soft Side campaign is an effective tool for bringing awareness and resources to this cowardly crime, without making people turn away.”