Photographer Douglas Sonders is on a mission to help change the perception surrounding “bully breeds,” which encompass over 14 dog breeds, including pit bulls, boxers and bulldogs.
In 2012, Sonders launched the Not a Bully campaign inspired in part by the prejudice Sonders felt when he adopted his own pit bull, Emma, from a high-kill shelter. The idea behind the campaign is to change the negative perception surrounding these breeds, which often are abused and mistreated when they are actually loyal dogs.
Not a Bully was initially just a photography series, with Sonders photographing over a three-dozen dogs. He hoped they would make an impact so he started sharing them with everyone he met, but had no idea how far it would go.
“I was teaching over 2,000 people in photo production classes, and I would use my photos to explain the post-production process and at the same time share what I was doing,” he said. “Turned out one of my students was the Vice President of Production at National Geographic.”
After a year of planning, Sonders appeared on National Geographic’s Nat Geo Wild channel alongside Caesar Millan for the TV special “Love My Pitbull” on Friday, April 18. Since then, the #NotABully campaign has been featured on Mashable , ABC News and the Daily Mail.
So, how do you take a bunch of bully breeds and make them go viral?
“Do something you believe in,” Sonders said. “I get personal joy out of it, and if you do something like this it helps to also have a strategy. Create easily shareable content and high-quality images. The quality and emotion of the content and visuals makes it easier to connect with people.”
In addition to those tactics, Sonders also used the organization’s Facebook page and his own social media following to boost the message. Sonders is a world-renowned photographer whose work has been featured in Time, Popular Science, The Washingtonian and a variety of others. He has over 14,500 twitter followers and over 8,000 Facebook fans.
In the past week alone, the #NotABully hash tag has been posted 229 times by 160 users with an estimated reach of 440,000 and roughly 1.2 million impressions. Not bad for a bunch of “bully breeds.” His message’s emotional appeal resonated with the strong dog-lover community, which boosted the campaign’s profile significantly along with his Nat Geo Wild appearance. At a certain point the content spread so much that other sites began picking it up, and the rest is viral magic.
“I didn’t expect to be on TV with the Dog Whisperer ,” Sonders said. But he did learn some tips from Millan about keeping them still before a shot.
“Deep tissue massages really help to relax them, and then the dog handlers will have their favorite toy or treat that keeps their attention.”
Eventually the #NotABully campaign will develop short videos and articles showing the stories of these inspiring dogs more in-depth. The goal is to reduce the number of these dogs who are in kill shelters and provide them with a safe, loving, long-term home.
Sonders envisions that the campaign will eventually grow into a full-fledged brand, with the resources to donate to a variety of charities across the country and, more importantly, to spread the stories of these dogs around the world.
Companies with which he has worked in the past have expressed interest in supporting his campaign. With a lot of his projects in New York City and Washington D.C., Sonders constantly makes the four-hour drive between the cities. One of the New York companies, Paragon Acura in Queens, provided Sonders with an MDX to help out with his productions.
“It’s really hard to get all those dogs around NYC. The MDX has been a really good dog carrier. It’s been an integral part of the campaign,” Sonders said.
For more information on the #NotABully campaign or how to donate, visit the Not A Bully website or check out their Facebook page.