Pit Bulls, Pit Mixes, Bully Breeds…the term can be used interchangeably to describe a wide variety of dog types that disproportionately fill animal shelters in Chicago and throughout the country.
Lola, Junebug and Rosie Rae, the four-legged stars of Midnight Circus in the Parks over the years, also happen to fall into this category.
All three dogs were rescued here in Chicago by Jeff Jenkins & Julie Greenberg, Founders & Directors of Midnight Circus.
Each of these dogs has overcome incredible odds to become well-trained, well-socialized loving family pets and much admired performers and ambassadors for the breed as fan favorites of Midnight Circus in the Parks.
Why Pit Bulls? We asked Jeff and here is what he shared:
They are maligned, exploited and in need of advocates. They are also smart, loyal, loving dogs with huge personalities and the uncanny ability to reach and inspire people.
Now I will be the first to tell you that these dogs are not for everyone. They are high energy, high drive dogs that need owners who are committed to training, socializing and insuring they are raising positive members of the canine community.
This is what I preach to everyone who takes my classes at Found Chicago, a wonderful organization in Chicago where I teach a wide variety of dog owners what I know about raising and training dogs, particularly Bully Breeds.
In short…I believe Pit Bulls can be great dogs…but I didn’t want to just tell people that, I wanted to show them.
Our first rescued Pit Bull mix to debut in the circus was Lola. She was a tiny, scrappy puppy from the west side of Chicago with a big chip on her shoulder. We bonded immediately. She had high drive – was smart, curious and despite being a tiny puppy walked into the room like she owned it.
Lola performed all over Chicago, the US and even performed in Germany as part the prestigious Moers Jazz Festival. The show was ten acrobats with jazz musicians improvising. These were big-named musicians – Mars Williams, Rob Wasserman, Hamid Drake, DJ Logic and even the incomparable Wayne Kramer. Each musician had a dog squeaky toy and whoever Lola went to, they would play, until every musician, ten circus acrobats and of course a Pit Bull were improvising an incredible performance!
The audience loved it. The next day a German magazine featured Lola on the cover.
Lola was a life changing dog for me in so many ways. One of her greatest lasting legacies, she was the first Pit Bull mix to ever do outreach work inside St. Charles Youth Corrections and Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago.
It took going through some serious hoops to convince the corrections officials that a Pit Bull could have a positive (and safe) impact on the young men and women who were incarcerated.
The first time Lola made her correctional facility debut the reaction was powerful with some kids cheering and others shocked and a bit scared. The fact is most of them had never seen a properly trained, properly socialized, incredibly friendly Pit Bull.
Once the initial excitement (and fear) subsided, we had some very meaningful conversations about empathy and positive relationships with our canine friends…and each other. Along with those conversations each and every young person got to take Lola through the agility course complete with jumps and a-frames and tunnels. To see the look on the young peoples faces when they completed the course, gave Lola a treat and she responded with high-five and a lick on their face, it was heartwarming.
This is a program that I still do today with my latest Pit Bull partners along with the Anti-Cruelty Society. Another outstanding organization that I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with for many years.
For me, animal welfare and the circus are both conduits to reach people and affect them in a positive way. Lola gave me credibility and a path to connect with young people who otherwise may not have been open to my message. And the circus gives me and my family a path to connect with thousands of people each year in communities across Chicago and share a positive message of teamwork, tolerance and shared responsibility…and have a heck of a lot of fun!
I helped found a program at the Humane Society of the United States, the End Dogfighting Campaign. that for many years worked in Englewood, Garfield Park, Austin, and Humboldt Park among other Chicago neighborhoods.
During my free weekly Dog Training Classes that we called Pit Bull Training Team, a young boy would come in with his Pit Bull puppy. It was clear that despite the young boys best efforts to keep her safe, there were people in his life who were abusing the dog.
I offered to give the puppy a good home if he agreed to be my assistant at class each week. That way he could be around dogs, which he loved, and even earn a few dollars, but not continue to have a puppy in an unsafe environment. He happily agreed and was a terrific help in class.
That night I brought the puppy home. She smelled terrible, looked worse. My son, Max, was four at the time. He came down stairs. ‘What’s that?’ he asked. A puppy, I told him. ‘Does she have a person?’ he asked. No, I replied. ‘Can I be her person?’ he said. Junebug had just found her forever home.
Thanks to an abundance of TLC and some expert medical care from Dr. Landini at HEAL Veterinary, a true champion for animals and the entire animal welfare community here in Chicago, Junebug thrived. She has grown into a sweet, loving dog that people throughout Chicago know from performing in Midnight Circus in the Parks and countless Chicago Bulls games.
During one of those Bulls games Junebug jumped out of the box to a cheering crowd of over 18,000 ran up to me and paused. She gave me the “I love you Dad but it’s time to go to the bench” look that Lola gave me several years earlier, then she popped through the hoop.
Junebug is now enjoying the occasional outreach performance and lots of fetching and couch snuggling.
The newest member of our family and the latest canine star of Midnight Circus in the Parks came to us from Chicago Animal Care and Control.
This city agency is on the front lines of animal welfare in Chicago and despite huge challenges, financial and otherwise is filled with compassionate caring people doing important work.
We went to CACC just “to look”.
We didn’t make it past the lobby once my kids spotted (and heard) Rosie Rae. She was loud, wild, and showed all the signs of a puppy who had not been socialized, trained and probably subjected to moderate abuse. She also had huge sweet eyes and that intangible quality that says “I’m your next family member”.
Rosie followed in the footsteps of Lola and Junebug and made her performing debut last year. Rosie was honored to kick-off the PAWS Chicago 5k – Walk or Run for their lives., a spectacular event for an equally spectacular organization. Along with her Midnight Circus in the Parks duties Rosie entertains and inspires at Youth Correctional Facilities, Schools and of course Chicago Bulls Games as part of the Bulls Entertainment Family.