Shorty Rossi has loved pit bulls ever since he was a teenager, and it's his hope that after next weekend most of the Scranton area will share this love.
The star of Animal Planet's "Pit Boss" and the founder of Shorty's Pit Bull Rescue, Rossi will be making several personal appearances at the Mall at Steamtown, Puppy Love Pet Spa, Poppy's Diner and Brews Brothers on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29 and 30.
The television star is coming to the area, accompanied by one of his seven pit bulls, Hercules, as a part of the "Shorty and Hercules Tour" in an effort to educate people on the true, loyal nature of pit bulls, and to promote his book "Four Feet Tall and Rising," which was released in January.
"It's a memoir from the day I was born until last year. So, it's a history of my life," said Rossi.
"I went through a rough childhood, ran with the wrong crowd, went to prison, got out of prison, struggled in life and I'm here today. And, we try to tell people it's a memoir, it's about redemption, it's about how the animals kept me going. It's about (how) no matter what happens in your life it ain't ever going to be that bad. You can come out on top. It shows kids you can make it, shows inmates that when you come out of prison, if you use your head right, you can make it, and it's for people to understand me better who like the show."
Rossi was arrested and sent to prison for attempted murder. He's had pit bulls since he was 14 years old, and adopted one when he was released from prison. He credits adopting the dog, Geisha, with helping him turn his life around. Following his release he started a career as an actor, landing roles in films like Jim Carrey's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." He began Shortywood Productions, a Hollywood talent agency for little people in 2000. The adoption process also inspired him to start his rescue in 2001, after seeing how difficult it was to adopt a pit bull.
"I was like, ‘Why are people trying to be idiots when someone's trying to save a dog's life? Especially a pit bull.' That's when I really got involved with rescuing pit bulls, helping them out, and as the years went by it got bigger and bigger," said Rossi.
The public became more aware of his rescue efforts following the release of "Pit Boss" in 2010. At the time, Rossi had been pitching the idea of a reality TV show centered around his talent agency to a few different production companies, when word got out that Animal Planet was looking for some edgier programming.
"One of the production companies said, ‘What about Shorty and those freaking pit bulls?'" said Rossi.
The series follows Rossi and his crew as they carry out their rescue efforts. The show has found a loyal audience and just finished filming its sixth season a week ago, which will premiere Nov. 3 and air on Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Animal Planet.
The television show has helped Rossi's cause, and over the years many people have told him that it was because of the show that they decided to adopt a pit bull.
Growing up as a dwarf, Rossi said he feels a connection to pit bulls and is able to sympathize with them, one of the reasons he goes to great lengths to defend them.
"They're like a misunderstood breed, just like sometimes little people are misunderstood," said Rossi. "Sometimes people don't take us seriously. They think we're circus freaks, not doctors, lawyers and business owners, so I kind of understand what they go through, and they're loyal dogs, so that's why I like them."
"People don't understand that if you train this dog to be vicious, even if a middle class family gets a pit bull, because they want a guard dog, and then they start training them… what they're doing is they're training them to be vicious. If you want a guard dog, get a Rottweiler or German Sheppard. If you want a loyal companion, get a pit bull. Train it to be nice, (and) it will protect you automatically."
The owner of Puppy Love Pet Spa in West Scranton, Beverly Peffer, echoed Rossi's sentiments. Peffer said her love for pit bulls and Rossi's work is one of the reason she opened the doors of her business for Rossi's appearance, and why she decided to help Diane Gubbiotti, the organizer of Rossi's Scranton appearances, with the event.
Rossi will be at the Mall at Steamtown from noon to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29; Poppy's Diner for "Breakfast with Shorty," a buffet, on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 9 to 10 a.m. and Sunday, Sept. 30, from 9 to 10 a.m. and 10 to 11 a.m.; Puppy Love Pet Spa on Sunday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Luzerne County Pit Bull Owners and NEPA Avail-a-Bullies are hosting a thank you party for Rossi at Brews Brothers on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m.
Prices for all these events vary. For more information, visit www.PitBullBuzz.com.
What: "Shorty and Hercules Tour"
When: Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29 and 30
Where: The Mall at Steamtown; Poppy's Diner, 113 S. Main Ave., Scranton; Puppy Love Pet Spa, 107 S. Main Ave., Scranton; and Brews Brothers, 1705 River Rd., Pittston.