DEFENDER OF THE UNDERDOG

Photo provided by Ken Foster -- Ken Foster, of the Lower 9th Ward, reads a story to Rooney from Foster's new book, 'I'm a Good Dog.'
Photo provided by Ken Foster -- Ken Foster, of the Lower 9th Ward, reads a story to Rooney from Foster's new book, 'I'm a Good Dog.'

Ken Foster works to redeem the dogs who found him

Advocate staff report

Ken Foster is a writer and teacher who has worked tirelessly to rehabilitate the image of pit bulls. The Sula Foundation, which Foster founded, raises money to support low-cost vaccination clinics, free spaying/neutering, obedience training and other efforts to promote responsible ownership. Foster’s most recent book, “I’m a Good Dog,” is a series of essays on pit bulls and their devoted and sometimes surprising owners, including Dr. Seuss and Bernadette Peters. Foster lives in the Lower 9th Ward with his dogs.

Ken, you say pit bulls are “misunderstood.” What do you mean by that? There is a misguided sense, among people who don’t know them, that their misbehavior is inevitable. And yet, historically, these same dogs have been treated as family pets, trained to perform in sports and movies, work as police dogs and as therapy dogs visiting patients and children. It was great to be able to pore over historic documents and newspaper accounts and read about “pit bull” dogs winning beauty contests or acting as companions to people like Dr. Seuss and Helen Keller.

Do you ever talk to people who are involved in the illegal practice of dog fighting? Sometimes, when I’m walking my dogs, people stop and ask if I fight them, and when I say no, they are clearly disappointed. They might even ask, “Then why do you have them?” ... I suspect there is a relatively small number of people who do it often, rather than the other way around.

What compelled you to take up the cause of this breed? When I found my first true pit bull, back in Florida in 2003, I was surprised to find that none of the shelters or rescue groups would help me — because she was a pit bull. Later, when I wrote about her and other pit bulls in my memoir, “The Dogs Who Found Me,” it immediately struck a chord with other pit bull lovers around the country, because they were so grateful to have “their story” told.

What do you mean by the “dogs who found you”? I didn’t go out looking for stray dogs to find. They just kept appearing in my path, and I chose to let them in. It’s become a sort of joke among friends. I’ll be on my way to meet for dinner, or to go to work, and show up with a dog that found me along the way. ... Just a few months ago, I went home for lunch and a dog was waiting for me.

Tell us about your dogs. Brando, my oldest, was adopted in Brooklyn in 2001 ... in the new book he is the poster child for “pit bulls who actually aren’t pit bulls.” He’s a bullmastiff/hound mix.

Douglas was found wandering after Hurricane Gustav. He looks like a Dr. Seuss character.

Bananas is 2, and I met her and her siblings at a gas station where they were for sale. I ended up finding homes for all of them, but I knew immediately that Bananas was meant to be part of my home.

And then there is Paul the rottweiler. He was found wandering between the floodwall and the river, and is very sweet but very shy with strangers. He loves my attention, though, and when I pet him, he tries to pet me back.