In West Baltimore in 2008 a young pit-bull terrier was set on fire in the middle of the day. This and a shocking number of similar incidents prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to create the city’s Anti-Animal Abuse Commission. The commission is responsible for “Show Your Soft Side,” a billboard and poster campaign whose goal is “to change the mindset” of would-be animal abusers.
Each billboard features a local athlete (so far Raven Jarret Johnson, Oriole Adam Jones, and mixed martial arts fighter John Rallo have participated), his pet, and the slogan “Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog.”
For a billboard campaign, it’s particularly aggressive and unambiguous (compare the vague optimism of “Leadership… Pass It On”). The commission notes that animal abuse is perpetrated almost exclusively by teenage boys who see the violence as a step toward manhood, so the campaign features men who fit perfectly an adolescent’s notion of masculinity. The slogan is reminiscent of “DUI is for LOSERS,” but the stern, unforgiving tone is more appropriate here, where the subject is not an irresponsible decision with disastrous potential, but a deliberate, horrifying act of sadism.
The commission hopes to reach teens before they ever harm a cat or dog, as young animal abusers frequently graduate to even more serious acts of violence.