As director of Hillsborough County's Head Start program, an early childhood education program for children from low-income families, Louis Finney has a packed schedule. • But he still makes time to walk his dog twice a day, take her to the park once a week and give her all the love and pampering she demands of him. • Finney, along with his 6-year-old pit bull named Samantha, has been on a crusade to educate folks about the "bad rap" of the breed ever since he adopted her three years ago. • He has made her the face of his cause, and his neighbors, family and co-workers all recognize Samantha as a friendly, loving "people dog," Finney said. • He spoke with Times reporter Elizabeth Behrman about his decision to adopt a pit bull, and how he has made a goal to educate people about them.
How did you decide to adopt Samantha?
Three years ago, I was looking and doing research because I was thinking about getting a dog. I went on a database to match my personality and lifestyle to the breed I should get, and it matched me to a pit bull. They're good for people living alone and matched my personality. I was questionable about it, so it took me a while.
I looked at several dogs with (Hillsborough County Animal Services) before I made my decision. The one I picked was dying of heartworms. But she was perfectly fine with medication, and you would never know she was abused or there was anything wrong with her. They found her, with scars on her and she was malnourished. I had to agree to treat the dog for three months, which I did, and she's been with me ever since.
What is she like?
The dog is probably the best animal I've ever had. Not the best watchdog, but probably the best companion. She's very, very spoiled and follows me around the entire house. I have to keep my door locked because she likes to sleep in my bed. She knows when I'm happy, when I'm sad. If anybody ever broke into my house, she'd show them where all the money in my house is at and leave with them.
Pit bulls do have a bit of a bad reputation. Why did you want to take up the cause to reverse that stereotype?
My niece and my brother-in-law live in Maryland, and they wrote a children's book about pit bull safety. He was starting a crusade out there. I used to worry about my niece being around pit bulls, but she's the one who inspired me. But my crusade started here when people came around my dog and started to get scared. But they were fine once they spent time with her.
It's just a bad stereotype that has come because a lot of times they are raised wrong.
What sort of things do you do to spread your message?
Samantha is pretty active in the community. I bring her to parks to play with children and to all our Head Start events. I also bring a pit bull ambassador (from Hillsborough County Animal Services) to events to talk about the breed. My goal has been more to show parents and adults that it's a good breed and it's really about the owners.
It's really let me know that the pit bull ambassador program that the county has really works. So I try to support them.
You bring Samantha to a lot of the outdoor Head Start events. Why is it important to you that you educate children about pit bulls?
I work primarily with kids from low-income families. Those kids are the most likely to be bitten at that age. A lot of that comes because they don't know how to pet a dog or approach the owner first. So a lot of it is safety.
A lot of those families also think the dogs are used for fighting. It's also to show them the fact that this is not what you're supposed to do with a pit bull, that they are good, adoptable dogs.
Do you think you've changed anyone's mind since you took up the cause?
Absolutely. My staff especially. They see a different part of me. At our annual big event in October that we do with Animal Services, we provide adoption and breeding and safety information. My dog had to miss the last one, and I had so many people ask me why I didn't bring her. I really saw what an influence she's had.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.