A New York-based commercial photographer has launched a campaign called Not a Bully which aims to challenge the all-too-common view of pit bulls as a 'bully-breed'.
Douglas Sonders, 32, himself the owner of a pit bull mix called Emma, feels compelled to speak up for a breed that is often neglected, mistreated and typecast as mean, aggressive or dangerous.
'Despite what some bad humans have done to these dogs, they are inherently sweet and very trainable,' he tells MailOnline.
Happy face: Photographer Douglas Sonders captures the charming characters of rescue pit bulls, for his Not a Bully campaign, which hopes to change the way people see the breed for the better
In a stunning array of photographs, Mr Sonders captures a host of noble and gentle looking pit bulls, all of whom have touching stories and are now blessed with loving owners.
Although it started off as a photo campaign, Not a Bully is growing. National Geographic Wild recently profiled Mr Sonders with Ceser Milan, the acclaimed TV dog trainer, who he describes as 'wonderfully enthusiastic about helping animals.'
Mr Millan, who posed for Mr Sonders with his Pit Bull Junior, is now an avid supporter of Not a Bully's mission, and in return, Mr Sonders has been donating his time and efforts to the Cesar Millan foundation for abandoned and abused dogs.
But it was Emma, the pit bull mix Mr Sonders adopted two years ago, who started it all.
When his beloved boxer dog, Winston Churchull, died leaving Mr Sonders 'heart wrecked', he decided, following a period of intense mourning, to adopt a new canine companion.
He didn't know quite what he was looking for, but he says he planned to avoid pit bulls, assuming, like many others, that they were a difficult breed.
Not so scary: This pampered pooch, named London, was rescued from a life on the streets of Baltimore, and couldn't look less intimidating with her wonky ears and soft pink bandana
Inspiration: Emma is the two-year-old pit bull mix adopted by Mr Sonders, who taught him what a loving, gentle breed she comes from and sparked his Not a Bully campaign
'I’ve since learned that “pit bull” is a bad word in society, which is a real tragedy,' he says, adding that over 40 per cent of dogs in shelters are 'bully-breeds' and 22 per cent of pit bulls are euthanized regardless of their disposition.
Still, the day he walked into his local Petco adoption drive and saw one-year-old Emma sitting quietly at the back of the room, he was in love.
Emma had been rotated around foster care for nine months prior to finding a forever home with Mr Sonders. 'No-one wanted her because she was a pit-mix with black fur,' he recalls.
Unfair: Mr Sonders says he 'tears up' every time he thinks about the fact that Emma (pictured) was nearly euthanized because of the way she looks
Savior: Winnie (pictured) was adopted by a shy little ten-year-old girl, whom she helped 'break out of her shell' - the pair now compete in dog training competitions together
'The thought makes me tear up when I think how she was nearly put to sleep because of how she looks.'
Aside from her tendency to sneak into Mr Sonders' bed when he's away, Emma is 'perfectly behaved; naturally gentle, great with kids and other dogs, and an excellent running partner', according to her loving owner.
Still, to his disappointment, Mr Sonders noticed his neighbors 'recoil' when they first saw him around the neighborhood with Emma - a knee jerk reaction he hopes he can shift with his project.
Buddies: Cesar Millian (pictured with his dog Junior) appeared in the campaign and were filmed with Mr Sonders for a National Geographic documentary about pit bulls
Another portrait in the series stars Winnie, who was adopted by ten-year-old Gillie, a shy little girl who found she was finally able to break out of her shell after finding a four-legged friend in Winnie. The two now compete in dog training competitions together.
London was rescued from a tough life on the streets of Baltimore, and nursed back to health by volunteers at Good Doggie Daycare. Her adoptive owner, Carolyn, discovered that London, her first pit bull, was 'gentle, smart and good with all other living beings.'
Porter is undoubtedly the most heart-wrenching subject Mr Sonders has photographed. He was found on the street with his legs crushed and his jaw smashed by an unknown assailant.
Disgrace: What looked like it would be a grisly ending for poor Porter (pictured) turned into a hopeful tale, when a rescuer at the Humane Society ensured he was nursed back to health following a brutal attack on him
Heart of gold: Porter won everyone over by displaying nothing but love, despite his awful mistreatment, and now has a happy forever home
Child friendly: Mr Sonders seen visiting a local elementary school with his trusty Emma, to teach kids about the negatives of dog abuse and the importance of adoption, particularly with pit bulls
Despite his despicable treatment, Porter showed nothing but a warm, trusting heart to rescuers at the Humane Society. Instead of putting him to sleep, Julie Conway, an employee at the organization, paid out of her own pocket to save him. He now fronts one of the I'm Not a Bully campaigns ads.
Hundreds of thousands of pit bull and other 'bully breeds' are put to sleep in the U.S. every year, and breed-specific legislation currently bans them from several states - essentially serving these dogs with a death sentence.
The ASPA credits 'putative over-reporting and false reporting' of pit bull attacks on humans as a major cause for their public perception.
Man's best friend: Mr Sonders (pictured with Emma) hopes he can get people to see the breed in a new light, so that more pit bulls can enjoy happy endings
In fact, it's the human attacks on what many insist to be a naturally gentle breed that perhaps need addressing; attacks mainly in the form those who abuse pit bulls, use them as 'bait' and force them into cruel dog-fighting rings.
Mr Sonders points to the case of Michael Vick, the New York Jets quarterback who was jailed in 2007 for mistreating pit bulls as part of vicious dog-fighting racket. Almost all of Mr Vick's former fighting dogs were placed in family homes after positive training rehab, he reveals.
At the end of the day, the Not a Bully campaign simply hopes to shine a very different light on this little-understood breed, so that more pit bulls can enjoy happy endings.
You can donate or help the cause here.
Read more: I'm not a bully! Heartwarming portraits of rescue pit bulls hope to challenge harsh misconceptions about the breed | Mail Online
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook