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Peanut butter pictures, Pit Bulls and passion propel Lakewood photographer

 

 

By SUE BOTOS

LAKEWOOD- A jar of peanut butter and a love of rescue dogs, especially Pit Bull Terriers, mixed with a generous helping of passion might just be award- winning photographer Greg Murray’s recipe for success.

“Three years ago we had a mastiff rescue, Bailey, that we rescued from a backyard breeder,” the Lakewood native recalled during a recent interview at Nature’s Oasis, just around the corner from his and wife Kristen’s Lakewood home. (The family also includes “mutts” Kensi and Leo).

Having recently left his job in human resources after 10 years, the St. Ignatius High School graduate was devoting himself full-time to his dog photography business, and thought Bailey would be a fitting subject.

“Her droopy ears and jowls made her look so sad, so I gave her peanut butter to make her look more animated,” he remembered.

Although Bailey died in 2016, the peanut butter idea stuck with Murray. Winter is a bit slower for his business, so Murray began photographing dogs eating small portions of the gooey treat just for fun, in his Lakewood studio. Little did he know that his project would result in international fame.

“I started to share (the photos) on social media, and the next week I got a call from the (London) Daily Mail. The day after that, the Huffington Post called, then it was Elle, People and the Today Show. There was about one month of doing daily interviews,” Murray said.

Soon his photos of tongue-smacking pups, many of them Murray’s clients and most of them rescues, were circling the globe.

“I did it to keep busy and maybe start a series,” he said. “I knew locally it would get attention, but I didn’t realize it would go around the world.”

The next logical step, Murray said, was to gather the photos into a bound collection. After beginning a Kickstarter campaign, which raised about $18,000, he was contacted by two publishers, one a large New York firm, the other Gibbs Smith, a smaller Utah-based company. Ultimately, Murray felt he and Gibbs Smith were on the same page.

“I had this gut feeling they were really passionate about dogs. The person who signed me was a rescue advocate,” Murray recalled. He added that so far, about 6,000 copies of “Peanut Butter Dogs” have been sold, with another printing in the works for the holiday season.

Leafing through his book, an observer can’t help but notice several photos of Pitt Bulls and “pittie” mixes among the peanut butter eating canines. These dogs represent another one of Murray’s passions and his determination to overturn a Lakewood ordinance outlawing the dogs.

“Pit Bulls are a mix of other dogs. They’re not a breed,” Murray explained. “They’re my favorite dog. They’re one of the most loyal and affectionate type of dog I get to work with.”

Murray noted that there is “plenty of debate” as to why Lakewood City Council passed legislation in 2008 to ban any dog determined via DNA testing to be 50 percent of the breeds most associated with the term Pit Bull, such as the American bulldog and the Staffordshire terrier. In fact, he said he had to get approval from the city to have Bailey, due to her blocky head and wide jaw, a characteristic of Pit Bulls.

“At this point, it’s pointless to go back and speculate, you have to move forward,” said Murray, giving several examples of dogs being required to be tested, or ordered removed from the city based on appearance. Murray said he and a local group will be active in the move to strike down the breed specific law. He added that in 2012, Gov. John Kasich removed the definition of Pit Bull as a dangerous dog from state legislature.

Murray noted that safety for all animals, fair treatment and enforcement of laws governing animals is the goal of the group.

“I want Lakewood to be known as the city that takes animal safety seriously because right now they don’t,” he said.

Meanwhile, Murray hopes to keep humans and canines happy with his work.

“Dogs make people smile and laugh,” he said. “I basically get paid to make people smile and laugh and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

 

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