- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Deirdre Franklin thinks it’s no accident her fellow burlesque dancers and pin up models feel a kinship with pit bulls.

“They’re people who chose to be on the outside and do it their way, who are used to being the underdog,” she says. “They identify with the pit bull — they want to change the stereotype.”

Changing the stereotype is one thing Miss Franklin — her stage name is Little Darling — hopes to do with her calendar, Pinups for Pitbulls. Her other goal is to beat last year’s total of more than $10,000 raised to support pit-bull rescue.

Her involvement with breed rescue started with one dog she wasn’t able to save, when a woman brought a stray pit bull into an animal shelter where Miss Franklin was a volunteer.

“She thought she was saving its life by bringing it in,” Miss Franklin recalls. “I took the dog and put her in the kennel — she was a sweetheart, totally gentle.” The shelter, however, had a policy of euthanizing all pit bulls and would neither let Miss Franklin adopt the dog nor release it to a pit-bull rescue group.

Miss Franklin’s anger at the death led her to adopt another pit bull from a rescue group. With no experience with the breed, she was fearful. However, the dog she adopted, Carla Lou, who had been left for dead in a Texas basement, “came right out of the cage and was an angel,” Miss Franklin says.

Now, after years of involvement with rescue, she says this is typical: “Every other pit bull I’ve met has just wanted to climb in your lap and kiss you and be near you.”

Miss Franklin, who works as an auditor by day, decided to start using her dancing and modeling talents to raise money for pit-bull rescue three years ago with the first Pinups for Pitbulls calendar. This year, the project has gone nationwide with its first models from the West Coast.

Beautiful and quirky in their high heels, red lipstick and, in many cases, elaborate tattoos, these women are more than eye candy.

Models go through an application process to get into the calendar, and the photos feature them with their own dogs and text telling their stories, from heartbreaking rescue tales to one model’s description of her dog wagging her tail “so hard that her butt wiggles.”

The models must take part in fundraising events, too, but that commitment is no obstacle to attracting participants. There were 50 applicants for this year’s calendar.

Miss Franklin says most dancers don’t go to school to learn burlesque, so they’re accustomed to doing research and creating their own routines to new and old music. “It’s their art form,” Miss Franklin says. “They work very hard to create something that’s only two minutes long and no one might see again.”

Some of the women use talents from their day jobs for the cause as well. Carrie Hunter of Los Angeles, the September model, is a graphic designer by day and did the layout of the calendar and Web site.

Getting e-mails through the Web site about dogs that need homes or need to get out of shelters quickly before they’re euthanized, she says, “you get involved on a really personal level.”

Miss Hunter, who doesn’t own a pit bull (living in a small studio apartment, she has a Chihuahua-terrier mix rescue dog), posed with Baxter, Miss Franklin’s second dog, who still has scars from chemical burns he suffered at the hands of an abuser.

The one dog in the calendar that hasn’t yet found a home is the cover model, Ciera. Karen Halker, who took Ciera to the photo shoot for the calendar, says, “She’s really an even-tempered dog. She gets along with everybody.”

Ciera, who’s deaf, is being fostered by Critter Crossings, which has volunteers and foster homes in California and Nevada. Unlike most of the other pit-bull-specific groups the calendar helps, it’s an all-breed rescue organization.

“We’re known for taking in underdogs,” says Miss Halker, who volunteers for Critter Crossings.

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