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Hot men and adorable pups: what more could you ask for? Celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz’s 2019 calendar, Bullies & Biceps, is fourteen months of sheer perfection (two bonus months for 2020).

Featuring some of the biggest male fitness models working today alongside loveable, pitbull puppies who are in need of a forever home, this calendar is a special tribute to the memory of Ruiz’s beloved pitbull, Oliver, who recently passed away. Ruiz and Oliver shared six wonderful years together, and it was Oliver who inspired Ruiz to fuse his two passions together, photography and pitbull rescue. Every dollar made from calendar sales benefits the New York Bully Crew, a pet rescue that specializes in rehabilitating and rehoming pitbulls who have suffered abuse and neglect.

This calendar makes the perfect holiday gift in addition to raising pit bull awareness. OUT FRONT spoke with Ruiz about the calendar, Oliver, and pit bull advocacy.

Why don’t you start off by telling me why you wanted to do this Bullies and Biceps calendar? Why did you want to honor Oliver in this way?
I have been shooting animal rescue calendars for five years now, and this year I specifically wanted to focus on pitbulls, because I had a pitbull and I love pitbulls and pitbulls are terribly maligned in the media. I felt like I just wanted to focus on pitbulls specifically in hopes to change some perceptions and change a few minds and hearts.

I also wanted to dedicate it to Oliver, because he is responsible for changing my own perception on pitbulls. I had the misconception that most people do. It wasn’t until a friend of mine was fostering Oliver. I went to stay with him, and I fell in love with this sweet, gentle, and adorable dog. I adopted him within 24 hours. I just fell head-over-heels in love with this dog.

The rescue he was a part of started to educate me on the need for pitbull advocacy, and I always try to use my skill set to benefit causes that mean a lot to me. I wanted to dedicate the calendar to Oliver because, on a sad note, he was diagnosed with lymphoma last December, and we lost him literally a week after the shoot for the calendar. That was extremely heartbreaking.

We have since adopted another pitbull, this sweet, little girl named Julia who is now the love of our lives. She is Oliver’s sister from another mister. I wanted to commemorate Oliver in a very visible way, and I felt this was like the best way possible.

And it’s also changing the misconceptions about the breed.
Yes. Pitbulls have such a bad reputation, and they are a very discarded breed. It’s heartbreaking.

It truly is. And I am very sorry for Oliver’s passing. It sounds like he was a very fun-loving dog.
Oh my god, literally everyone who ever met him fell in love. I used to bring him to shoots, and he’s met tons of celebrities and models. Everyone loved him, even those who weren’t even dog people. He was a celebrity in his own right. He was a great mascot for the pit bull breed, because he was so chill and gentle with everyone. Kids, babies, he was a love bug for sure.

And how did your paths exactly cross? You said your friend was fostering him?
Yes. A friend of mine in Los Angeles was fostering him. As soon as I walked through the door of my friend’s place, Oliver came running up to me and sat at my feet and gave me this look that hit me like a ton of bricks. These big, brown eyes. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, why is this dog looking at me like that, and why is it affecting me this way?’ Then I went to lay down, because I was tired from flying. Oliver came and put his head on the edge of the bed and literally stared at me for 20 minutes. After that, it was over. I died. He was 11 months old at that time.

By the way you talk about pitbulls and your relationship with Oliver, it is hard to believe that you once thought that pitbulls were a bad breed.
Yes. I believed the hype that pitbulls were intimidating, and it was ignorance. I am embarrassed and ashamed to say that I suffered from that ignorance. It’s equivalent to racism, you know what I mean? People are afraid of what they don’t understand. One of the guys in the calendar, this African American guy who is the sweetest, nicest, and most gentle guy you’ll ever meet, he’s a big fitness guy, and he said people have so many misconceptions about him when they see him, so he can relate to the plight of pitbulls. It’s just misinformation and hysteria with the media.

Whenever a dog attacks somebody, it’s always a pitbull. When a golden retriever or another dog attacks, it doesn’t make the news. Only pitbulls.

People are aggressive when they are horribly abused, neglected, starved, and beaten. You have to do a lot to make a pitbull become aggressive.

It’s always the owner, not the dog. There are all kinds of data and scientific studies that pit bulls are much lower on the aggression scale than other dogs. People just have no idea.

How long have you had Julia?
Just for a couple of weeks. She was skin and bones when she was found. She was tied to a post in South Philly with a couple of other litters who were just dumped off. We don’t really know what her story is, and she was a little skittish when we brought her home, but she is finally acclimated to our home. We shower her with love, and everyone who comes over here does the same. She is carrying the torch for Oliver.

Do you have any other pets at the moment?
Nope. Just Julia. We want to adopt more pitbulls soon, though.

What would you say was the most fun part about the Bullies and Biceps project?
I would have to say the shoot in general. Typically, shoots can be a little chaotic and stressful, but this time it went so beautifully, and it was well-orchestrated. Everyone from the rescue to the volunteers to all the models, there was a real sense of comradery. It elevated the whole experience. The day after the shoot, all the models were emailing me and texting me saying this was the most gratifying experience of their year. As it was for me. It was a beautiful experience, and I will always have fond memories of it.

Did the guys instantly fall in love with the pups?
They did fall in love with the pups, and actually a lot of these guys didn’t know each other beforehand. A lot of them flew in to do this shoot. This calendar has gotten so much momentum over the years that guys really want to participate in it. I had guys flying in from all over the country, even from the U.K. They all formed a bond and are staying in touch with each other now and liking each other’s posts on Instagram. It’s like a little brotherhood was formed.

All proceed from this calendar go to the New York Bully Crew. Can you tell me a little more about this organization?
They are an amazing organization who pull dogs from really difficult situations. Some rescues only focus on making sure the dogs find good homes, but then others, like the New York Bully Crew, pull dogs from horrible conditions and rehabilitate them and get them proper medical care.

The New York Bully Crew even pull dogs from Puerto Rico and Central America and even from Korea and China from the dog trade. They pull dogs from really hard cases that are heartbreaking. You see these images on social media, and you can’t look at them.

The New York Bully Crew rehabilitates them and cares for their health and gives them a lot of love. Their work is so profound, and it really resonates with me. Even though the calendar can be kind of a fluff thing, it’s what I can do to help them.

What is the best advice you can give to someone who is deathly afraid of pitbulls?
The best advice I can give is to just interact with one. Go to a rescue or a shelter, or if you know somebody who has one, go hang out with them. You will change your perception in five seconds.