The following is a summary – broken up into periods of time, about the life of a black dog named Preston, who went on to become the influence and primary source of inspiration of many River Fire Films projects.
On July 6, 2006, Preston and two other dogs were taken from a home by humane investigators during a drug bust in Akron (OH) under the suspicion they were being used for dogfighting. They were brought to the local humane society where they were kept as evidence until the case reached a conclusion.
Estimated to be about one year of age upon arriving at the shelter, Preston was initially unavailable for any one-on-one interactions with the public due to recovering from injuries and pending outcome of the case.
But, for dogs like Preston, the outlook was grim with this “pit bull” label and alleged ties to a dogfighting background. And that was especially true here in Ohio. This was pre-Michael Vick case, in a state that had statewide laws (from 1987-2012) declaring pit bull dogs as inherently vicious at birth and restricting their ownership.
Once his health improved and deemed able to have visitors, Shana Klein – the founder of the Cleveland-based dog rescue For the Love of Pits, began frequently spending time with him, with the understanding there was a strong possibility that he’d be euthanized.
Then one week, Shana was notified that the other dogs he came in with were put to sleep, but continued to visit Preston.
On Friday, July 28, 2006, Shana received a courtesy call at about 2 o’clock from the shelter to inform her that Preston would be put to sleep at 4pm.
She hung up the phone, drove to the shelter, and begged the Executive Director to give her one more day to find a foster home.
Thankfully, Shana’s request was granted, and on the morning of Saturday, July 29 (2006) Shana arrived at the shelter where Preston was waiting for her in the lobby of the humane society.
Everyone Preston has met has talked about his infectious personality. From what I’ve been told, it was this personality that made him a shelter staff favorite who advocated for his survival with the last minute courtesy call to Shana.
But, nevertheless, he then spent the next two years between a foster volunteer and Shana’s home, receiving only marginal serious interest by potential adopters, who ultimately passed on him for one reason or another.
It could have been the black dog myth, or the fact that he had scars slashed across his arms – visible reminders of his alleged former life.
Or, it could have been that pit bull dogs were just starting to get vocal support and widespread sympathy from the general public in the direct aftermath of the Michael Vick case, despite the fact that laws which banned or restricted the ownership of pit bulls remained a very real and active threat.
Whatever the reason(s) may have been, I’m thankful that he slipped through the cracks, and was somehow still available.
Sometime in early May 2008, I – Jeff Theman, an aspiring independent filmmaker at the time, sent an email to Shana for the sole purpose of seeking information about pit bull dogs and dogfighting for a documentary film titled – “Fighting For Their Lives“.
Shana invited me over 0n May 15, 2008, to discuss the film project further, which is when I met and instantly fell madly in love with Preston. So much so that before leaving that afternoon I spontaneously blurted out my intentions to adopt him.
Easier said than done – just four days later the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood (OH) where I lived proposed a ban of pit bull dogs on May 19, 2008…altering my ability to bring Preston home.
After two months and conducting the required three readings of the bill, Lakewood City Council overwhelmingly passed the ban in July 2008. The focus of my documentary immediately pivoted from exploring dogfighting to examining laws called breed specific legislation, titling the project – “Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent.”
It took five months of searching for a rental property where he and I would both be welcomed, until finally – on Saturday, October 4, 2008, Shana drove Preston to my new address where I signed his adoption paperwork. Preston was officially home.
Part of the Guilty Til Proven Innocent documentary collection, “Introducing Preston” was originally released on September 26, 2011.
For the next few years, Preston and I were inseparable. Daily walks in the park, or hopping in the car to run some errands, or just lounging around on the couch – anywhere I went, he went, too.
Along the way two more dogs – Era on June 30, 2011 and Fergie on August 11, 2012, made their way into our home.
Both were pulled from the Cleveland City Kennel; Both were branded with this “pit bull” label…And both were subject to being killed based solely on that and nothing else.
On Sunday, April 28, 2013 – Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent (GTPI) made its premiere in front of a sold out audience at the Capitol Theatre in Cleveland.
It went on to be screened twenty-some subsequent times around the country, including two official film festival selections – the 2013 St. Louis International Film Festival and the 2014 Kansas City Film Fest, as well as shown at three law school universities as part of their animal law curriculum, among other accomplishments.
GTPI helped create conversation about the issue, and it was all inspired by this little black dog named Preston, whose face graced the cover of the DVD and every promotional image for the film.
Some time during the conclusion of touring “Guilty Til Proven Innocent” around the country in mid-2014, I slipped into a dark depression. I won’t get into specifics here, but Preston quite literally saved my life.
On January 7, 2019 at the elderly age of 14, Preston suffered his first known seizure. The following day we went to his veterinarian to have bloodwork and other tests run, and was discovered he was anemic.
After another seizure a few days later, he was rushed to a local northeast Ohio veterinary hospital where he then stayed for the entire weekend to be passed around the different specialty departments and monitored for improvement.
He improved just enough to be discharged that Monday – January 14th, to continue his daily treatments at home with frequent follow up appointments.
From the time he had his first seizure until the day he passed, Preston lived 14 months before his health declined and it was time to relieve him of his pain.
At the age of 15 years old, on the evening of March 16, 2020 at about 9:20pm, Preston took his final breath.
The upcoming docu-series – “Once In A Lifetime” intends on honoring this unique relationship.