He fell in love with a pit bull that was on death row.
That’s how Justin Eigenbrodt, 34, a mechanic from Patterson, N.J., came to be living full-time with dozens of dogs in New York Bully Crew’s new headquarters on Montauk Highway in East Patchogue.
“I came across this picture of Jake, and I just felt so bad seeing him,” Eigenbrodt said. “He had a dog bite. They were saying rabies. His head was swollen. I begged this rescue group I knew to pull him [from death row] but they couldn’t. So I came across the Bully Crew on social media and reached out to them.
“And they said absolutely.”
He and the group’s founder, Craig Fields, and the staffers at New York Bully Crew became fast friends, even though Jake was a handful in Islandia, where the rescue and rehabilitation group was based at the time.
Eventually, Eigenbrodt made his way to Long Island at Field’s urging and he and Jake were reunited.
“It’s been history ever since,” Eigenbrodt said.
The New York Bully Crew, founded in 2010 by Fields, who also owns an investment services company, has grown in five years from one rescue dog in Fields’ Nesconset home to a full-fledged adoption center in East Patchogue. The group moved to the area on April 1 after conflicts with a prior landlord. Their current neighbors, the staffers said, have been mostly welcoming, aside from the occasional complaint over poop a volunteer neglects to pick up.
“One of our followers [on social media] is our new landlord,” said John Votta, who’s been with Fields from the beginning and helps run the business side of the 501(c)3 nonprofit. “So that’s perfect. Thank God, too, because we would have been out on the street. Luckily, we have an unbelievable fan base.”
There’s about a dozen paid employees at the center, located in an industrial building where kennels are located inside and outside. Tarps are thrown over the kennels and about three dozen baby pools are used to help keep the dogs cool. Each of the dogs gets walked every day by staffers or volunteers.
The pit bulls can be seen getting walked up and down Montauk Highway at any given time.
“Some of the dogs are staff-only for walks, or just with certain people,” Votta said. “But we’ve got that down to a science.”
“We’re trying to change the stigma,” he continued. “These animals, they were born to love. They’re forced to fight. A lot of the dogs we get come from bad situations. Pit bulls have great attributes, they’re loving, trusting, smart.
“But those attributes get exploited by sh-tty people, and we have to pick up the pieces.”
He said the New York Bully Crew, which mostly rescues dogs that are about to be put down, adopts two to five dogs a week. There is an involved vetting process that gets many would-be adopters get rejected, though.
Votta and the other staffers say social media has been what helped make their group a success. New York Bully Crew has 78,000 people liking them on Facebook and another 131,000 on Instagram. They post photos and videos of their rescue dogs several times a day. When Facebook and Instagram followers see happy, smiling families with an adopted pit bull, that just lead to more adoptions, Votta said.
So if you adopt a dog out of the East Patchogue center, expect to pose for a photo.
“Every time,” Votta laughed. “We don’t let an adoption go out the door without an Instagram picture.”
As for rejecting applications, Votta said the staffers have developed a lot of questions and interviewing methods all designed uncover potential red flags, keeping in mind not all the applicants are entirely honest.
If the employees are on the fence about adopting a dog out, they’ll err on the side of caution and keep the dog.
“We’re doing it for the dogs,” he said. “We’re not doing this for peoples’ families. And we just don’t want to have these dogs end up back with people who aren’t doing the right thing by them.”
As for Eigenbrodt, who helps oversee all the dogs’ care, he said he quickly got used to living 24/7 with dozens of barking dogs. He has an apartment upstairs at the center.
“Now one can bark right in my face and I would just keep sleeping,” he said. “But it’s common sense [to have someone live on campus]. These are living, breathing animals and things can go wrong. Plus, I can keep watch on the place.”
Helping him keep watch is his pal, Jake, along with his two other rescues.
Jake wasn’t exactly a model dog, he said, upon arriving with the Bully Crew two years back.
“He was the most wild dog,” he said. “Nobody wanted to handle him. You literally had to lasso him in his pen to get him out. He was so dog aggressive. He was a nut. He was just all-go, all-drive.”
“I adopted him. He lives with me now,” he continued. “He’s amazing. He’s just a big coach potato. He loves life.
“Still hates dogs though.”
Photo 1: Justin Eigenbrodt walks a 2-year-old pit bull, Trevor, along Montauk Highway Thursday morning.