by Kate Sipher
Photographed by Teri Currie
hadn’t had an easy life when he found Cydney Cross. His years
spent chained to a wall as the guard dog for a factory on
the Hudson River rendered him rather scrawny. Thinness notwithstanding,
Raymond was stolen by some entrepreneurial kids looking to
sell him as a fighter—and he looked the part, a pit bull with
a massive head and a smile that could have meant he wanted
to rip your head off. He didn’t.
(he went by Ray Ray back then) wouldn’t fight for his new
owners, so he was left behind when they vacated the premises.
Once again, Raymond found himself chained—this time in the
yard—and he tried to do something about it. He jumped the
fence behind the building, but his chain got caught and he
was left helpless and hanging.
would have died in that alley, I’m sure,” Cross remembers.
Founder of the pit-bull rescue organization Out of the Pits,
Cross has worked tirelessly to change people’s behavior and
attitudes regarding the breed. Eight years after befriending
him, Cross is remembering Raymond because, just days ago,
he died in his sleep—on his cushion, with his toys, and with
his blanket wrapped around him.
Cross’ rescue operation basically started with Raymond. Though
a bit scarred and mangled—his neck suffered permanent nerve
damage from hanging on the fence—he seemed approachable to
the neighbor who alerted Cross about the needy dog. “He was
the first big, known fighting dog that we took,” she says.
“He was sort of the foundation guy.”
Working with Raymond, Cross developed processes and procedures
that would later become standard for the organization. “I
would never just pick up a dog on the street and put it in
the cab of my truck and go to Agway with it,” she claims.
Not again, anyway. On the day of their first meeting, Cross
put Raymond in the cab of her truck, after vaccinating him
on the street, then drove off. “I handed him a chew toy, one
of those flip chips, and he ate it in two mouthfuls,” she
remembers laughing. “He started looking all over the truck
for more stuff, and I’m driving and thinking, ‘What am I doing?’
Cross was creating the cornerstone of her future organization.
She had been rescuing greyhounds on an individual basis for
seven years when she fell hard for a puppy, a pit-greyhound
cross, that got her researching the pit-bull breed. She and
her friend Mary Allen (who had an abandoned pit bull) jumped
breeds, as it were. “We both decided to help these dogs,”
Cross says, “because so many people cropped up helping the
greyhounds, and nobody was helping the pit bulls.” In the
beginning, Cross and Allen kept various needy dogs at Cross’
house; Out of the Pits eventually became an incorporated nonprofit.
of the Pits can now house 14 dogs, and a small grant from
a foundation is allowing Cross to build more kennels on her
land. She creates a comfortable environment for the dogs before
they head to permanent homes, and Out of the Pits does home
visits prior to and following adoption to make sure the dog
will be comfortable, and, above all, loved. They also insist
on obedience classes. “If they won’t go to obedience, we won’t
give them a dog,” she says. “We have to have a rigorous screening
process, because most people don’t deserve to have one.”
Cross, a Chatham native, was an animal lover from the get-go,
and when her distaste for math kept her from pursuing dreams
of being a vet, she became a vet technician. Cross, who graduated
from college with a degree in teaching, utilizes her education
skills to inform the public about pit-bull ownership. She
has another passion: photography. It’s one of the many means
of income she must have to keep Out of the Pits in the black
(Cross also does catering work, flips burgers at her family’s
bowling alley, Chatham Bowl, and works at another animal foundation,
the Animal Farm). She shoots weddings, portraits and the like,
but her favorite subjects are kids and animals—“the interaction
between them,” she says—and her work has been shown at the
Rensselaer County Council on the Arts, Albany Center Galleries
and the Spencertown Academy.
the passing of an era, with him gone,” Cross says sadly, bringing
the conversation back to her beloved Raymond. “He taught me
a lot. He was such a good lesson for everyone.” And so too,
perhaps, is Cross.