8 min read

Pit Bull Found As Stray Is Changing Everyone's Mind About His Breed

He has 14 brothers and sisters now and is proving that pitties are great family dogs 🐶❤️

dog in pumpkin patch
Kara Steffensen

When Santiago, a 7-year-old pit bull, was picked up as a stray in Poughkeepsie, New York, in June 2011, little was known about what kind of life he had lived.

dog standing next to river
Kara Steffensen

However, his gorgeous markings and sweet personality won over everyone, from the officer who found him (and after whom he was named), to the staffers at Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) — an organization dedicated to the equal treatment of pit bulls and training them as assistance, police and detection dogs — who took him in.

Now, he is winning the hearts of casting directors and becoming a Hollywood star.

dog at movie theater next to popcorn
Dana Edelson

Erich Steffensen and his wife Kara decided to foster Santiago when he came into AFF's training program. “I wanted him as soon as I saw him,” Erich Steffensen, who began as a volunteer but is now the special programs manager at AFF, told The Dodo. “There was just something about him.”

man holding pit bull
Erich Steffensen and Santiago on the dog's first day at his new home | Kara Steffensen

Kara Steffensen took a little longer to convince, but not much. “We decided to adopt him the day we brought him home,” she said.

dog and woman selfie
Kara Steffensen and Santiago | Kara Steffensen

Santiago joined the Steffensens' existing pack of 11 dogs in upstate New York and immediately fit right in. They have since adopted three more dogs, bringing them to a whopping total of 15. Several of their dogs enjoy participating in frisbee competitions, and a few more have been featured in advertisements thanks to Kara Steffensen’s job as an animal talent agent.

pack of dogs
Santiago with some of his brothers and sisters | Kara Steffensen

“He has a unique look and he’s pretty chill and mellow, which makes him great for doing ads,” Kara Steffensen said. “And he likes to work for treats.” In addition to the basics, Santiago, nicknamed Santi, knows lots of tricks like, “Give me a smooch” to kiss and “high five.”

dog sitting for treat
Santiago sitting for a treat on set | Kara Steffensen

Santiago’s first commercial ad was in 2012 for Lands' End, a company that frequently uses “family-friendly” breeds of dogs, according to Kara Steffensen. Emotions were running high as she described what a fulfilling moment it was for Lands' End to choose a pit bull type to represent a “family dog.”   

land's end ad with pit bull
John Robinson

Since then, Santiago has been featured in countless ad campaigns for companies like Cadillac, AOL and Free People. He has starred in Frontline’s web series “As The Dog Barks,” as well as a public service announcement with actor and pit bull owner Jon Bernthal — and has even filmed an upcoming music video.

His new PSA with Animal Farm Foundation, titled “#ItsBull,” inspires people to focus less on breeds and more on dogs as individuals — something the Steffensens also feel strongly about.

Kara Steffensen is particularly proud of Santiago’s recent spread in Vogue Magazine, along with his rescue brother, The Amazing Mr. Gumball.

vogue magazine ad featuring pit bulls
Santiago (center) in Vogue Magazine, with Buttercup (left) and sibling The Amazing Mr. Gumball (right) | Sophie Gamand

Santiago recently made the leap to the big screen with perhaps his largest credit to date in the independent film “The Wilde Wedding.” He joined a cast of well-known stars such as Glenn Close, Patrick Stewart (who fostered a pit bull earlier this year and fell in love), John Malkovich, Minnie Driver and Peter Facinelli — who played his owner. Santiago is frequently seen riding around in the sidecar of his fictitious owner’s motorcycle.

dog sitting in motorcycle sidecar
Kara Steffensen

Santiago made many friends on set, including producer Andrew Karsch. “He was cooking burgers on the grill and he would cook Santiago his own burgers,” Kara Steffensen said. “He’s really the perfect dog — he gets along with everyone.”

pit bull kissing other pit bull
Santiago getting a Valentine’s kiss from sibling, Betty | Kara Steffensen

There was also a running joke on the set of the independent film that Santiago was the highest-paid actor, due to the fact that most of the human actors were working on royalties and Santi had a daily stipend.

dog on movie set
Santi on set | Peter Smith

Of course, it isn’t all work and no play for this handsome guy. When Santiago isn’t busy on set, he loves to go swimming in the giant “dogs only” pool the Steffensens have built in their backyard.

dog in swimming pool
Kara Steffensen

He also loves playing frisbee …

dog playing frisbee
Kara Steffensen

Running around outside …

dogs running outside
B. Docktor/Kara Steffensen

Cuddling with his brothers and sisters (he loves being at the bottom of the pile) …

dogs sleeping on couch
Kara Steffensen

And little dogs and puppies …

pit bull with pug
Santi with a pug named Mary Todd Lincoln | Kim Wolf

Santiago especially loves crowds and getting pet. “He loves getting attention,” Erich Steffensen said. It’s a good thing Santi has so many adoring fans, like the ones he met recently at his very own red carpet premiere of “The Wilde Wedding” in New York City.

dog and cast on red carpet
Santiago posing on the red carpet with some of his AFF friends and faculty supporters at the red carpet premiere of “The Wilde Wedding” | Kellie Stevens

“He just has a different attitude than most dogs,” Erich Steffensen said.

dog at box office
Santiago getting his ticket at a movie premiere | Dana Edelson

And Santiago isn't letting his rising stardom go to his head. “He doesn’t care at all,” Kara Steffensen said.

dog smiling out of car window
Erich Steffensen
To see more of Santiago’s work and adventures, follow him on Facebook. For more information about Animal Farm Foundation or to donate to help it continue rescuing shelter pit bulls, please visit its website.