Interview: Blackhawks' Bickell on Fighting for Pit Bulls, Stanley Cup Playoffs
With the Olympics now behind us and the NHL back in action, Bryan Bickell is focusing on winning his third Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. But another championship isn't the only thing Bickell is fighting for. Along with his wife, Bickell is an advocate for dogs. Specifically, pit bulls.
The Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation not only helps pit bulls but also abused children. The foundation works to promote the dogs for adoption or to aid in their rescue. Through the foundation the public learns about pit bulls and the foundation provides services to low-income pit bull owners.
It all started about eight years ago for the Bickells when they met a five-week-old puppy in need in Ontario, Canada. To say the dog was living in less than ideal circumstances would be an understatement. The owner of the puppy, a crack addict, took the dogs from their mother at an extremely young age. The owner actually bragged that the puppy was trying to feed off a different mother dog, and that her tail was cut off with scissors. Bryan and Amanda saw and heard enough. They gave the guy 50 bucks in exchange for the puppy.
The Bickells had added a loving dog to their family, named Bailey. "We brought in Bailey and we just knew right away how loyal she was," Bryan Bickell told Breitbart Sports. "After meeting other Pit Bulls you can see the same trait."
Bailey was safe and sound with the Bickells. Then it happened. The Bickell's home of Ontario enacted a ban against any dog resembling a pit bull just a month after they saved Bailey. No more dog parks or puppy classes. Bailey couldn't even go for a walk without wearing a muzzle. People were scared of this sweet ten-pound pup just because of what they had heard. Numerous times, neighbors called Animal Control to report the Bickells. Things were rough. But the Bickells decided they wouldn't give up on their new addition.
"The dogs are like kids," Bickell said. "You can't leave your dogs behind."
When the Bickells arrived in Chicago they found out the Windy City was considering banning pit bulls as well. That was the last straw. They had to act. So they created the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation.
By working with pit bulls who are rescued or adopted and have overcome abuse or bullying, the Bickells focus on promoting the human-animal bond by bringing certified therapy pit bulls together with children who are victims of abuse. Children who are victims of bullying are taught kindness and compassion through pit bulls.
The foundation debunks the myths and misconceptions about pit bulls that are out there. "I feel its all about the owners," said Bickell. "You can train a dog like a pit bull to be a loving family pet." The adorable Bailey is proof of that.
Once the fear factor is out of the equation, the Bickells work to rehabilitate dogs who were abused. The same principles apply for children who come from violence. When a kid sees a dog overcome obstacles, it often gives the child inspiration to bounce back from their own problems. Teaming dogs with kids has been incredibly rewarding for the Bickells.
Violence against animals reared its ugly head in the world of sports when NFL quarterback Mike Vick was sentenced to prison for his role in a gruesome dog fighting ring. Vick electrocuted, hanged, shot, and drowned dogs. Yet when his jail term was over not only did the Philadelphia Eagles sign him, but he was celebrated by many players, fans, and media members. Hardly a peep came from athletes condemning his sick behavior.
"It's crazy what he did to take advantage like that," Bickell said. While most athletes embraced Vick or at best remained silent, there was one high-profile sports star that voiced displeasure. Then a Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and his wife spoke up and a couple seasons later and the Buehrles had to put their actions behind their words. The Sox traded Buehrle to the Marlins. The county in which his new team played had a ban on Pit Bulls. So the Buehrles had to live far from the ball park in another county to keep their family, four-legged members included, in tact. It got even more difficult. Buehrle was traded again. This time to the Blue Jays. Toronto is in Ontario where Pit Bulls are banned. Instead of getting rid of their dogs, the Buehrles had to sacrifice. While Mark headed north of the border, his wife, kids, and dogs stayed in Florida. Bickell credits the Buehrles for speaking out and for staying loyal to their pets.
In order to continue to make an impact in the lives of Pit Bulls and children, the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation requires funding. That means donations from generous donors. This year they came up with a creative way to raise some money. Bickell and other Blackhawks posed for a calendar along with a bunch of pit bulls. Tough guys going gaga over puppies. It was a huge hit. Bickell is appreciative of his teammates participation in the calendar. "They were really supportive," Bickell said. "I think that's important when we help each other on and off the ice. We are like brothers and we support each other. In the end it all helps dogs get homes and raise awareness."
The calendars sold like crazy. There are just a handful remaining for purchase through the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation web site.
The Blackhawks return to the ice this week after the long Olympic break. Their goal is the same it's been for years now: skating Lord Stanley's cup. "We are confident," Bickell said. "After winning in 2010, we knew how to get it done. Last season we had that epic start and we used that to our advantage once the playoffs started. We came back on Detroit down 3-1 and then we just felt it was meant to be. Those 17 seconds against Boston, the biggest comeback in sports, will never be forgotten. Because of all of that we feel like we can do it again. We are looking forward to it."
While Bickell is excited for the season to resume, he did enjoy the time off. Not only was he able to work with the foundation, but he also took in some of the action in Sochi. "We're excited, being from Canada it was nice to see them win again," Bickell said. "It was special for those who got to play."
Bickell has pride in his Canadian roots. But plenty of pure Americana is rubbing off on him as well. While we're still months away from playoff beard time, Bickell is a fan of the bearded cast of Duck Dynasty. "I've been watching all the seasons," Bickell said. "Those guys are something else. I'm from a small town, so I can relate to them. It is a funny show and I enjoy watching it." He also enjoys doing something else that's very American, and that's volunteering.
"The most rewarding part of the charity work is seeing the difference dogs and kids can make in each other's lives," Bickell said. Soon, he'll see that bond on an every day basis. Amanda Bickell is expecting. Come summertime, Bailey and her mixed mutt doggie brother will have a little baby joining them in the Bickell house. Bickell looks forward to being a dad.
For now though it's time to shake off the rust and get back at it. The Blackhawks are going for their third title in five seasons. This team has gained a lot of fans outside of Chicago over this run. Largely because of their success but also because the team is filled with likable players. Bickell is certainly one of them. He and his wife are making Corey Crawford-like saves throughout Chicago. The only difference is we're not talking about pucks. The Bickells are saving the lives of dogs and children.
Visit the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation at bickellfoundation.org