An Interview with Denise Carey Costa – By Kirsten Walsh

As you’ll read below, Denise Carey-Costa is outraged at the stereotypes that are placed on certain dogs. She is among the mass believers that a dog is not born bad, and tells the story of Tony. In her book, “Tony’s Tale: Tragedy in Arizona”, she details the case surrounding the villain-ized pup and his trail to a sad death at the hands of animal control. Her passion for the case is what led her to write the book, and when that was done, she realized she HAD to do more. She is presently in the process of putting together a documentary about Tony and his family, as well as about the stereotyping of certain dogs in certain breeds. Already breaking one of the rules of documentaries- being subjective towards the cause- she is setting out to show the world that rules and stereotypes don’t always apply.

KW: Tell me about Tony and how he affected you.

DCC: Tony was a dog who lived with his family in Clifton, Arizona. He was a sweet, gentle Pit Bull/Shar Pei mix. In November of 2011, a neighbor’s small dog was found attacked and injured and eventually died. The neighbor claimed that Tony or the two other dogs he lived with were to blame for the attack. In this area coyotes are very prevalent so it could very well have been a coyote attack. The dogs were seized by animal control and after a long, drawn out court battle with absolutely zero evidence linking Tony to the attack he was court ordered to be killed. It was assumed he was the aggressor because of his breed.

Tony’s story has affected me in so many ways. From the very beginning, when I first heard of his plight it filled me with anger at the injustice he and his family were subjected to. My heart broke when I learned that he had been euthanized despite all of the public outcry, the petitioning and the total lack of evidence linking him to the crime.

KW: That is truly a tragic case. So what led you to taking up the pen and writing a book about it?

DCC: I was so moved by his story and several other similar cases that had taken place that same summer I was determined to get Tony’s story told. Mainly to raise awareness of what is going on in cities across the globe and expose how the courts are violating human and animal rights. Tony was a wonderful dog, a beloved family pet and companion. He was totally harmless towards people and other animals. He did not deserve to be seized from his family, imprisoned in a dog pound for eight months, then murdered for an act of aggression he never committed.

KW: So let’s talk about the film aspect. What do you hope to accomplish with the documentary, as a filmmaker and as an animal advocate?

DCC: As an animal advocate I hope to expose Tony’s plight and the plight of countless dogs around the world to a larger audience and via a larger media than the book itself. I strongly believe that exposure, education, and awareness are what is needed to make much needed changes in how these cases are handled as well as expose corruption in many of our court systems. As a filmmaker I hope "Tony’s Tale" will pave the way for other documentary films I hope to create. There are so many topics out there regarding animals that need to be showcased; cruelty in circuses, zoos, on factory farms and at water parks featuring live animal acts.

KW: Those are excellent goals! I understand that you have put together an excellent team for the film. Who have you brought in?

DCC: Josh Mitchell will be producing/directing the film. He recently produced a film entitled "Helen Keller had a Pit Bull", and he does have a strong interest in the topic and is an advocate for the breed. As far as myself it would be best to say I am a creative consultant. I will have a major role in the film as far appearing on screen, giving testimonials and discussing my book.

KW: Is the documentary going to be a straight adaptation of the book or what makes it different?

DCC: The treatment that was done for the script was based on the book itself. There are some major differences, such as it will be told in first person as opposed to third person and will also expand on the story line by discussing some other similar cases that have also made worldwide news.

KW: Where are you at in the production process and what is next for the film?

DCC: We have a treatment for a script and we have many people willing to participate in the film by giving on screen testimonials regarding the case. We also have Josh Mitchell on board to produce and direct it. At this point we are looking for an Executive Producer(s) to take interest in the project.

KW: It sounds like you definitely have your work cut out for you! Are you planning on continuing as a filmmaker or is it just for this project?

DCC: A lot depends on how "Tony’s Tale" goes. I would love to continue on with other projects tackling some of the other topics mentioned above.

KW: That’s awesome! How can people support or help with the film project? Animal rights?

DCC: People can help and support the project by sharing the information and possibly offering to be Executive Producers for the project. People can support Animal Rights in so many ways without having to leave their communities. They can become activists via many petition sites such as, or joining such worldwide groups as PETA, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, the ASPCA, Defenders of Wildlife etc.. They can also become more active in their communities by donating time or money to their local shelters, opting to adopt instead of purchasing a pet from a pet store and even trying a vegetarian diet.

KW: What would be some advice for authors looking to get into filmmaking from your personal experience?

DCC: Any author who would like to get into filmmaking and transform their book to film definitely needs to know their target audience. The best thing is to hire a publicist to help market the project and get the information out there. Most of all, do not let rejection detour you from moving forward.

Thanks Denise, and best of luck on your production! You can find more information about Denise and Tony on her website, where you can also purchase the book!

To learn more information about adopting an animal or volunteering for the Humane Society, you can check out their website.