By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno
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Videographer / director: Bob Miller
Producer: Joe Roberts, Ruby Coote
Editor: Ross Dower
Renee Castleman, 27, and her husband, Patrick, own Gatorhead Bullies – a breeding business specialising in XL Pit Bull Terriers and French Bulldogs.
The company’s prestige puppies, which are bred for their athletic ability and protective instincts, sell for anything between $4,000 and $15,000.
Renee, who runs the company from her 17-acre farm in rural Mississippi, quit her job as a sales manager for a computer company to run the business full time.
She told Barcroft Media: “Everybody thought that I was crazy but it’s the best thing I ever did. It’s a blessing.
“There are many misconceptions on the Pit Bull and American Bully breed because of their size and reputation.
“They can be intimidating to look at. But they are big gentle giants.”
Renee and Patrick live with their son, six-year-old Brantlee, and daughter, 17-month-old Anna Ryleigh, and the family’s pride and joy is a 110-pound Pit Bull named Buster.
The two-year-old Bully has become best friends with Brantlee, and watches over the farm where Renee keeps around 15 other adult Pit Bulls.
“Buster is probably my favourite,” said Renee. “We have had dogs before him, we have had puppies after him, and he is one in a million.”
Brantlee, who trained Buster himself, agrees: “Buster’s my brother. My favourite thing to do is lay on him. He’s a super good dog.”
Asked whether she worries about her son and daughter around the dogs, Renee remains convinced the “gentle giants” are harmless to her children.
“I don’t really worry about it,” she said. “I let my kids play with all my dogs. I watch my kids but at the same time I really don’t worry about them.
“On social media people are always saying, ’I can't believe you have your kids around that dog.’
“I know my dogs and I know my kids. I’m not going to put my kids in danger.”
Raised in Artesia, Mississippi on 400 acres, Rennee developed a love for the farm animals she grew up around and always dreamed of owning a Pit Bull.
She eventually convinced her husband, who was hesitant at first, to let her buy her first Bully, and began breeding as a hobby – though it quickly turned into a full time job.
Once the business took off, Rennee had a tough choice to make about whether to stay with her company, where she would be able to keep her health insurance and benefits.
But in the end, it was the dogs that won out, and Renee and Patrick say they couldn’t be happier.
Patrick said: “Renee loves the kids the most, but depending on what day of the week it is, she could choose the dogs over me any given day.”
And like his wife, Patrick is convinced the Pit Bull breed has been unfairly stigmatised in the past.
“Having these dogs around has been great for our family and friends,” he explained. “It has given us an extra hobby and something to look forward to when you get home.
“You come home and see your kids playing with the puppies and enjoying time with the dogs. The excitement never stops.”
Renee and her family make sure to socialise their puppies after they’re born, and also do obedience training with the dogs before they go out to her loyal customers.
“I do plan to do this for the rest of my life,” said Renee. “Me and my husband the other day were like, ‘You know when I retire should we sell our place and live on a golf course?’
“We both thought about it and we can never quit the dogs.”