When nap time rolls around in the Beardé house, mom Jenna is usually the one reading her son to sleep. But last week, 2-year-old River wanted to do the reading — and he wanted to read to Ronnie, one of their dogs.
“Ronnie isn’t allowed on the bed,” Beardé said.
“Mommy, I want him up here,” River said.
So in a moment of pure indulgence she let Ronnie lie down on the bed next to River. Then one of the family’s other dogs, Macy, wanted in on the cuddling action, too. So Beardé let both dogs up on the bed.
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The dogs were so happy, lying on their backs next to River, tails wagging as he read aloud.
By about the third book, Macy was snoring. Loudly. Ronnie was asleep, too. And Beardé knew she had to videotape the moment.
She posted the video to Facebook. On Monday, just one week later, the video of River reading his two canine “brothers” to sleep had been viewed at least 22 million times around the world.
The attention makes Beardé happy. Not because her son, an adorable tyke with a head of cherubic tousled curls, has become an Internet star. But because Ronnie, the dog lying closest to him in the video, is a rescued pit bull, a breed that doesn’t always feel the love. And suddenly, 4-year-old Ronnie has lots of new fans.
She knows from her own experiences how people judge pit bulls. And, “people judge people who have pit bulls,” said Beardé, 25.
She and her husband, Michael, are hairstylists who own Beardé Salon in Mission. They adopted Macy, a black-and-white terrier mix, from a shelter in Independence about four years ago. She was the family’s first rescue dog together; they now have five.
It wasn’t easy living in Prairie Village with a dog that looked like a pit bull and, in the eyes of the law, was considered one as well and therefore banned by city ordinance. So the couple moved to Spring Hill in southern Johnson County to live with their dogs and start a family.
Living on 10 fenced acres they were ready “to take the dogs that nobody else wanted to take,” Beardé said.
They didn’t seek out a pit bull. But as doggie karma had it, the couple found Ronnie at Great Plains SPCA last year, where he had lived more than 500 days.
He’d been adopted twice and returned twice.
Ronnie was deaf.
“It was hard to adopt him out,” said Beardé. “It’s hard for people to understand how to care for a dog that has a hearing disability. For us, it was just another dog.”
When they picked up Ronnie at the shelter, he came with everything a dog could possibly need or want — a kennel, food, leashes, collars. Everything had been purchased by volunteer sponsors who had been “hoping and praying that he would find a home,” said Beardé. “That touched me.”
She wanted Ronnie’s supporters to be able to follow his life outside the shelter, so she set him up with his own Facebook page, Ronnie’s Life, where she posted the video of her son reading to him.
The video could not have gone viral at a more perfect time for other pit bulls like Ronnie. On Aug. 15, Prairie Village, where the Beardés used to live, will reconsider its pit bull ban.
Shawnee recently dropped its pit bull ban, leaving Prairie Village, Overland Park and Leawood the only Johnson County cities to still ban the breed.
Beardé and other fans of the breed feel a shift afoot. But it feels to them like it’s coming slowly.
Some people who have seen her son reading to his pit bull buddy have criticized Beardé online for having a pit bull in a house with a young child.
“It’s so frustrating as a parent to have people who don’t even know you judge your character,” she said.