Four Feet Tall and Rising: A Memoir

Four Feet Tall and Rising: A Memoir

4.6 70
by Shorty Rossi

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Luigi Francis Shorty Rossi, the tough-talking, fedora-wearing star of Animal Planet’s hit show Pit Boss, may stand only four feet tall but that hasn’t stopped him from living large, becoming a successful businessman and an outspoken advocate for pit bulls, the most misunderstood breed of dog in the world.
A third generation dwarf,…  See more details below


Luigi Francis Shorty Rossi, the tough-talking, fedora-wearing star of Animal Planet’s hit show Pit Boss, may stand only four feet tall but that hasn’t stopped him from living large, becoming a successful businessman and an outspoken advocate for pit bulls, the most misunderstood breed of dog in the world.
A third generation dwarf, ex-gang member, and ex-con, Shorty knows what it’s like to be misunderstood and in this candid memoir, he shares his personal story for the first time. No one expected Shorty to live let alone succeed, and yet he has, overcoming every challenge, from an abusive home to the violent streets and gangs of South Central LA, to the notorious cell blocks of Folsom Prison where he was imprisoned for attempted murder.
After 10 years, 10 months, and 10 days behind bars, Shorty gained his freedom and the chance to put his entrepreneurial and negotiation skills to the test. He cut the ribbon on his own business, Shortywood, with three goals: to turn his life around, act as a talent agent for little people and establish and fund charities that advocate for, rescue and place abandoned or abused pit bulls into safe homes.  In the process, he became a reality-TV star. Now, with Hercules, his rescued pit bull and newly trained service dog by his side, Shorty continues to save pits from the basements and backyards of breeders and abusers while taking on new and even bigger challenges.  And nothing is gonna stand in his way.
Shorty Rossi is four feet tall—and rising.  

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As host of Animal Planet’s Pit Bull show, Rossi has become a name in the animal rescue community for his fierce advocacy for the interests of the pit bull, which he sees as a misunderstood breed. In this energetic autobiography, Rossi—a “third-generation Little Person” tells a fascinating life story, including his early escape from his dysfunctional, antisocial dad; living on the street at age 14 and becoming a legendary white member of the L.A. Crips gang, which led to a 10-year prison sentence; and his postprison career as the head of a talent agency for little people. Through it all, however, runs the thread of Rossi’s relationship with pit bulls, from the first pit that helped him through his tough adolescence to the number of pits he currently owns. Starting with one “spark”—“to convince kids in the projects that pit bulls weren’t dangerous and shouldn’t be used for fighting”—Rossi starts his own rescue service, which allows him to free dozens of pit bulls and develop an in-your-face approach to people who mistreat the breed. This led to his discovery by Animal Planet and his development as a dynamic television personality. But Rossi makes no apologies for his passion: “Dog rescue often turns normal, good-intentioned people into crazy fanatics.” (Jan. 17)
From the Publisher
"[An] energetic autobiography." —Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
A salty, pugnacious memoir of a Little Person, his gangland background, his love of pit bulls and his road back from self-destruction. Rossi is known to many as a brash-talking TV personality whose mission is to rehabilitate the pit bulls' woeful image. "The dogs were not designed to kill," he writes. "They had no special "enzyme" that made them fight. It's only humans that consciously make the decision to kill. All dogs are capable of violence if they've been trained by shitty owners to be nasty, protective, fighting machines." Rossi has seen the same thing happen with another species--his own. He barely survived his youth at the hands of a violently abusive father, fleeing to his friend's house in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, where by dint of association he became a member of the Bloods gang. He lived on the edge, always ready for something bad to happen: "I learned to protect myself. I carried guns." This path would earn him 11 years in prison, where he was the only white man housed in a black unit, preferring Blood relations to life with the Aryan Brotherhood. His prison diary is told with a surprising degree of insight, but this is a story of redemption. Eventually Rossi managed to wire his act together, starting a Little People talent agency, working hard as an actor and dance man and working tirelessly to resuscitate the pit bull and bull terrier image. "That's the most important thing," he writes. "To give something back, no matter what it is…To actually be considered a success, you gotta give a shit." Now he has caught a little break, a moment of fame, and he's using it for the dogs and the Little People. A candid, charged slice of personal history.

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1 The Little Baby Born I was ripped from my mommy’s womb on the 10th of February, 1969, in a doctor’s office in West Covina, California. My mom is a Little Person, and Little moms just aren’t big enough for a baby’s head to be delivered naturally, so like the three kids born before me, I came by C-­section.

First in the lineup was my sister Linda, born in 1960. She was what Little People call tall, what others might consider to be of average height, and from the nuts of a different daddy, a fact I discovered much later when I was in prison and started researching my genealogy, digging into my family’s past to try to understand how I ended up behind bars and why I was the way I was. I found a birth certificate and a marriage license that proved Linda was born two years before my parents even met and married. It wasn’t the only secret I unearthed. There were lots and lots of secrets.

Another of those secrets was Michael, a baby boy born less than two years after Linda. Michael’s baby picture hung on the wall of our living room, a constant reminder that Dad’s first son had died young, barely two months old, of pneumonia. But the truth was Michael didn’t die of pneumonia. Michael died of double-­dominant syndrome. Michael inherited two “bad genes,” two dominant achondroplasia (dwarfism) genes—­one from mom and one from Dad. Usually a baby that is double dominant doesn’t even make it to delivery. The mom miscarries or there’s a stillbirth. But Michael somehow beat the odds and made it to the world just in time to leave it again.

So Mom and Dad got back in the bedroom and tried again, and on December 18, 1963, my sister Janet was born. Like my sister Linda, Janet was born tall. The chances were fifty-­fifty that the babies would come out “normal.” Mom and Dad rolled the dice three times and won twice. They were so proud. Two tall daughters. Success.

Why they waited another six years, until 1969, before they had me, I don’t know. They were Catholic but that didn’t mean Mom wanted a big family. Babies are usually hard on Little women. Most of them have at most one or two kids ’cause they suffer from so many miscarriages and problems. But I guess Dad always wanted a boy. Having lost Michael, and with the odds in his favor, he decided to roll the dice one more time. Plus, Mom had handled her other pregnancies without much trouble, so it seemed like everything would work out again.

I was the heaviest baby of all. Eight pounds plus. They knew the minute I came out that I had achondroplasia. It’s easy to tell, trust me. You know if you have a dwarf child. Back then, there was no way to predict such a birth. Now, doctors can diagnose dwarfism in the womb, giving parents the option to terminate pregnancies. They can even spot the chromosome that indicates double dominance. Now, even dwarf parents, who would be least likely to care if their child is Little, can still choose to terminate a double-­dominant pregnancy. There will be fewer and fewer of us walking this Earth. There already are.

I was a third-­generation Little Person, the son of dwarf parents and the grandson of a maternal dwarf grandma. Being third generation, my diagnosis was dismal. The more a dwarf reproduces, meaning the same dwarf, the weaker the genes, the more chances to trigger a double-­dominant gene. The doctors told Mom and Dad I wouldn’t live long, and even if I did, they predicted I’d have severe physical limitations, suffer from limb deformities, and be in constant pain. They basically pronounced me handicapped, useless, and dead. They were wrong.

This is why other Little People are shocked when they find out I’m third generation. I should be dead or deformed, and I’m not. I was so physically fit when I was a kid—­young and active—­it actually caused resentment. Some first-­generation dwarves are all fucked up physically. They’ve got back problems and leg problems. They walk with braces, crutches, canes, or are stuck in wheelchairs. I was supposed to die young. I didn’t. I am a rarity.

Looking back, I wonder if my birth was the moment when Dad gave up on me. He’d grown up the only Little Person in a family full of tall people and he was ashamed of his size. He suffered from a bad case of self-­loathing. He saw himself in me; his troubled legacy continuing against his will. Of course, that was never said to me. God forbid the truth be told. No, instead I was told that dad was happy as hell when I was born. He’d always wanted a boy. He just didn’t know he was gonna get this wonderful specimen.

His entire family descended from a brood of big, bad revolutionaries based in San Antonio, Texas. His great cousin, by marriage, was Jim Bowie, defender of the Alamo, and his grandmother was Anna Navarro, a woman considered to be a serious agitator in the Texas revolution. The Navarros were from Corsica originally, Italians, with some Spanish blood mixed in. The Rossis were also Italian, but northern Italian, with a last name referring to the plural form of the Italian word for “red.” They named my dad Melvyn Louis Rossi. He hated his name. He went by Sonny instead.

There was no history of dwarfism in their family tree, so when Dad was born the son of two tall parents and the sibling of four tall sisters, he was considered a genetic malfunction. He had a broad, high forehead, a pointy chin, and prominent ears. In profile, his dwarf features were even more noticeable. He had a face as concave as a waxing moon. Dad had a typical dwarf nose, upturned and somewhat hooked at the same time. His hands had a kind of built-­in V between the third and fourth fingers. It was not something easily seen, but his plump, short fingers didn’t quite close together. They had to be forced. His legs were slightly bowed.

They’d never seen the likes of him before. Born in 1936 and growing up in Texas in the ’40s and ’50s, Dad faced the same kinds of problems that black folks were facing: blatant prejudice and discrimination. Much worse than anything I’d ever have to handle. And it wasn’t just that he battled it in the world. He came home to it every day. Though his mom, Elsie, was a practicing Catholic and Italian who raised her kids to believe in the importance of family, she couldn’t control the actions of her husband. My grandfather made my dad’s life a living hell. Which is why we were told he was dead; that he died before any of us kids were born. This turned out to be another one of Dad’s secrets. His dad wasn’t dead. He didn’t die until the 1990s, but Dad never spoke a word about the man.

My mom’s childhood was a bit easier. She was born in Los Angeles but ’cause her mother was Southern, she was given a Southern name: Dixie Lee Brown. My mom’s father, whose name was either Fred Stevens or Chester Brown—­depending on which birth certificate he was using at the time—­was over six feet tall. Her mom, my grandma, Mary Brown, or Nonnie, stood only three-­foot-­seven. They were a married couple working in the circus, though I’m not sure which company. By the time they had Mom, Nonnie and Fred/Chester had retired from circus life. Tragically, Fred/Chester died of tuberculosis nine years after Mom was born, around 1945. Mom only half remembered him. Nonnie never remarried.

Mom and Nonnie looked like each other, and for the most part, I looked like them, too. We all had round cheeks and chins, wavy, sandy-­blond hair, the same smiles and the same pudgy, triangular noses. In a world where we were different, we could look at each other and see similarity. It was a great gift. One that Dad never experienced as a kid.

So, at seventeen, he left his family in Texas and moved to Los Angeles. L.A. was, and still is, more accepting of Little People than most of the world. It was the home city of Billy Barty, a well-­known film actor who founded the organization Little People of America. There was always work in Hollywood for Little People. Back then you weren’t a doctor or a lawyer, you were a Munchkin. You wanted to be a Munchkin ’cause it paid well. You couldn’t get a job doing other things unless it was demeaning or hard labor, and none of them paid like Hollywood. So most Little People moved west with dreams of tap-­dancing down the Yellow Brick Road.

Dad had no such intention. He’d always wanted to be a mechanic, but growing up, he had to hide his tools under his bed ’cause his dad would beat the crap out of him for wanting to work a real job. He just figured his son was a circus freak. That he shouldn’t have any hopes for anything other than a life of freakdom. Grandpa must have thought he could beat the mechanic out of Dad, but it didn’t work. Dad got his first job with Lockheed. He was hired as a riveter for airplanes ’cause he was able to fit into the small places. How he met Mom, I’ll never know. They never talked about their relationship or their past. The only thing I knew for certain about their marriage was that Mom was treated more like a slave.

Dad preferred a regimented life; we all had to work and live around his schedule. Dinner was always at five o’clock. No matter what. God forbid Mom was one minute late with his dinner, and if I dared to show up at 5:10 p.m., I wasn’t allowed to eat. There was no talking or laughter around the table. Dad would just inhale his food as if eating was a task to get done so he could go sit in front of the TV. There was no meaning or purpose or feeling behind anything he did.

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From the Publisher
"[An] energetic autobiography." —-Publishers Weekly

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Four Feet Tall and Rising: A Memoir 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 70 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Pit Boss and was excited to get my hands on this book. It certainly didnt disappoint! Its so well written that it feels like Shorty is talking directly to the reader and it's more inspiring than I thought possible. I couldnt put it down and finished it in less than 24 hrs. A must read for any fan of Pit Boss, any one who loves dogs (no matter what the breed), and anyone who just plain loves a good old pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps type of story. Keep up the great work, Shorty!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book and if you don't even watch the show you can still enjoy this book. How one person can come through so much and use it for good. Again must read but just know once you start you are not going to put this book down. Make sure you don't have any plans because you wont make them. Read in two days.
lulubee More than 1 year ago
I'm a fan of the show and the work Shorty does. The book read exactly like he speaks, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. He's and inspiring human being.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love you Shorty! I have so much fun learning about you and seeing your show! I hope you see this message. You are very inspiring.
Kole2010 More than 1 year ago
I thought that Four Feet Tall and Rising by Shorty Rossi was a very good book. Bought it and finished it in one day, was the only book that I have read whole day :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book. Shorty is such an amazing person and such an inspiration. We have a wonderful and loving pit that saved my daughters life. I thank God she found us when she needed a home. Keep up the great work Shorty!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being an animal lover as well as doing animal rescues ,this book was so rewarding to read. This is a wonderful story and Shorty made the whole book interesting. What he does is so heart warming. I totally agree that humans are the reason this dog has gotten such a bad rap. I was bitten by a standard poodle that required a 10 day hospital stay and not one person in my subdivison said a word. God forbid it had of been a pit. Keep up the good work Shorty!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Super fast read, but a fun and inspiring book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love Shorty Rossi and all that he does for the Pitt Bulls. This is a great book and I loved learning more about Shorty's life and what turned him to dedicate his life to the pitt bulls! Wonderful Read!! Was finished with this big in hours... Didn't want to put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book waas the best book everr
BecklesGA More than 1 year ago
Great book. Written from the heart of the life experiences(thus far) of Shorty. I wish I could meet him at the Pet Expo in Atlanta this weekend but I have family plans. Such an amazing story of a life, not without its many challenges, and overcoming them through years in the penal system and a change of heart. Book does contain some "colorful" language but if you have seen the show Pit Boss, it won't come as a complete shock; just part of Shorty's personality; loveable and surly at the same time. I feel like I know Shorty a bit better now than I did from just watching the show previously (my newly acquired knowledge of Shorty's earlier years adds depth to my understanding of the experiences that Shorty and his co-workers/employees go through together). He has found an amazing purpose in life and that surely is a tremendous thing. I wish he and his dogs all of the best on their journey together in life. Thanks Shorty for sharing!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am the hugest fan of pit boss. I am so happy that he rescues pit bulls. I hope that he does this for a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt too much time was devoted to Shorty's time in prison, and not enough about his business and rescue. Ashley, Ron, and Seb were hardly mentioned. I think this book will mainly interest fans of the show, or possibly people that can relate to his time in prison. Fortunately, I just fall into the first category!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shorty was very open. even though he did some pretty bad things, he was honest and told his story very well. When telling what he did, he also didn't brag. He truly was telling all to help other not do the same things, and to help the Pit Bulls.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I was already a fan of Shorty Rossi, but reading this gave me a new perspective on him! This is real, hardcore and heartfelt. I couldnt put my nook down. I have soo much respect for him and thanks for the great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a Shorty fan. I enjoy his television program and his beautiful dogs. The book helps you to under stand Shorty and answers a lot of questions that I have had. Just a great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommend to anyone who is a Pitt Boss fan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book if you like tje show. You will learn alot bout him n what hehad to go through in his life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book very informative and like Shorty is tell you his life!! Very amazing life it is all the love for his pit bulls and the friends and relatives he hold dear. A must read!!Great pictures!!
Dor134 More than 1 year ago
Great book couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoughly enjoyed reading about Shorty's life and his passion for the pit bulls! I purchased the book because I have great respect for what he has overcome in his life, his courage to fight for what he believes and of course his campaigning for all homeless animals.
memaw4 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, really explains why Shorty is the way he is. Enjoyed the fact that it was written the way Shorty speaks. Hope people who read this understand that pitbulls are Not bad dogs there are only bad owners.
SouthTexGal More than 1 year ago
I love the show, Pit Boss, and I admire Shorty Rossi for trying to dispell so many misconceptions about such a beautiful breed. The book is insightful and I can tell it is written from the heart. I enjoyed the book and I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very quick read, and very well written. I love the show Pit Boss, even if you don't watch the show you will love this book, I couldn't put it down.
Hawk99 More than 1 year ago
good story of his life. He is a very interesting lover of dogs and showman... love the book. has great pictures of his childhood thru right now today.... Love this dog lover, as Iam one myself. i BOUGHT THE BOOK AND THE NOOK E book also.......