LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rafael Mantesso turned 30 in an empty New York apartment after divorce left every wall, floor, closet and shelf bare. The only things he had left were his cellphone and a pit bull named Jimmy Choo that his neighbors went out of their way to avoid.
When he turned 33 on Jan. 14, Mantesso still owned that apartment and it’s still vacant. But it’s for sale now. And people can’t get enough of his 6-year-old bull terrier — from the Instagram sketches-plus-photos of Jimmy that went viral, the book “A Dog Named Jimmy” and a collection of Jimmy-inspired bags and purses for the high-end fashion brand Jimmy Choo. (Mantesso’s ex-wife had named the dog for her favorite shoes.)
There are future plans too: a calendar, endorsements and launching the charitable Jimmy Foundation. Meanwhile, Mantesso is working at an advertising agency in Sao Paulo in his native Brazil, and doing the occasional photo shoot.
The first night they were alone in the “naked” apartment three years ago, Jimmy did a happy dance through all the rooms. Mantesso picked up his phone and started shooting photos of Jimmy’s contagious dance of joy.
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“When I sat in my empty living room, Jimmy was happy, running from one side to the other side, in circles, crazy. The apartment was a playground to him. He was loving that empty place. That energy was amazing. I looked at him and said to myself, ‘Oh my God, I was thinking everything was lost and I had the most important thing in the house — Jimmy,'” Mantesso said in his Portuguese accented-English.
Jimmy is a white dog but his ginger and red ears contrasted with the white walls, floors and ceilings. At some point, Mantesso picked up a piece of white cardboard, drew a skeleton with a red heart on it, put it in front of Jimmy and took a photo.
He liked it, put it on Instagram (#jimmythebull) and they were in business.
The ideas came fast. Mantesso would put Jimmy in a pose and the dog would freeze while he took photos. “Everyone ask, ‘How do you make a crazy dog freeze in position you want?’ I think Jimmy knows that I want him in that position and he just stay,” Mantesso said.
Mantesso credits a tweet by actor Ashton Kutcher for putting focus on his early Jimmy art. Kutcher retweeted a drawing depicting the spaghetti scene from “Lady and the Tramp,” where the dogs are slurping strands of spaghetti. Views went from 10,000 to 100,000 that night, Mantesso said.
Jimmy also kept Mantesso going at a time when he was feeling down. Because of Jimmy, Mantesso had to take a walk twice a day. Because he had to buy Jimmy food, he bought food for himself. And because of Jimmy, he was motivated to keep taking pictures. He liked what he was doing so much that they worked side by side for 90 uninterrupted days, he said.
Eventually “A Dog Named Jimmy” was ready for the publisher, and there is also a Jimmy deck of cards. Some of Mantesso’s images show the dog’s paws or his pink-and-black spotted mouth. Others show him posed with a human hand, while others feature Jimmy with black-and-white sketches of simple objects or scenes — a piano keyboard, antlers, cartoon characters.
They’ve come a long way since people demanded that Mantesso muzzle the pit bull. “People still cross the street when they see Jimmy, but now it’s to ask if they can take pictures with him,” he said, adding that Jimmy’s received fan mail from over 100 countries.
His planned Jimmy Foundation will fund pet food drives, spay and neuter clinics and adoption campaigns at shelters throughout Brazil.
He doesn’t accept every endorsement offer, but he did say yes to Netflix, the Jimmy Choo fashion house and Porsche.
“They want my dog to drive a Porsche convertible. I said, ‘Come on, I want to drive it too.'”