Joe Minoso isn’t a firefighter, but he plays one on TV. The Bronx native stars as Joe Cruz in NBC’s hit drama Chicago Fire, a show that follows the lives of the brave firefighters and paramedics working for the fictional Chicago Fire Department. Cruz is a complex character—he’s tough but sweet, intense but silly; and he’s just as prone to crack a joke as he is to risk his life. In real life, Minoso is a hardworking actor who found success on the stage before making his way to primetime. Like Cruz, he’s warm and funny, and incredibly passionate about what he does.
Minoso recently took on a major new role—dog parent—when he rescued Bugsy, a Pit Bull mix, from the Almost Home Foundation. We sat down with him to discuss animal rescue, dog parenting mistakes, and what makes Bugsy the best (and furriest) fan he could ever ask for.
TAILS: Did you grow up with pets?
Joe Minoso: I did not. My mother always said, “You can have a pet when you can afford to feed him,” which I’m actually very respectful and understanding of. It’s really a lot of responsibility, in more ways than I think most people understand before they get a pet.
So is Bugsy your first dog?
I had a dog right when I got out of graduate school. His name was MXAT (pronounced Ma-hat) which is an acronym for Moscow Art Theater, where I studied for awhile. Being there was very life-changing for me, and I felt my first dog would do the same, so I named him after it. He was a Black Lab adopted from The Anti-Cruelty Society here in Chicago, and I had him for about eight years. I was working really, really long hours, and it got to a place where he was getting really antsy at home and he was just alone for too long. I felt guilty, and I ended up finding him a new home.
That must have been very difficult.
I remember the day he left. I was packing up his stuff—his bed, his food and his toys—and putting them all away in a bag, and feeling angry at myself because I wasn’t feeling anything. I wasn’t feeling sad that I was putting away his favorite toy for the last time. And then the guy who adopted him from me came to pick him up and said, “Tell me about him, what is he like?” And I was like, “Oh well you know, he’s pretty easy, he’s a nice dog…” and then I immediately just started bawling my eyes out and I could not stop crying. But the guy taking him was great— he was a huge dog lover so he totally got it.
What made you decide to adopt instead of buy?
I always knew I would rescue; there was no question in my mind. There are just too many dogs who need homes. I think there’s no point in a perfectly beautiful, wonderful animal not finding a home solely because he doesn’t have a price tag on him.
How did you end up with Bugsy?
I did a benefit for the Almost Home Foundation on behalf of Chicago Fire, and on my way there I went online to do some research about the organization and ended up looking through the pictures of adoptable dogs. My girlfriend and I are huge dog lovers, but were fighting the urge to get one because we know they are a lot of work and responsibility and we have pretty busy schedules. But Bugsy’s picture just drew us in.
I got to the benefit and the second person that I talked to happened to be his foster mom. I told her that my girlfriend and I had fallen in love with his picture and she said how sweet and easy he is, and how he was mostly already potty trained and working on obedience training. I thought, well half the work is done, and we agreed to meet him. A week later we met him and forget it, it was over by then.
How old is he?
He’s a year old.
Still a puppy! How is training going?
I’ve got to give credit to his foster mom—or his genes. We’ve had a couple of accidents inside the house, but they’ve been minimal. He’s super bright, pays attention, and is very inquisitive and respectful. He’s a big people pleaser and he just wants to do what you want him to do. He’s a great, great dog. He is such a part of our family already, it’s incredible.
What was your perception of Pit Bulls before rescuing Bugsy?
I don’t know if I necessarily had one. I’ve never had any sort of bias against Pit Bulls. I don’t think there are bad dogs—it’s what the humans have done that make a dog the way he is. They feed off the energy of their human.
Have you had any experiences with people being afraid of him?
Yeah. They’re rare because he’s got a really sweet, approachable face, and when he’s with me and on the leash—which is where he is when he’s outside—he’s totally respectful and he stays by my side. Most everybody that sees him pets him. I did have one encounter when I was at Starbucks and he was sitting there right next to me and this guy wouldn’t come close to him. For the most part he doesn’t strike people as scary though—he’s too cute to be a threat!
One of his paws has two toes. Do you know if he was born that way?
We don’t know if he was born that way or if something was done to him. All I know is that a police officer brought him in to Chicago Animal Care and Control sometime in October of last year, and from there the Bickell Foundation picked him up, and then he made his way to the Almost Home Foundation. He’s so well- mannered and good with so many humans that I don’t know if anything traumatic happened. If it did, he must have been so young that it didn’t really impact his psyche.
His paw doesn’t give him trouble walking or cause him any pain. If he’s a little exhausted from a long walk he’ll start to lift that leg a little bit, but other than that, he’s a perfect dog—he has no limitations because of it.
Were you previously familiar with the Bickell Foundation?
I am only now familiar with it because of Bugsy. I’m actually going to be bartending at an event for them soon. I have to thank them… they’ve given me a great gift.
I support their work one-hundred percent. Bugsy is my first Pit, and if he’s any example of what it is like to have a Pit Bull, then I’m all for it.
How has life changed since you brought him home?
It’s more disciplined, it’s more regimented, and it’s dirtier! But it’s also calmer. Last week my girlfriend was sick and Bugsy went and laid down right on her and would not leave her side. For two and a half hours he did not move from that spot. I was running around the house hammering things, and he didn’t move. What more could you say—he brings pure love.
What do you love most about him?
How good he is. He’s just so good. It’s hard to kind of narrow down any one thing, but he’s just… he’s the best. I’m sorry, I’m gushing. I realize that I’m like a new parent gushing about their child, but I can’t help it.
I like to think of myself as someone who really prepares, and I really did prepare for this dog. Plus I had the knowledge of having one for eight years and learning from my mistakes— because I definitely made them. But Bugsy, he just made it so easy. He’s really kind of a dream.
What things are you doing differently with Bugsy? What mistakes are you correcting?
First and foremost, mastering the walk. MXAT was a big puller, and to be honest, that was probably my only complaint about him. I didn’t exercise his mind enough, I didn’t keep him busy, and I didn’t keep him actively thinking. I lacked the knowledge of how to be a pack leader.
With walking, I would get him excited asking, “Do you want to go outside?” and he’d get all this energy and be so excited to go. It was just more fun to let him run at his own pace then to hold him back. He would pull and it made walking a chore. It made me not want to do it, so I did it less often. I get it now, but I didn’t get it then.
With Bugsy, I take him out at least twice a day, probably three times a day. We work on walking by each other and sharing it as an experience. I wonder, if I had had the same knowledge with my first dog, if he would have been as good as Bugsy. I have no big complaints about MXAT—he was an angel—but he was a puller who loved to explore the world. You can’t blame him.
How do you balance being a dog parent with your busy schedule?
The reality is, I have the luxury of being an actor. When I’m on set and the days are long we have someone come walk him. Sometimes I go in for just one scene and then come home. I didn’t realize how much time I would have to give to him, but we really spend almost all of our time together.
Just wait until the summer when you can really enjoy being outside!
That’s going to be the best! The weather will be perfect to go out and do stuff—we’ll be able to take him to parks and enjoy the beach. Part of the reason that I’m putting so much effort into training him now is that I really want him to go everywhere with me.
Do you plan on getting more involved in animal-related causes?
Bugsy has a great disposition and there’s a big possibility we’ll train him to become a therapy dog. It would be really great if I could get him working in some programs with kids—maybe through the Bickell Foundation. He was in a bad situation and he was given a second chance. And I think some kids might know what that feels like. Just because you have some form of disability, or some hardship, doesn’t mean you can’t thrive and be amazing.
I have been afforded an amazing opportunity working on Chicago Fire, and I am so incredibly happy that I get the chance to give my time. I personally don’t get it—that people will pay to be around me—but if they’re giving money to good causes for the opportunity, I’ll gladly show up. I do whatever I can, however I can help, for whatever cause, because every little bit helps. But animals, especially, touch me close to my heart.
Images: Elizabeth Morris