Kathy McGuire, president of NJAFA, hopes Hopkins' celebrity-athlete status will heighten animal-welfare awareness in Camden, especially given budget cuts that have severely slashed the city police force and eliminated Camden's two animal-control officers.
"When young men see their role models, it makes a critical difference," said McGuire, a volunteer who patrols Camden seeking out abused animals and is leading the neutering campaign with the help of area shelters.
McGuire praised the efforts of a private contractor who has been handling city animal control since the layoffs. Still, she said, spaying and neutering are major issues in a city where 85 percent of the dogs brought to local shelters are stray or neglected pit bulls.
"It's a daunting task," she said of animal control in the struggling city.
Along with Hopkins, Mike Jones, a Philadelphia fighter and a current welterweight champion, graces the billboards. In the photos, the boxers pose in a ring at the Camden Boxing Academy with Karmann, a smiling pit bill rescued from a Camden dog breeder two years ago.
Five of the billboards have been raised, including one at 12th and Federal Streets, across from the Fraternal Order of Police lodge, where Hopkins spoke. Four more billboards are planned, and 20 posters have been plastered across city train stations. One billboard will feature Jason Rolen, 22, a promising amateur boxer from North Camden.
Hopkins, who took a few hours off training for a May title bout to attend the event, spoke of witnessing dogfighting and animal abuse growing up in North Philadelphia, and thrilled McGuire by pledging $10,000 to the neutering campaign.
Hopkins said he never "got into" dogfighting, but went on to speak of his own troubled past as a juvenile and of the responsibility that he and athletes such as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick - who served time in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring - have as role models.
"We can be an example to a lot of inner-city kids," the boxer said.
Tyrone Boyd, 65, a South Camden maintenance man who had taken a day off from work to attend the event, applauded in approval. He has a pit bull at home, which he plans to get neutered through the program. He calls his dog Trouble, for the way the animal chews up his slippers, he said.
But malnourished pit bills roam his neighborhood streets and howl in yards, he said, and young people turn them loose in dogfights.
"It's terrible to hear the dogs out there hollering," he said.
Things have only gotten worse since the city budget cuts, he said.
"There's so much crime that people don't want to call the police about a dog," he said.
He gathered a stack of leaflets about the new program.
"I'm going to make some copies of these and slip them under the doors of all the people in my neighborhood who own pit bulls," he said.
Contact staff writer Mike Newall at 856-779-3237 or firstname.lastname@example.org.