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Tree Thomas is many things. He’s a singer-rapper (check out his viral R&B single, “Aquarius,” off his EP, SXGNS) who has collaborated with rapper Kevin Gates. He’s a lifestyle model. He’s a former pro-basketball player (for the Malta Basketball Association). And he’s a sometimes-farmer (more on that later).
Clearly, Thomas is a man of action. So after witnessing a puppy being abused on the street, Thomas took him in as his own and named him Chef (“because he just looked like a chef”). Since that fateful moment roughly five years ago, they have been inseparable. We spoke with Thomas about how Chef has transformed his life — from his musical work to modeling aspirations — and is now possibly more famous than his human.
Can you tell me how you encountered Chef?
I was out with friends at a Golden State Warriors celebration after they won the NBA championship. A homeless man had him on a leash. Chef was about three months old — not too much bigger than my hand. [The man] was choking him, holding him up by the leash and dangling him, kicking him.
There was a police officer right there. Me and my friends first went to the police officer like, “Hey, are you going to do something about this?” The police officer shrugged his shoulders. So me and my friend took it upon ourselves and confronted [the abuser]. I just had to step in. He didn’t want to give the dog up, so we got into a scuffle with him. I took the dog, and I have had him ever since. [Warning: It’s usually a very, very bad idea to snatch a dog from his owner, even an abusive one. We suggest you contact a rescue instead.]
What was Chef like after that?
After the rescue, I really just felt relieved. I had a music studio down in the downtown area [of San Francisco], so I walked him back over there. He wouldn’t leave my side and he was happy. He is a little more timid — zero signs of aggression. He’s great with other dogs and great with kids. So it really turned out really well. Every time I’m doing a little task around the house, he’s right by my side acting like he’s doing it with me.
How has Chef impacted your life?
I grew up with dogs all my life, actually — I had a lot of Rottweilers and Pit Bulls — but I definitely was not prepared. Now that I do have Chef, I can’t imagine or remember my life before him. He gave me new life. He started learning commands real quick. He’s really, really, really smart. He even helped me get over 100,000 followers on TikTok, just from the little tricks he does.
Would you say he’s more famous than you are at this point?
Know what? To a point now, when I go out, people do recognize him and recognize me because of him! I love and appreciate that, because just knowing where he came from, I’m glad he has this lightness about him that everybody loves. I was line to get a breakfast burrito the other day, and a girl turns around and says, “Oh, you’re the guy with the dog on TikTok!” I wake up first thing in the morning, and I’ll make a TikTok. Like, I even have a TikTok video where I woke up and put the camera on him. He takes his paws and pulls the cover over his head like he doesn’t want to be in that video. He actually did that! I didn’t train him to do it.
Do you ever work him into your music?
I actually worked his name into one song that wasn’t released. But he’s really just my support system when I’m making a beat or making a song. He’s right there with me and listening. He’s kind of like my A&R. He listens to all my music after it’s done and tells me if it’s good or not.
You and Chef have done some modeling for pet accessories brand, Merci Collective. How is he on a shoot?
Chef doesn’t like to be on his feet too long or he’ll get lazy. But I think he loves being on set and around people. You can tell that he knows when the camera’s on — which is the funny part, too — because he always perks up. I’m really appreciative of the Merci Collective — they loved Chef.
How did you end up on a farm?
One of my best friends owns two farms in Northern California. Right before the pandemic, I decided to go up there. We stayed on the farm for eight to seven months out the year, for two years: just me, Chef, a couple of my friends, and about 10 other dogs. He loved it. He could run in trees, be dirty, chase deer — all the good stuff. It was great. It turned into the best move I could have made. I found a new level in my life: just being outdoors in nature, which I love now. Chef started gaining a lot of weight because he’s not on the farm anymore, running around in the trees and jumping on stuff. So now we changed his diet a little bit to one full meal.
Now that you’re in LA, does he like pools or the beach?
I haven’t tried to put him in a pool yet. We do go to the beach. He acts like he loves the water and sprints towards it. As soon as a wave comes, he’ll run towards me like he doesn’t want to be wet. He really loves digging his nose in the sand and even eating sand, which I hate. But I definitely want to see how he behaves in the pool.
How has Chef helped you get through the pandemic?
He’s actually been a tremendous help, more so like an aid to me. Everybody’s going through their ups and downs. Just having him made me feel a lot better about situations that I was in, whether it’s being sick or being in a financial bind. He definitely relieves a lot of stress.
There’s also a lot of bias in the world of rescues and adoption, so it’s great to see you out there, getting recognition.
I appreciate that. Also eliminating that stigma around Pit Bulls in general, that they’ll be aggressive and mean and not good house pets. They are one of the sweetest and most lovable breeds you can ever get. I’ve tried to show people that.
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Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.