The Misunderstood Pit Bull Is at the Top of Yves’s Advocacy List
The model, activist, and musician on his activism philosophy: “I’ve always been drawn to those who have been left behind, forgotten, misunderstood. I relate to them on a very deep, personal level. No matter how different you are, everyone deserves a chance.”
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In August of this year, model, activist, and musician Yves Mathieu East, known as Yves, was arrested in Florida and charged with “disturbing the peace” after someone in the neighborhood of his Airbnb supposedly called the police to report a Black man in a hat acting suspiciously. Yves is, indeed, a Black man. He was wearing a hat. He’s also covered, head to toe, in tattoos and has about a dozen piercings above the neck. At the time of his arrest, Yves says he was looking for a place to eat. Cops wanted to search the Airbnb where Yves was staying. They had no warrant, and Yves declined. They took his phone and took him into the station.
At the time of his arrest, Yves was on a special trip to Florida to lend his support outside local abortion clinics and protest the anti-abortion groups that have renewed vigor in the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Yves says this instance was the 18th time he has been arrested in the past two years.
As emotionally and physically traumatic as these continued confrontations with law enforcement are, Yves refuses to back down. He puts his body on the line at protests across the country and fights for the rights of oppressed people everywhere. As a foster parent to Pit Bulls, he also makes it his life’s mission to give the dogs (who are also often maligned) a second chance.
His activism lives online, too. On his Instagram page, he shares the stories that rarely make mainstream news: trans women murdered in the streets and children who die by suicide after relentless bullying — or are murdered in the negligent foster care system. Recently, he has been amplifying the stories of the women murdered in Iran during crackdowns by officials there following the brutal killing of Mahsa Amini.
Instagram is also where Yves shares the joys and triumphs of his life: his music (he released a new song, “I Only Do This For You,” in October), his modeling (working with everyone from Puma and Kenneth Cole to Pyer Moss and Thom Browne), and his beloved foster Pit Bulls.
Yves began fostering Pit Bulls in 2015, after the loss of his own Pittie, Princess. In a world full of darkness and struggle, these dogs are a source of light and love for Yves, who is currently fostering his 38th Pittie, Nicky, “Lil Nick,” from the Manhattan Animal Care Center (ACC) pictured here. He tells The Wildest how his foster pups strengthen him as he goes about his work of trying to make the world a better place.
* Nicky is looking for her forever home. Apply to adopt her below!
How did you get involved with animal rescue and fostering in the first place?
I went to a shelter in [New York City] called the ACC around six or seven years ago to inquire about volunteering and was introduced to the foster program there. I received my first foster dog about a month later.
What is it about Pit Bulls in particular that you feel drawn to?
There is this misconception people have that Pit Bulls are [mean or aggressive], but every day that I’m with them, they show me that the opposite is true. I guess in life, I’ve always been drawn to those who have been left behind, forgotten, misunderstood. I relate to them on a very deep, personal level. No matter how different you are, everyone deserves a chance.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of the fostering process for you?
I love taking naps with my fosters. Sleeping is such a vulnerable act and when they cuddle up next to me, even on day one, it lets me know that they’re on their way to regaining trust.
What do you wish people knew about Pit Bulls?
How silly and loyal they are. Once they love you, they’ll love you forever. They are also the “loudest” silent comedians you’ll ever meet.
Well, dogs can’t talk, but anyone who has ever owned, fostered, worked with, or spent time with a Pit Bull knows that so much of their personality lives in their face. Their every expression is so telling of what they’re feeling, which is what makes it so comical. It’s almost human-like how they respond to and look at you.
Why do you think so many Pit Bulls end up in the shelter system?
The same reason we have so many Black and Brown people in the prison system: stigma and stereotyping.
You also work with a shelter in Costa Rica, correct?
Yeah. It’s called the Animal Love Center. I asked if I could work with them and it sort of all fell into place. I love them so much. I consider them family.
What do you do down in Costa Rica?
I clean the horses, walk the dogs, clean the enclosures for the ducks and chickens. I also raise funds to help provide food and other necessities, such as surgeries, for the animals in our care that arrive sick, injured, or severely physically abused.
Did you have a lot of pets growing up?
I had a pet chicken when I was a toddler and two pet bunnies. We didn’t get dogs ’til a little later on. My pets were my friends when I didn’t have any friends.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Flatbush, in Brooklyn, but we moved around quite a bit. I’m based in New York now, and have some family here, but a lot of my family lives down South.
How did you get into modeling?
I was scouted by First Model Management in London while I was visiting a friend. I was 19 and had just dropped out of college. When I got signed in NYC, a lot of magic started to sprinkle itself into my life. It was hard at first, but I knew it was something I needed to take seriously, and I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of great people since.
Any jobs you are particularly proud of?
Nothing will ever compare to walking for Pyer Moss for the first time — all Black cast, all Black hair and makeup teams, all Black catering. I’ll remember that forever.
Do you enjoy modeling?
Like every job, it has its ups and downs; there are moments when I’m on top of the world and moments when I feel like I’m digging my own grave. But I love that I [can be an example of what’s possible] for kids who look like me or other Black alternative kids who push society’s buttons.
What’s your dream modeling job? Let’s manifest something!
I would love the work of Jacquemus. That would be really nice!
You’re sober, too, right?
My sobriety is my biggest, best accomplishment as a human, although I still struggle to this day. Of course, in my industry, drugs and drinking are like water and oxygen, so every day I wake up I have to consciously say to myself, “No. We’re not gonna do that today.” I take it all one day at a time. It’s crazy to me that [I can say to you that] I am 11 years sober. I remember when I was 11 hours sober. I’m really proud.
Tell me about your tattoos. When did you get your first one?
I got the phrase “nothing lasts forever” tattooed on my chest when I was 13 or 14. I experienced quite a lot of trauma at a young age, but even at 13, I knew nothing was permanent. I had it done at a crack house and lied to my family about it being real for a year or so, although eventually they caught on and I got in trouble. But nothing crazy.
Do you have a favorite?
I don’t think I’ll ever have a favorite because, to me, it’s all just one tattoo.
And now you’re completely covered! Do you wish you had room to add more?
I think no matter what, I’m always gonna be looking for another little piece of real estate, even if it’s the size of a penny.
Time is a wild thing. I started getting tattooed to honor my friends and family who passed away or were killed when I was younger, then I started looking at the seasons of my life that inspired me and turned them into tattoos, and now I look like this, and I love it so damn much.
So much of the space on your Instagram feed is also devoted to memorializing people taken too soon.
Some of them are people I was actually blessed to know, but many of them are just people who I feel have been denied society’s respect and are not receiving the national recognition they deserve. When I see someone who was disrespected in life being disrespected and misgendered in death, it really hurts my heart, so I take it upon myself to honor them.
I’ve seen a lot of people I love murdered or die by suicide, and my trauma response to that is to memorialize people I feel are forgotten. They may be strangers on a screen to a lot of people, but to me they’re my family. My people.
I notice you memorialize a lot of trans people. Why are trans rights and trans visibility so important to you?
It’s hard to put into words, but so much of my existence and freedom as a queer person is a direct result of the work and struggles of trans people, and I want to honor that. Whatever that looks like, I’m committed to that and I always will be, no matter what it costs.
You’re a musician as well. How did you get into that?
I’ve been playing and writing music since I was quite young. My family has always been into music, and it was just like a second language to me. And it was an escape when I was younger. It still is! I don’t ever wanna be super famous, but I would love to get to a point where I can rely on making music for a living, so I can devote more time to community outreach, community restoration, and training and rescuing Pit Bulls.
Do you have an album?
In 2020 I put out an album called Bops From A Beautiful Broken Hearted Black Boy. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, not just because it’s mine, but because the person I was when I wrote it is someone that I’m really proud of being.
What’s next for you on the music front?
I’d like to keep making music, but with a grassroots approach — doing things on my own or working with my family and friends. When you create with people you love, who love what you’re doing, that’s how history is made.
Who are your dream collaborators?
There are a lot of artists I’d love to work with — Alexander O’Neal, Chaka Khan, Def Leppard, Nicki Minaj, The Clash, Marvin Gaye (if he was still with us), Janet Jackson — I don’t know what we’d do together, but that’s what makes it exciting!
If you could share one piece of advice with the world, what would it be?
Don’t take shit from people, but be kind. It’s very easy.
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