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How Michael Vick’s pit bulls changed animal rescue forever

Discussion in 'Pit Bull News' started by Vicki, Jul 11, 2017.

  1. Vicki

    Vicki Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    How Michael Vick’s pit bulls changed animal rescue forever
    By Kathianne Boniello July 8, 2017 | 2:51pm

    Ten years ago, 51 pit bulls were saved from the blackened sheds and bloody fighting pits of a wooded Virginia compound belonging to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

    Life for the dogs in Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels was sadistic: They were electrocuted, beaten, kicked, hanged, drowned, overbred and forced to fight. Vick, who was required to pay more than $900,000 to help the surviving dogs, served 21 months in federal prison for running the fighting ring.

    Prior to Vick’s case, fighting dogs taken into custody were routinely euthanized as damaged goods. But the horror perpetrated by an NFL player generated such intense public sympathy, these animals were given a chance to live. “For the first time, the public started asking, ‘What about the dogs?’” said law professor Rebecca Huss, who served as special master on the case and oversaw the dogs’ fates.

    Three did not survive, but the 48 remaining pit bulls were taken in by rescue groups or adopted into people’s homes and have thrived beyond all expectation. Some have become therapy and service animals, others social-media and television stars.

    Almost all of them promote animal adoption on their social networks. Most importantly, their collective story has led to tougher federal penalties against dog fighting and new laws that require fighting dogs to be evaluated for adoption before being put down.

    Now, Sports Illustrated writer Jim Gorant, whose definitive 2011 tome “The Lost Dogs” told the tales of the 48 survivors, has updated their stories in a new e-book, “The Found Dogs: The Fates and Fortunes of Michael Vick’s Pit Bulls, 10 Years After Their Heroic Rescue” (BookBaby).

    The case “was a tidal shift” in the animal rescue and law-enforcement communities, said Francis Battista of Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, which took in 22 of the Vicktory Dogs, as they came to be known.

    Even the Humane Society, which once advocated euthanasia for all fighting dogs, now operates a Dog Fighting Rescue Coalition that has placed hundreds of former captives in good homes. Though about 24 of the Vicktory Dogs have since died, all of them made an indelible mark on the world. Pit bulls have shown that “you can’t judge them on breed, or background, or where they came from or how they were raised. You have to look at each dog individually,” Gorant said.

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    Mark Rogers
    When he was first rescued, Jonny Justice didn’t know how to walk on a leash and was terrified of staircases, writes author Jim Gorant.

    Now the approximately 11-year-old dog is a star service pup, attending reading events with kids at public libraries around San Francisco, where he lives with owner Cris Cohen.

    In 2012, toy company Gund made a plush version of him and in 2014, Jonny Justice was named the ASPCA Dog of the Year. How’s that for justice?

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    Ginger used to hide in her crate, but she’s now a social-media star with more than 20,500 Facebook fans.

    Her page documents her dreamy, beach-bum lifestyle in California with owner Stacy Dubuc, the SPCA manager in Monterey.

    The sandy-brown dog, now 12, regularly hangs out with Dubuc at her office, where she makes a point of snagging treats from friendly faces, writes Gorant.

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    “He was amazing,” said Minnesotan Roo Yori, who adopted Hector and fostered him for seven years.

    Hector made frequent television appearances before his 2013 death and became an ambassador for dog-fighting victims everywhere.

    “We’d walk down to the set of ‘The Early Show’ and he was like, ‘What’s up?’ ” Yori said. “I think the biggest thing is just that people realize he was a good dog; he was just in a bad spot.”

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    Tischman Pets Photography
    Cherry Garcia was so scared after being rescued, he “slept with one eye open,” writes Gorant. But after years of training and a lot of treats, Cherry is now a “star,” owner Paul Fiaccone said.

    Cherry, who appeared in the 2015 documentary “The Champions” about the fate of the Vicktory Dogs, promoted the movie nationwide, too. “We went to six or seven screenings across the country, and he walked in like he owned the place,” Fiaccone laughed.

    Cherry, 11, still lives in Massachusetts with Fiaccone and has taught his owner to make the most of life. “He doesn’t have a rearview mirror. He just moves forward,” Fiaccone said.

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    Ashley Clark
    Little Red arrived at Susan Weidel’s Wyoming home in 2011 with her own wardrobe because the folks at Best Friends Animal Society loved to dress her up. But it took time for the traumatized pup, once a bait dog, to find her groove.

    “Everything frightened her: the sound of the dishwasher, Christmas lights, doorways,” Weidel said. Over time, and with the help of Weidel’s other dogs, Little Red “blossomed. She was like a flower opening.”

    Little Red’s death in April at age 14 left Weidel bereft — but also amazed. The owner got hundreds of condolence notes on Facebook, where Little Red still has more than 16,000 fans.

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    After his adoption, Mel found work, so to speak, as a radio co-host: he goes every day to owner Richard Hunter’s studio. The Las Vegas radio personality, who covers mixed martial arts, lets Mel, who doesn’t bark, rule the roost.

    “Mel’s favorite thing in the world is to ride in the car,” his owner said. “He dances and jumps up and down when I say ‘car ride.'”

    But Mel still struggles meeting strangers, crawling into a corner and shaking until he calms down, said Hunter, who once attempted to confront Vick about the case in Dallas.

    Knowing how long Mel’s recovery has taken makes Hunter bristle when folks try to cut Vick some slack.

    “It’s the crime victim who should decide when it’s time to move on, not the perpetrator,” he said.

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    The spotlight is too much for Shadow — and that’s fine for his owner, Susan. The terrified dog was so withdrawn it took him years to get comfortable in her home in the Southwest.

    Now, he runs around with Susan’s other dog, Molly, in the yard and lives quietly.

    “We just wanted him to be a dog,” she said. “People say, ‘Boy, is he lucky,’ and the truth of the matter is, no, we’re the ones who are lucky. He’s such a gentle soul.”

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    Rachel Johnson
    It took a little longer for Oscar to find his forever home, but by 2012, he’d landed with owner Rachel Johnson in Nevada.

    “He preferred a quiet life. He wasn’t the dog you took to the movie premiere,” she said.

    Scarred by his years at Bad Newz Kennels, Oscar was always hesitant around strangers, but loved other dogs and spent four years tearing up stuffed toys before he died in January at age 14.

    “He didn’t need to rehabilitate. He needed to recover,” Johnson said.
    TWadeJ, steve07, jceeka and 2 others like this.
  2. EstyEsty

    EstyEsty Little Dog Premium Member

    What an article!!!
  3. TWadeJ

    TWadeJ Big Dog

    Great article. Yet just yesterday in this section of the forum there was an article where 50 pits were picked up from an alleged dog fighting ring and it stated that all 50 were expected to be euthanized. More change is needed in these cases. Just like more changes are needed in the rescue industry who adopt dangerous dogs.
  4. TWadeJ

    TWadeJ Big Dog

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