In Ray’s Words, Three Years Ago

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“Seven years ago today I was rescued from Bad Newz Kennels, along with 50 other pit bulls, and assorted other dogs, including rotties, cane corsos, and beagles.

What is important about that date is not just that a new life began for all of us, but that we became a symbol of something that needed changing in this country.

Before this, if a fighting ring was busted, the dogs were all euthanized after the court case. We were considered implements of a crime, not victims. That all changed with the Vicktory Dogs.

A court battle was waged to have us evaluated as individuals. The evaluators were experienced dog people. They hoped they would be able to save one or two of us. Imagine their surprise when all but one passed every test they threw at us. For the first time ever, fighting dogs were being given a chance to show that our past did not define who we are.

Some of us were ready to go into homes right away. Some of us to weeks, months or years to get there. It took me 6 1/2 years. There is always hope. There is always time to do the right thing.

And because of us…the Vicktory Dogs: Hector, Jonny Justice, Halle, Mel, Little Red, Oscar, Cherry, Shadow, Squeaker, Audie, Georgia, Handsome Dan, Layla, Ellen, Lucas, Willie Boy, Denzel, Curly, Mia, Lance, Tug…and all the rest of us….we have together changed the world. We stand for so much more than what we are. We have shown that the heart of a dog can overcome the worst of upbringings…the worst of treatment…the worst that humans can throw at us. We are dogs. We are not monsters. We are individuals…and we can love with hearts as big as the world.

Seven years ago we didn’t know the kindness of a human touch. We didn’t know about couches or beds, or stuffies, or leftovers. We didn’t know that butt scratches were the best things ever. But now we do. And because of us, many, many other dogs have been saved, rehabilitated, and are now enjoying these wonders themselves. And that’s a good thing.

So today, in honor of this occasion, please give the canine companion in your life an extra hug and kiss. Think about dropping a few bully sticks or stuffies at your local shelter. Instead of remembering where we were let’s celebrate where we are. Thank you.”

Vick Fans Need to Know the Truth

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Every year on this date we remember the dog fighting bust at Bad Newz Kennels on Moonlight Road.  We celebrate the lives of the dogs who were saved, and we try not to think of the man who was at the bottom of the fighting operation: Michael Vick.  I try hard not to think about this man at all.  But then one of his fans says something stupid to me, and I lose it.

Michael Vick fans have three major arguments:

  1.  Michael Vick had no idea what was going on at his property, and even if he did, he only bankrolled the operation.
  2. Michael Vick has served his time and we should just all shut up and go away.
  3. Anyone who isn’t willing to totally forgive the man is a racist and only hates him because he is black.

Unfortunately for his fans, none of the above is true.

When the dog-fighting bust occurred, it was quickly apparent that the State’s Attorney had absolutely no intention of pressing charges against these hometown boys.  The only way anyone was going to trial is if the Feds stepped in.  So in a highly unusual decision, they did.  But because there is no federal cruelty statutes, the charges had to be for violations of the RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) for racketeering related to the gambling offenses.

You can read the federal indictment against Vick here.

When the bust went down, Michael Vick, through his lawyer, released a statement proclaiming his innocence and stating that he looked forward to “clearing his good name”.  That statement is the one his fans cling to.

However, once his co-defendants started making plea deals and pleading guilty, things started looking pretty dicey for Vick. His lawyers got hold of some of the plea agreements and statements of fact from others in the dog fighting bust: including this summary of facts from Quanis Phillips, and this plea agreement for Tony Taylor.

Michael Vick came to an agreement with the feds for a plea bargain.  One of the stipulations of the agreement is that Mr. Vick would be totally honest about his involvement in every aspect of the operation, including the kennels, the matches, the gambling, and his involvement in killing under-performing dogs.  Here is a copy of his summary of facts.

Unfortunately for Michael Vick, his summary of facts varied widely from those of his co-defendants.  FBI agents felt that he was not being forthcoming.  After more than 6 hours of intense questioning, they ordered Vick to undergo a polygraph examination, which he failed miserably.  (The failed lie-detector test was mentioned as a reason the judge increased Vick’s jail time, above what prosecutors were asking for). Vick also tested positive for marijuana at the same time, another violation of his plea agreement.

After failing the test, Vick admitted to everything his co-defendants had stated.  He was personally involved in the dog fighting operation for more than 6 years.  He bankrolled purchase of the dogs, the gambling purses (some bouts had purses of up to $26K) and he personally killed dogs by hanging, drowning, electrocution, and on at least one occasion by slamming the dog into the ground repeatedly until he died.  He admitted to throwing pet dogs to the fighting dogs and laughing as they were torn apart.  He admitted to throwing his own children’s dog into the ring.

One of the witnesses at the sentencing hearing was an old time “dogman” who had been in dog-fighting for decades.  He helped Vick set up the kennels.  He taught Vick how to train and fight the dogs.  But he eventually refused to work with the operation any further, and agreed to testify against Vick.  Why?  Because he said Vick “didn’t respect the dogs”.  How low do you have to be when dog-fighters think you are scum?

Eventually the state brought one charge of dog-fighting against each of the defendants, which was plea bargained down to a fine.  Vick didn’t spend a single day in jail for any of his actions against the dogs.

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When he first got out of prison, Vick made a deal with the HSUS, and came out against dog-fighting in carefully orchestrated performances.  He said he had seen the error of his ways.  But when one of the Vicktory Dog adopters tried to talk to him about the dogs, he was told by Vick’s entourage that “we don’t care about the damn dogs”.   Richard Hunter (Mel’s dad) got the entire interaction on video and posted it on YouTube.

As far as the racist argument goes, I don’t think there is a dog advocate in the world who would have responded any differently, no matter what color of the offender.  The thought of dogs being killed in such horrific ways makes us shudder.  Cruelty and torture is not a matter of race, but of morality.

Thanks to Melissa, Cherry’s mom, here is a link to the USDA Investigative Report.  

I didn’t write this because I hate the man. Frankly, I try very hard not to even think about him.  Our dog Ray didn’t spend one minute of the day thinking about the man who abused him.  I want to strive to be in the moment as much as he was. The reason I wrote this was to have a record we can point to when his fans start in on us.  This is the truth.  There is documentation…. in your hero’s own words.

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DBO Trolls Need to Do Their Homework

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Apparently I need to school some of the DBO folks about dog fighting.  Yesterday one of their trolls kept going on and on about Ray being only 40 lbs.  I couldn’t figure out why in the heck that would matter….then it dawned on me.  She was trying to use the DBO argument that the Vick dogs weren’t real fighting dogs, since they were, in some cases, so small.  She hadn’t a clue what she was talking about.

The dogs varied in size, from the tiny Oliver to Lucas, the Grand Champion.  But even Lucas was smaller than most people would think a champion should be.  In their mind a true fighting dog would be massive, like Bubba.  (I think we know from Bubba’s past injuries that he was NOT a good fighting dog.)

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When there is a fighting dog bust most of the dogs have a certain “look”…just like the Vicktory Dogs.  For the most part they are American Pit Bull Terrier mixes, which are smaller and lighter than Staffies or AmStaffs.  Most of them come from true fighting dog lines, bred for generations.

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Dog fighters have worked tirelessly to breed certain characteristics into their fighting lines.  Virtually no fighting dog is a “pure breed”.  When DNA testing was done on some of the Vicktory Dogs it was surprising to see the results.  Some of the small dogs had Boston Terrier in their lines.  One of the dogs actually had some Cocker Spaniel thrown in the mix.

These dogs, although small and light weight, are the preferred type for formal dog fighting.  I’m talking about organized dog fighting, not young thugs setting their dogs against each other as a test of their manhood.  Smaller dogs are faster and more agile than a large boned dog.  They make up in speed and tenacity what they lack in bulk.  A smaller dog tends to have more stamina than a larger, heavier dog.

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In an organized dog fighting match like-sized dogs are pitted against each other, similar to boxing or wrestling weight classes.  Each dog is weighed before the match to make sure they are the right size for this bout.  That is why there are usually several different sized dogs in any fighting kennel.

Another DBO contention is that the Vick dogs developed Babesia after they were rescued. Once again they are trying to address something they don’t understand.  Babesia is initially a tick borne illness, just like Lyme disease.  Fighting dogs, often chained out in the woods, are prone to tick infestations. Once a dog has been infected he can pass it on through his saliva, especially through deep puncture wounds.  Many, many fighting dogs are Babesia positive.  Ray was, and our girl Turtle is.

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There are things I wish I didn’t know about dog fighting and dog fighters.  But I forced myself to learn about it because of Ray.  I was trying to understand what he had endured.  Maybe the trolls of DBO should do the same thing.  As it stands now, they just come off sounding ignorant.

Hate is Not Welcome Here

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Yesterday I put up a post about our boy Bosco and his issues with anxiety.  Unfortunately, that post was shared so many times that the hacks from Dogsbite got a hold of it.  Their comments on my blog were poisonous and uncalled for.

I hate the thought that I can’t write openly and honestly about working with challenging dogs without worrying that I am handing these individuals ammunition for their anti-pit campaign.

Ordinarily I never, ever remove comments.  I welcome discussion.  But these comments were only trying to shame me and all other pit bull terrier like dogs devotees.

I want to apologize to everyone who read those remarks.  And I want to apologize for removing them.  I don’t like to operate that way.  I am always willing to listen and debate points with thoughtful people.  I am NOT willing to entertain comments about killing my dogs.

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These are the same people who show up and post disgusting comments on every single pit bull story. One of them runs across an article, and then sends the link out to all of their cronies.  And they post horrific information.  They even posted on the story Arin Greenwood wrote about Ray’s death.

Their intention is never to educate.  Their intention is never to debate.  Their intention is to outlaw and kill every single pit bull like dog in the country.  And they will stoop to incredible lows to attain their goals.  They will target individuals.  They will post contact information.  They will call employers.  They will stop at nothing to smear the names and reputations of people who love this type of dog.

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Ask Bronwyn Dickey, the author of “Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon”….they actually posted photos of her house and her address, asking people to terrorize her.   They sent a representative to one of her readings who had to be escorted out of the building after he was disruptive and threatening.

These are the same people who advocate for adopting pit bull terrier like dogs and then taking them to a vet to be put down.  They discuss ways to kill dogs in their neighborhood.  They threaten to shoot any pit they see in public. They are evil.  They are fanatics.

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I have news for them.  I don’t care what they think.  I am not going to stop writing about dogs.  I am not going to act like all dogs are perfect.  I am going to tell it like it is.  I am going to share whatever knowledge I have to help other people and their dogs.  But I am not going to listen to their poison when they start taking about my family members.   If your only purpose is to cause fear and hate, you aren’t welcome on my page.

Bottom line…I am a responsible caretaker of our companions.  My husband is an uber-responsible caregiver.  What dogs we choose to live with is no one’s business but our own.   How far we decide to go to help our dogs is no one’s business but our own.  Unless you are a trained behaviorist, a veterinarian or a certified trainer, you have no right telling us how to work with our dogs. If you are a DBO hater, your opinion is neither solicited nor welcome.

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So, much like landowners will “post” their property against trespass or hunting, I am “posting” on this blog.  Do not bring your evil here.  It will be removed.

The World is Sadder Today

 

17758239_685137015012168_6895442719047982529_o.jpgJust a couple short days ago the Vicktory family found out that Susan’s beloved Little Red passed away in her sleep.  This is one of those losses that cuts to the core of my heart.  Little was a dog who had the sweetest disposition of any dog I have ever met.  Her sheer presence made everyone feel happy.  Little made you want to be a better, calmer, nicer person. You wanted to be worthy of this sweet soul’s trust and affection.

I am so sad about her loss…..but I am sadder for her mom.  Susan was the perfect adopter for this frightened little girl.  She gave Little the type of life that every dog deserves.  I know she is hurting…..and there is little I can say to help heal the wounds.

Please keep Susan, and the rest of her dogs, in your thoughts today.  This was a very painful loss for everyone concerned.

Run free and happy Little Red…and give Ray some love from me.  I know he’ll help show you the ropes up there.

Over-Coming Anxiety for Bosco

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Bosco is the greatest little dog…who happens to have a real problem with anxiety.

I have postponed writing this post, because it’s hard to admit that sometimes the things you have always done are not working.  Kevin and I have had challenging dogs in the past, but they have easily responded to all of our positive reinforcement without issue.  That hasn’t been true of Bosco.

I knew when we took this boy on that he came with some baggage.  Between November and when we adopted him in March he had been bounced around like a pinball (through no fault of his own). I think we counted 7 places he’s spent time before he came to us:

  • He was found running at large in November and taken to Animal Control
  • Lucas County Pit Crew pulled him and he went into a foster home
  • He was adopted days before Christmas. In an incident that can’t be considered entirely his fault (or even mostly his fault) he bit his adopter, who contacted LCPC to pick him up immediately
  • LCPC picked him up and placed him in a foster home to complete a mandated quarantine
  • AC took legal action to force Bosco to complete his quarantine in a dismal municipal shelter, with an AC Officer who hates pit bull terrier type dogs
  • When the 10 day quarantine was up, Bosco went into a foster home
  • Ohio declared him a dangerous dog because of the bite, so he was moved to an out of state foster home.
  • He was driven across the country to our home in Arizona.

That is a whole lot of change for one little dog, who already had a shadowed past.  Lord knows what he dealt with in his previous life.

Immediately after coming home Bosco picked up a foxtail; a noxious weed seed that burrows into a dogs body and travels through muscle tissue, sometimes ending up in the heart, lungs or brain of a dog.  This nasty little hitch-hiker required three separate surgeries to find and remove.  Three more times that Bosco was removed from what he saw as a safe environment and had scary things done to him.  That’s when we really started seeing his anxiety increase.

It started fairly slowly.  We noticed that Bosco didn’t really enjoy his walks that much.  That once a car or truck passed us he would show signs of stress: head down, ears back, tail slightly tucked.  Then he started having issues with some people, for no apparent reason.  First in general, and then in our house. Our daughter couldn’t safely come in our home, as Bosco became so anxious he started acting out.

We did what I’ve always preached to others: we sought out a great trainer.  We spent time hanging out in the parking lot of the grocery store, with people and cars all around.  We gave him treats every time he would look at someone and not react.  When my daughter was coming to the house, I’d put him behind the baby gate and start treating him like crazy, so he would associate her visit with lots of treats.  All that did was make him think someone was coming into the house every time he got a treat.  So, I started taking him for a car ride if she had to come over. He loved car rides.  Until he figured out that someone had been in our home while we were gone.  Suddenly car rides became an additional stressor.

If someone would knock on the door he would lose every ounce of self-control, racing back and forth from the door to whoever was in the room with him.  He would aggressively herd us away from the door.  He wouldn’t allow us to even stand up until he had time to calm back down.  One night I had to change our dinner reservations 3 times, while we gave him the time he needed to calm down after the neighbor rang our doorbell.

Our little guy became OCD about everything in his life.  Every single thing needed to be done at the same time, by the same person, every day.  He couldn’t handle changes to his routine at all.  John Garcia called him a “by the book dog”.

You could tell this was one miserable little dog.  He’d look at us and his little front teeth would be chattering from the stress.  It was heart breaking….we could tell he wanted to be a good dog, but he was too tightly wound to relax and enjoy life.  You cannot train a dog who is this overwhelmed.  You have to deal with the stress and anxiety before he is able to concentrate on learning manners.

The final straw was when he was so stressed by a walk that he acted out towards Kevin.  The situation was no longer okay.  Something had to be done…not just for safety, but for Bosco’s happiness.

So, with the help of our vet, a behaviorist in Florida, and a dog trainer who I trust implicitly (yes I mean you Steffen Baldwin) we started Operation Make Bosco Happy.  We are primarily depending on nutraceuticals…nutritional supplements to help him become calmer.  Along with exercise and some other calmative items, we are working to help Bosco accept his world.

So here’s what is currently in our arsenal:

  • A DAP collar. This is a pheromone collar that works through the dog’s own body heat.  It gives out the same calming scents a mother dog gives out to her puppies.  Each collar lasts about a month.  You can also get a diffuser to plug in and flood your whole house with this calming scent.
  • NutriClear Free by Biotics is a nutritional supplement for detoxification and metabolic clearing. It is a powder that you mix with water (it smells like a vanilla milkshake).  Bosco thinks it is the tastiest thing ever and slurps it down before I can even stand up from setting the bowl on the floor.
  • ComposurePro supplement treats which have been proven to lower anxiety levels in dogs and cats.
  • Phosphatidylcholine by Biotics. According to their website this is “a supplemental source of this important phosoholipid, which is a major constituent of cell membranes, and is important for normal cellular membrane function and repair”.
  • Bio-B Complex by Biotics, a high potency dose of important B complex vitamins
  • A treadmill for exercise. Walks are currently to upsetting to Bosco.  Everything in the world is seen as dangerous.  With time we are hoping to resume walks, which should be a happy activity for a dog.  In the meantime, a few minutes of treadmill time will help lower his anxiety level.
  • Rescue Remedy in his water.  RR is a great natural calmative.
  • A minute dose of Clonidine, which is an anti-anxiety medication.

The one thing everyone agreed was important was limiting his exposure to triggers.  Which is why we temporarily suspended walks.  I also have a big sign on my front door asking that visitors not knock or ring bell.  Instead I give them our cellphone number to call or text. We aren’t taking car rides right now. In fact, we’ve pretty much hit a reset button on almost all of Bosco’s activities.

You can’t work on behavior modification with an anxious dog.  These tools are allowing Bosco to be comfortable enough to start fresh on training.

We are currently working on building up proficiency on the treadmill.  He seems to be totally open to the idea of walking or trotting on this equipment.  But right now he wants to do it with a person, and I don’t have the stamina to keep up with him. With time, and a little effort he will be trotting along by himself soon.  NOTE:  never leave your dog on a treadmill unattended, and never leash or chain him to the treadmill. 

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We are also working on positive muzzle training. There are times Bosco will be frightened or uncomfortable.  If he is already muzzle trained, and considers it a positive (treat filled) experience, he will be safer to take on rides and to things like medical appointments.  Muzzles are NOT just for aggressive dogs.  They can be a great tool for any dog.

Bosco is already showing a lot of improvement in his stress level.  I haven’t seen the teeth chattering behavior since we started working on this together.  And even if he reacts to a stressor (if something unfamiliar happens), his recovery time is much, much shorter.  With just a couple of minutes he is back to being our little clown of a dog.

There is no magic bullet.  This process takes effort from everyone involved.  Mainly it depends on both Kevin and me showing Bosco that we have his back and we are committed to keeping him safe.

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In the meantime, Bosco and Turtle are best buddies, and she helps him burn off his excess energy.  Bosco has the best dog skills of all our kids, which gives me a lot of hope for his eventual happiness in the world at large.

This is a great little dog.  And he is worth every bit of effort to help him live a happy, comfortable life.

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The Truth about Parrots

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I was somewhat taken aback by some of the comments on one of our Parrot Garden videos that I shared. The insinuation was that our birds lived in cramped and tiny cages, where they had nothing to do but pull out their feathers from stress. The person making these accusations was here, once, many years ago. Apparently she didn’t bother to ask questions or learn what we do to help enrich the lives of the birds in our care.

She obviously doesn’t realize that our caregivers give their all for these birds each and every day. She doesn’t know that we spend a lot of time following research, so we can meet the emotional and nutritional needs of our charges. That caregivers take their responsibilities so seriously and bond so tightly to their kids that they become members of our extended family. That we rejoice in each positive step forward. That each bird is considered an individual, with his or her own care plan for rehabilitation.

She doesn’t have a clue that many, if not most, of the birds come here after years or decades of a crap diet, suffering from nutritional deficiencies that affect their health. She wasn’t here when we took in a cockatiel who had vitamin a deficiency blindness from years of living in a dark basement on an all seed diet.

She has no idea how many birds come to us with stereotypical behaviors from years of living ignored in tiny cages. Feather destructive behavior, self-mutilation, screaming and biting all come from natural behaviors which have been amplified by captivity.
She is ignorant of the fact that most of these birds have been hand-raised by humans, and have never had the opportunity to learn the most basic of skills from their parents. They have no clue they are birds and they suffer from the anxiety of not knowing the things that would allow them to live a happy healthy life. The parental deprivation basically ensures they will live life as emotional cripples.

She is ignorant of the fact that many birds, not knowing they are birds, are terrified of our open flights. That sometimes it can take months to convince them it is safe with all that space. That some birds will never be comfortable outside of a cage. That is how they come to us, and that’s where we have to start. We work hard to find the least restrictive environment for every single one of our birds.

She isn’t aware that many of our birds came to us after being inappropriately handled by humans who didn’t realize full-body stroking could lead to mate bonding, and even more emotional problems.

She hasn’t seen our beautiful outdoor garden area where each bird has an enclosure planted with bird safe food to forage from, like dandelion, clover and millet.

She doesn’t understand that a bird missing feathers isn’t necessarily stressed or unhappy…that the feather destruction comes from a natural grooming behavior which has gone haywire. That once a bird started destroying feathers it is often a life-long issue….even if they have the best possible of lives.

She hasn’t seen the care we take to find the best possible home for each of our kids. How we worry and agonize as we see them out the door.

She isn’t here when we are having to say “no” to hundreds of birds who need to come here…part of the growing crisis of caged-birds in this country.

She is oblivious to the fact that our organization has never said “no” to any need we have wanted to meet, for any of our birds.