Dogs who Stand for Something

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Squeaker and Oscar. Two Vicktory Dogs who became the best of friends.

A couple of weeks ago, Ray and I were invited to address college students from across the country who were spending spring break volunteering at the sanctuary.  They were gathered to attend a workshop presented by Ledy Van Kavage (Best Friends attorney extraordinaire!) on Breed Discrimination laws.  Ray and I were the opening act. It was an opportunity to educate people about pit bull type dogs, and a reminder that not everyone knows the full story.

In April of 2007, a young man named Davon Broddie was arrested on drug charges.  At that time he gave his address as a home in Surry County, Virginia, which belonged to his cousin, Atlanta Falcon’s Quarterback Michael Vick: the NFL’s highest paid player.  When a search warrant was served to look for additional drugs, the police were surprised to find a large number of dogs.  An additional search warrant was obtained to search for evidence of animal neglect or abuse.

What they found left little doubt that this was a large-scale dog fighting operation:  a blood stained “pit”, a “rape rack”, training equipment, performance enhancing drugs and dogs chained with heavy log chains, in a clearing in the woods, some with injuries consistent with dog fighting.

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Fifty-one fighting dogs were seized and moved into several different municipal shelters in the area.  Traditionally suspected fighting dogs were held as evidence until the trial was completed, and then euthanized.  They were referred to as “kennel trash” and shelter employees tried hard not to become attached to them, given their dismal outlook for a future.  Even un-weaned puppies were routinely killed as being irredeemably tainted by dog fighting.

This time things were different.  A few vocal animal welfare groups, including Best Friends Animal Society, petitioned the court to have the dogs evaluated individually for possible rehabilitation.  But just as vocal were the groups who maintained the dogs couldn’t be saved.  That they were “ticking time bombs” or “the most aggressively trained killing machines in America”.  Thankfully the judge decided to give the dogs at least a chance to prove themselves.  He appointed Rebecca Huss as Guardian and Special Master to the court.  It was her job to arrange individual evaluations for the dogs and determine each one’s fate.

Teams of behavior experts from the ASPCA, Bad Rap from California, and Best Friends Animal Society arrived to complete the evaluation process.  Each dog was to be tested for dog aggression as well as human aggression.  It was hoped that two or three of the 49 surviving dogs (two died while in care) would be deemed salvageable.   Imagine everyone’s surprise when all but one of the dogs showed at least some degree of ability to be rehabilitated.  One dog, who had been bred and fought repeatedly, was just too emotionally and physically damaged to try and save.  She was humanely euthanized.  The remaining 48 dogs were dispersed to 8 different rescue groups for adoption, rehabilitation or sanctuary.

Best Friends Animal Society took 22 of the most challenging dogs.  The dogs who were going to need a little more help to become eligible for a home. Two of the dogs were court-ordered to remain at the sanctuary for life:  Lucas, who was Bad Newz Kennel’s Grand Champion and Meryl, who in her fear had snapped at her evaluator.

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Grand Champion Lucas, who became the beloved office dog for Best Friends CEO Gregory Castle

When the dogs first came to Best Friends, caregivers and trainers were with them 24 hours a day, as everyone tried to get an idea of what this task was going to require.  The dogs instantly bonded with these humans who were kind and patient.  It didn’t take long for staff to figure out the biggest issue with them wasn’t aggression….it was fear.  These dogs had lived a life that was painful and frightening.  They were totally unsocialized. They had never know kindness, good food, fresh water, and a warm, safe place to sleep.  They didn’t know how to walk on a leash.  They had never spent a night under a roof.  And some of them were ill with Babesia, a blood born parasite that fighting dogs pass through deep puncture wounds.  (Babesia can also be contracted by tick bites).

Some of the Vicktory Dogs (as BFAS renamed them) were able to be adopted as soon as the trainers felt they would be able to be successful in a home. Some of the dogs who were more damaged were court-ordered to complete their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test before they could leave. The CGC is an incredibly difficult test for any dog. For dogs who were dealing with crippling fear, it takes a Herculean effort on the part of both the dog and his trainer.

One by one the dogs started passing their tests and finding wonderful homes.  The court had also put some stringent requirements in place for potential adopters.  Every interested person was required to pass a Federal Background Check.  They had to come to the sanctuary and meet the dogs.  They had to provide a home that could pass an inspection for safety and security.  Yards had to be fenced with 6 foot fencing.  Since these were the first fighting dogs ever saved, it was critical that they went to stable homes with people who would be willing to do what was necessary to keep the dogs safe and happy.  And all the safe-guards worked. The dogs have been integrated into homes with small children, cats, and other dogs.  There has never been a single issue with any of the dogs who were placed in loving homes.

The dogs act like they are on a mission to prove to the world that they are dogs….just dogs.  Not “killing machines”, not aggressive, dangerous animals.  But dogs like any other dog.  Dogs with individual quirks that just endear them to their families.  Dogs who have become therapy dogs, agility champions and emotional support animals. Dogs like Cherry, who stood on a stage in New York City last week and happily met his many fans who were attending a screening of the PBS show Visionaries.  Dogs like Handsome Dan, who is so amazing that he inspired his parents to start a dog rescue of their own, in his name.  Dogs like Layla, who is working hard to become a certified therapy dog.  Dogs like Ray, who trustingly follows me wherever I choose to take him.

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Cherry and his dad Paul at the premier of Visionaries

Today Ray went to lunch with me on the deck of the Village Cafe.  He not only tolerated the people who wanted to meet him, he actively solicited their attention.  This little dog who was once so very frightened is now an ambassador for pit bulls and fighting dogs everywhere.  Because of the relationship we’ve built, he willing tackles things that I never thought he could deal with.  Last month when we arrived at the Vegas airport we had to use an escalator.  I don’t mind admitting that I was apprehensive approaching it. I shouldn’t have been.  Ray confidently stepped on, and proudly looked around as he rode to the top, where he nimbly stepped off without missing a beat. (Unlike his human mom, who always stutter steps getting off an escalator).

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Ray on the deck of the Village

The Bad Newz Kennels bust that happened 8 years ago and captured the attention of dog lovers all across the country has changed the shape of the world for pit bull terrier type dogs.  Dogs that are seized are now routinely assessed for rehabilitation.  There is no longer a belief that these dogs are somehow responsible for the life that was forced on them.  That they are damaged goods, better off dead.

The Vicktory Dogs are aging. In the past few years we have started to lose some of them.  Last August Lucas, the Grand Champion (snuggle bug, lap sitting, amazing dog) passed away from complications of Babesia.  We know our time with these amazing dogs is limited.  Many of them are dealing with health issues directly related to the abuse they suffered.  But even when they cross over the Rainbow Bridge they will continue to influence policy. These 48 dogs who have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that fighting was something that was forced on them, not something they were born to do.  Once they had the opportunity to become companions, they took it and ran with it.  Ray’s sigh when he lays his head in my lap says it all.  These dogs were victims, not criminals.  And because of their bravery and loving nature they have taught us all so much.  If dogs like these….dogs who were trained, fought and abused…. can become loving family members, how can anyone say that pit bull type dogs are inherently dangerous?  It just doesn’t make sense.

I understand the anger some people feel towards the man who bankrolled Bad Newz Kennels.  Their disgust that he is once again playing football and making tons of money. But frankly, I never even think about that. I know Ray doesn’t.  He lives totally in the moment, enjoying the good things happening in his life now.  I take my cue from him.  We only have so much time left to spend together, and we are going to enjoy every second of it.

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24 thoughts on “Dogs who Stand for Something

  1. Congratulations to all the owners of these courageous people I may never never meet him but just know that I pray for them and I asked God to bless all of the families that took him in and I hope that Michael Vick Burns in hell

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    1. Micheal Vick has another dog as well when he shouldn’t ever be allowed to own another dog not to mention he shouldn’t have been able to play football again either.

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  2. It’s nice to see the wonderful life these dogs deserved and received making people aware of their plight thru education is one of the best tools for stopping dogfighting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on My Life. So Far. and commented:
    These dogs are my heroes! They deserve all the love and happiness in the world! I can’t imagine the horror they went through and I will never understand it. How can anyone look at an innocent animal and put them through the unimaginable anguish that these dogs suffered is beyond my thought process or even my wildest imagination. I am so thankful that their lives were spared and that they are ambassadors not only for their breed, but for abuse sufferers who have been the worst and have come out the best!

    To the Vicktory Dogs, each one of you has my heart. I may never meet any of you, but you will always carry a piece of my heart and my soul. I love you all!

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    1. It’s not even like Michael Vick needed the money from fighting dogs not that needing money is an excuse, there is no excuse for animal cruelty. He did it for the sheer pleasure of being sadistic and cruel. I have no idea what the NFL was thinking allowing Michael Vick to play football again. He should be cleaning the shit out of dog cages in shelters for the rest of his life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Did you know that Vick has a “comedy show” that he takes on the road? He appeared here in Shreveport. There was a sizable group of animal lovers who showed up to protest his show. Talk about a sleeze bag!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the wonderful article. I have followed news of the Vicktory Dogs for a long time. I couldn’t always make it through the horrible details. It makes me feel sick. I am so proud that Best Friends, Bad Rap, and the other groups stepped forward and offered these dogs love, and understanding.
    Thank you for loving Ray, may God Bless you both.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. i absolutely LOVE this article. So well written and so touching. I hope everyone reads this. Thank god for that judge, the rescue workers and people like you who give these sweet babies a home 🙂 thank you for writing this and being a great person, the world needs more people like this!

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  6. so well said – I tell people that the Judge in this case needs a medal for taking a stand for these dogs and the rest that came behind. My niece and I were fortunate enough to meet you and Ray last summer. I can’t find the picture, but he was so sweet and let her give him a hug. She of course doesn’t understand dog fights and we had a discussion later that night about the mean things that people do. She couldn’t put together how that sweet dog at lunch went through all that. I told her it is the power of love. She certainly understands that. THANK YOU to you and everyone who helped these dogs to a better life….and let them be such shining examples of what it means to be “just a dog”.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is the kind of thing that one needs to refer to when people say that pit bulls are naturally dangerous. These dogs went from a point where the best they could hope for was a humane euth, to a point where all but 3 were given to loving homes.

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  8. Great reminder of the case that laid the foundation for how these dogs are given a chance to be evaluated on who they are, not where they came from – yeah! I have a Jazzy of my own (Jasmine) from the 367 fight bust. She is the most amazing heart of a being I have known. Though she spent the first few years of her life on a logging chain, she shows no aggression toward human nor dog. In fact, she is quite the love bug! Please keep writing and sharing!

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  9. Thanks for the story. I think Ray has the right outlook. Live each day for itself. Keep going buddy. Wish I could meet you someday, maybe give you a tasty dog treat.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you for what you are doing for these dogs. I have two wonderful amazing pit bulls. One, Bella, was lucky that someone dropped her off as a puppy at a shelter where we found her. The other one, Misha, wasn’t so lucky. We don’t know what someone did to her but she is terrified of everything. She gets her confidence from Bella, and with love and understanding she is starting to come out of her shell. She used to lay on the floor away from anyone, but now she will climb over Bella (who thinks she owns all laps) so that she can lay with us. These dogs are truly amazing and their forgiveness is something we could all learn from. Thank you again for spreading the word about this beautiful breed of dog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! People who have lived their lives with these dogs understand how truly special they are. Every person she has met, she’s loved and they’ve loved her. I’m proud to say I have a few friends who’ve had their minds changed by Jazzy. It’s kind of hard not too once she warms up to you and sprawls out on your lap for kisses!

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  11. I still cry every time i read the story of the babies. I have always followed the stories and lives of Vicktory Dogs and they will forever hold a place in my heart.

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  12. My dog was believed to be a former “bait dog” for dog fighting, her legs, face and even some areas of her chest and the rest of her body are covered in scars. I’ve been her proud parent for going on three years this coming November. She was a present for my birthday, people say I rescued her but it’s the other way around. I struggle with crippling depression and anxiety and she’s my rock, my stability when I feel like I’m emotionally drowning. It’s been a rough two years trying to show her what’s okay, she’s still got a lot of obstacles to over come but she’s already proven she’s more than capable. She loves people young, old, and everywhere in between, most other dogs and even kittens! Anyone who says these dogs can’t be rehabilitated doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t know where I would be today if not for my Jazzy, and for as long as she’s with me I’ll fight for her. Thank you, if it weren’t for the Vicktory dogs, I’m almost postive they would have taken her life, so thank you guys for proving that these amazing and special dogs can be saved and become someone’s best friend.

    Liked by 3 people

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