In 2007, former Atlanta Falcon quarterback Michael Vick was found guilty of running a six-year long criminal dog-fighting ring. He served 21 months in prison, before he returned to the NFL in 2010. He just signed a $5 million deal to play for the New York Jets.
What's more important is what happened to the so-called "Vicktory Dogs," some 50 or so dogs who made it out if Vick's "Bad Newz Kennel" alive. Last week, on ASPCA's National Dog Fighting Awareness Day, the Bark Post checked in with a handful of those dogs.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund recounts that these dogs were underfed, scarred from fighting, many had their teeth pulled out and showed signs of being forcefully bred. And these were the lucky dogs, the dogs who hadn't been electrocuted, drowned, beaten to death or otherwise executed.
"People said even though the situation was horrible, these dogs should be put down," the Bark Post explains, "because of their obvious violent natures and killer instincts." Instead, groups like the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary adopted and rehabilitated them. These six stories prove why:
Cherry Garcia (pictured above)
"What we've found is Cherry continuously grows and overcomes the next obstacle in his way," Cherry's adopter, Paul, says. "He has days where he regresses, but eventually he moves forward. It has been an incredible journey watching him go from a dog who slept with his eyes open to a dog that we can call 'normal.' We know that isn't the most exciting term, but that's all he wants to be, a normal dog."
Cherry spends his days going to events that raise awareness for animal abuse, including kids-only events, where he does tricks for people and gives them kisses. Mostly, Cherry just loves love.
"Cherry's favorite thing to do, without a doubt, is to cuddle. It doesn't matter if it's his mom, dad, his cats, or Madison, his canine sister. He just loves to cuddle. His favorite times are when the whole family is on the couch, in bed, or just lying on the floor. He takes advantage of each and every moment to share his love."
Mel was adopted by Richard, a Dallas radio show host who covered the Vick news and wanted to help. When he got Mel, he was "quivering in the corner. Shaking uncontrollably. Convulsing."
Now, Richard says, "As fearful as Mel still is of new people, he always gives everyone a chance. I know many humans who would never trust anyone again if they had gone through what he has, and who would blame them?"
Mel doesn't bark, but thankfully has a dog brother, a terrier named Pumpkin, who helps him out. Pumpkin guards Mel when he gets scared and will bark in the middle of the night to wake Richard up to let Mel out.
"He also has never met a dog he doesn't like. Big or small. Calm or hyper. If you're a dog, Mel is cool with you. It's actually easier for him to meet a new person if they have a dog with them."
"I had a lot of people try to talk me out of adopting a ‘dog like that,'" Halle's adopter, Traci, recalls. "And I never listened for one second. Through positive reinforcement training and an awesome trainer, I watched Halle learn to trust again and overcome a lot of fears...Now she will sit on the couch next to a stranger and paw at them so they will pet her."
And Halle loves other dogs:
"She loves other dogs. She has two brothers and is constantly playing with them. One of her brothers has a neurological injury from abuse as a puppy, and from the time we adopted him, he really took to the other dogs. He climbs on Halle, sits on her, lies on her, bites her back legs when he wants to play, sometimes plops down right on top of her and falls asleep, and she never once has gotten mad at him. I can take her anywhere, and as soon as she sees another dog, her tail begins to wag and she does a little happy dance."
Traci says, "She has taught me great lessons about resiliency, forgiveness, and unconditional love."
Squeaker now lives in a home with at least six other dogs. "She seems more appreciative of little things," her adopter, Annick, explains. "While her brothers and sisters think that affection is nice, she thinks it's the greatest thing on Earth. And while her brothers and sisters are happy to be home, being home makes Squeaker smile half of the day."
Despite everything she's gone through, Squeaker is still optimistic about the human race.
"This dog is a doll, and she looooves people!" Annick says. "It's funny because when our family members met her, they often said, ‘Wow, I can't believe a former fighting dog is so sweet.' Squeaker also stares at you like she is in love with you. Her eyes are filled with love and tell a story."
"Oscar has changed my life. I didn't set out to adopt a Vicktory dog. I just wanted a pit bull," his adopter, Rachel, admits. "With him, I didn't just adopt a dog; I got a whole new family. The majority of the Vicktory adopters keep in close contact, and they are awesome. We swap stories, share advice, and support each other."
And Oscar hasn't just learned from her. She's learned from him:
"Acceptance. Forgiveness. Unconditional love. I think there is an important distinction to make: These are not fighting dogs; they are dogs who were forced to fight. They had to fight or die. Humans do unimaginably cruel things to dogs. Oscar and the other dogs rescued from Bad Newz Kennels don't hold that against the rest of us."
"Dan will always be a fearful guy," his adopter, Heather, says. "But he tries so hard to do what we ask of him, even when he is struggling."
Handsome Dan not only has an amazing name (and an appropriate one—look at that handsome face!) but he's a textbook example of what can come of a formerly abused dog. Dan was raised to fight, but now he has a different job: Nanny.
"When our daughter, Josephine, was born in 2010, we knew Dan would be great with her," Heather says. "We just had no idea how great. When she was a baby, he would sleep next to her crib. Now that she is a little older, he is so calm and patient with her. Sudden movements have always startled Dan, but the craziness of a toddler doesn't seem to bother him at all."
All of these dogs have gotten a much-deserved happy ending, and the moral to all their stories is the same:
"People can learn about abused animals and that fighting dogs are not inherently evil dogs," Paul, Cherry Garcia's new dad, concludes. "Cherry was bred and trained to fight, and yet that is the last thing he wants to do."