I’ve never really understood the question, “Are you a dog person?” Of course, I’m a dog person! I’m also a cat person and a horse person. If I had access to them, I have no doubt that I would be a bonobo person, too. In short, I am an animal person. Going out on a limb, I’m going to guess that you’re an animal person, as well! How do I know that? Well, animal people tend to gravitate to each other. We’re the ones who have to fight the urge to go after animal abusers with flaming pitchforks. And we’re the ones who always tear up over happy animal stories.
Today’s edition of The Campfire Chronicle contains both of those elements, the flaming pitchforks and the happy tears. It showcases both the worst and the best of human nature and the absolute resilience of dogs and their willingness to forgive. Today we’re going to talk about the Vicktory Dogs, those who survived Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation, and where they are today.
The Part with the Flaming Pitchforks
“I believe in integrity. Dogs have it. Humans are sometimes lacking it.” ~ Cesar Millan
It has been almost seven years since the nation was shocked and sickened to learn about NFL quarterback, Michael Vick’s involvement in dog fighting. Sure, people make mistakes, but this wasn’t a case of a slight lapse in judgment. This was a meticulously planned operation of dog cruelty that rivaled that of Cruella de Vil’s plan to make a coat out of Dalmatian puppies.
For five years, Vick and his cronies had become progressively more involved in the despicable act of operating an interstate dog fighting ring. Land had been purchased for Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels. (Anytime “news” is spelled with a “z,” I suspect that someone is up to no good!) American Pit Bull Terriers were purchased and “tested”. Those animals that didn’t prove to be good fighters were destroyed, and not in a humane way.
After being less than forthcoming to authorities, Vick and his two co-defendants were sentenced to prison. Vick served 21 months in prison, followed by two months of home confinement, and paid nearly one million dollars in fines. I’ll leave the debate about Vick’s rehabilitation to someone else. I would rather focus on the rehabilitation of the dogs he left behind.
The Part with the Happy Tears
“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.” ~ Woodrow Wilson
In 2007, the dogs of Bad Newz Kennels were finally in for some good news. While some people were arguing that the animals should be euthanized due to their killer instincts, some organizations stepped in to argue in favor of rehabilitation. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, gained custody of 22 of the most traumatized dogs. These 22 dogs, whose lives had been unspeakably horrific up to that point (some had been fighters and some had been used as bait dogs), were about to step forward into a new dimension … one filled with love and trust.
This elite band of canines became known as the Vicktory Dogs. Right from the start of their time at Best Friends, each of the Vicktory Dogs had to be treated as an individual, with special needs that were quite different from those of the other animals . . . there could be no cookie cutter rehabilitation for any of these dogs.
Twelve of the dogs were rehabilitated and adopted into families. Each adoptive family was carefully screened and home visits were performed. And trainers worked with the families throughout the adjustment period. The homes were all just as unique as were the dogs. Some had small children. Some had other dogs or cats. But all offered the stability and love that the dogs so desperately needed. Some of the Victory Dogs remain at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary due to a court order that required them to pass the Canine Good Citizen test before they could be adopted. They are making progress, but that process cannot be rushed. The dogs must understand that no one is going to hurt them. In the meantime, they interact with other dogs, spend time with volunteers and hang out in staff offices.
Two of the dogs, Lucas and Meryl, found their permanent home at the sanctuary, per court orders. Their abuse and history as fighters rendered them “unadoptable.” But rather than being a sad ending for Meryl and Lucas, the battle-scarred dogs found a loving refuge. Lucas died last year due to multiple health issues. Prior to that, he was so popular among the visitors that the staff had to limit his visits to prevent him from becoming overwhelmed emotionally. He was actually known as the “most social and well-behaved” around people. Meryl continues to enjoy spending time at the sanctuary’s dog park, exercising, and riding in golf carts. Meryl will receive a lifetime of love and support from people who are fully dedicated to their work at the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary.
“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.” ~ Roger A. Caras
Though the Vicktory Dogs and their adoptive humans do not all live near each other geographically, they have formed an extended family. Adopting a Vicktory Dog means acceptance into a very special club. The owners support each other through the high points and through the challenges of owning one of these special dogs. Last year, six of the dogs traveled with their humans for a reunion at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary: Cherry Garcia, Handsome Dan, Halle, Little Red, Mel and Oscar took turns taking center stage with their owners. More than 150 fans showed up to meet the dogs who can teach us all about overcoming hardships. Each family told of how a Vicktory Dog has changed their lives as much as the family has changed the life of their dog. For all of their struggles, they have proven themselves to be 100% Vicktorious!
So, am I a dog person? You betcha! Dogs are some of the greatest people I know! So, let’s revel in the happy ending, shall we? Watch a little video about the Vicktory Dogs, meet their loving owners and see how happy and fulfilled their lives are today!
Happy Trails y’all!