Many of us are familiar with the terrible circumstances of the dogs found chained and abused on Michael Vick’s property in 2007. Over 50 pit bull-type dogs were found on the property, and it became one of the most infamous dog fighting busts in U.S. history.
But what about the story of these dogs in the years that followed?
Their stories are unique because unlike dogs recovered in fighting busts in the past, these dogs were not automatically euthanized. Traditionally, dogs who were forced to fight were thought to be too aggressive to save. Some groups, such as PETA, argued for euthanization of the Vick dogs, but animal welfare advocates and the general public lobbied to save the pups’ lives.
Ultimately, these advocates were successful. 22 dogs were sent to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah to recover. ‘The Champions” takes a closer look at the journey of several of these dogs.
The road to rehabilitation differed for each of the 22 dogs, and the documentary chronicles several of them who went on to live remarkable lives with their adoptive families.
Jonny, a Vick dog who became known as “Jonny Justice,” became a therapy dog who helps terminally ill children. He was named the ASPCA dog of the year in 2014 for his work helping kids and their families.
Dan, a dog who is now known as “Handsome Dan,” was a shy and fearful dog when he was rescued from the Vick property. He has gained a lot of confidence, and now is not only great with his baby human sibling, but is able to help other shy, fearful dogs come out of their shell. Dan’s human parents have even established a rescue group in his name.
Cherry also had a long road to recovery. In the documentary, viewers see Cherry flatten to the ground at the sight of a leash; he was generally very fearful of people. Under the loving and experienced rehabilitative care of Best Friends Animal Society, Cherry slowly learned to trust people, and even made a new friend — Handsome Dan!
Cherry was adopted into a loving family, and he has continued to progress with the help of his human, canine, and feline siblings.
Little Red, who appears in the trailer for the documentary, was used as a bait dog on Vick’s property. Her human mom, who adopted her in 2011, told Best Friends Animal Society:
“Her recovery is slow, but she knows that I will never hurt her and she will be safe with me and her four other canine buddies. She is part of a family. The predictability of her quiet life in the country has allowed her to blossom and feel confident enough to express pure joy and exuberance when she is running and playing.”
“Prior to the Michael Vick case, the traditional, historic treatment of dogs from fight busts was simply to regard them as damaged goods and to kill them,” said Francis Battista, co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society. “All along, we’ve been advocating for them to be given a chance. Our experience has shown that there’s no need to be afraid of the dogs or blame them, just because of the situation they came from.”
According to Best Friends, these ‘Vicktory dogs’ truly have shown the world how much hope there is when giving dogs a chance to recover from their experiences. Best Friends says,
“Their amazing resilience — and journey back to health and happiness — proved there’s no such thing as ‘too damaged’ or ‘beyond hope,’ that no dog is inherently vicious, no matter her breed or background.”
Ledy VanKavage, senior legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society, says of the documentary, “The Champions beautifully illustrates why all dogs are individuals and deserve a chance. Breed discrimination fails to make communities safer and is not supported by science. We should protect people and pets through a culture of safety, personal responsibility, and individual accountability. The focus should be on reckless owners and dangerous dogs to accomplish this, not on breed.”
You can download the documentary on the Champions website, or stream it through Netflix.
Header image via The Champions