Little Red has spent the last three years living in a home in Laramie, Wyoming — free to roam a yard and play in the snow. It’s a long journey from where the pit bull terrier was raised, in the cages of Bad Newz Kennels owned by Michael Vick.
Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at an organization called Best Friends Animal Society. The “Vicktory Dogs,” as they’re known, are still dealing with the fallout from being raised to fight.
Vick, who signed with the Jets this offseason and will report to camp later this week, continues to deal with the fallout as well. He’s spent the three years since he was released from prison doing charitable work for various animal causes.
Little Red is very much like the other pit bull terriers rescued from Vick’s kennel. Now 11 years old, and seven years removed from her time at Bad Newz Kennels, Little Red suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, directly linked to her upbringing says owner Susan Weidel.
“She tends to live in the moment but her past still haunts her. She still has fears when she encounters new situations and feels threatened but she is never aggressive. She simply retreats deep into herself,” Weidel said. “Bad Newz Kennels tried to make Little Red mean. They were not successful. She does not have a mean or aggressive bone in her little body. Other dogs are her solace and she will live her remaining days with her canine siblings in a loving home with the peace and quiet she deserves in order to feel safe and to heal.”
Because of her upbringing, Little Red suffers babesia, an autoimmune disease passed on by contact with blood, a disease that is not uncommon among fighting dogs. Medication can cost several thousand dollars a month.
Some, like Paul Fiacone’s dog Cherry Garcia, who also suffers from babesia, also encounter other physical issues. Cherry Garcia has lost a number of teeth and the ones he does have are in bad shape, the result of neglect when just a pup at the kennels.
“They all have medical issues but I think the biggest thing that affects all of these dogs is PTSD. They suffer tremendously from it and will always be working to overcome their psychological issues,” Fiacone said. “The great part about it is they do not play a victim card like humans do. They do not let it consume them. They move forward and make progress each and every day. They do not have a rearview mirror.”
Thirteen of the “Vicktory Dogs” have been rehabilitated and adopted.
“Each dog was evaluated, and based on their needs, an individual ‘life plan’ was developed which included training and enrichment to provide them not only a great life at the sanctuary but to help them get ready to be adopted,” said Eric Rayvid, senior public relations manager, Best Friends Animal Society. “For the dog still at the sanctuary, those life plans are still in place. The dogs underwent ‘Canine Good Citizenship’ training and for many of them passing that test was a requirement before they could go into adoptive homes. Some of the dogs were allowed to go into their homes without this certification, but in those cases the families are continuing to work towards having their dog pass the CGC test as their adoption commitment.”
Perhaps just by their nature, or because of the treatment they received at Bad Newz, but nearly all of the rescued pit bull terriers seem to respond well to affection. In particular, social interaction with other dogs seems to not only be a pleasant surprise for these rehabilitated pooches but very much a part of their healing process.
According to the federal indictment prepared against Vick, he was accused of not only running a dogfighting operation out of his home but also mistreatment of animals. This included the kennels having “executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in ‘testing’ sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground.”
It is no surprise Mel’s owner Richard Hunter sees his “Vicktory Dog” as responding well to love and affection. Bred and groomed to fight, he now craves affection from others, in particular other dogs.
“Mel is a dog who is shy around new people, but never meets a dog that he doesn’t instantly befriend. It’s actually easier for him to meet a new person if they have a dog with them,” Hunter said. “He loves car rides, and the longer they are, the better. He is a very loving and affectionate dog when he is home and feeling safe. He sleeps in bed with me every night, with his head on the pillow right next to mine. He’s big on giving lots of kisses.”
Vick has never tried to have any contact with the dogs since the court case that landed him in jail. He also hasn’t had any contact with the Best Friends Animal Society as they tried to reclaim the lives of his dogs. Perhaps he is merely separating himself from his past life, and that includes his dogs.
But since his release from jail, Vick has done extensive work with the Human Society to better an understanding of dogfighting and eliminate the practice. He’s even supported legislation before Congress that would make being a spectator at a dogfight a criminal offense.
And he’s also tried to be preemptive in his work with inner-city children in terms of trying to get them to be responsible adults and not follow the same path he went down. He’s readily honest in his approach to young people and the poor choices he’s made.
If there is a silver lining from all of this, it is that the “Vicktory Dogs” and their sad tale helped raise awareness about dogfighting and animal cruelty.
The publicity of the Vick case and subsuquent fallout led to similar arrests and investigations throughout the country. Shortly after the Vick story hit the headlines, a bust in Missouri netted over 400 dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, who became known as the Missouri 500. The haul was part of a multi-state dogfighting syndicate.
George Bjornson adopted one pit bull terrier named Lila from this Missouri rescue. She now lives with Hunter who also owns Lance, one of the “Vicktory Dogs.” Because Lance was rescued in such a high-profile manner, Lila was given a better chance to be rescued and saved.
Bjornson refers to Lila as Lance’s “girlfriend.”
“She is alive today [and] is alive because of Lance and the other ‘Vicktory Dogs,” Bjornson said. “The Missouri 500 were the first group not killed because of the ‘Vicktory Dogs.’”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.