Best Friends Blog

The Michael Vick dogs

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to puppy class at your neighborhood pet store, photos surfaced of Michael Vick with his recently acquired Malinois, Angel, at dog training class at a New Jersey PetSmart. You just never know who you’re gonna meet!

I aired my thoughts on Mr. Vick’s acquisition of another dog in a previous blog, so I won’t rehash all that here. The unfortunate thing is that while the tabloids toss out images of Vick and Angel in hopes of generating gawp-and-gasp page views and streams of outraged comments from animal lovers, there is some really good news about some other Michael Vick dogs, those known as the Vicktory dogs. They were 22 of the most traumatized and difficult dogs rescued from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels when his dog-fighting operation was busted in April of 2007.

This coming Monday, March 11, six of the 10 Vicktory dogs who have been placed in adoptive homes will be arriving at Best Friends for a reunion.

Of the 12 remaining dogs, one succumbed to a silent killer, babesia, a blood parasite that is spread through bite wounds among dogs forced to endure the fighting ring; two must remain at the Sanctuary for life per court order; five spend their days with staff as office dogs; and four are in our general population. Layla, who lives at our parrot building, just passed her Canine Good Citizen test and is ready for adoption. She is a real charmer and recently made a tail-wagging, hand-licking appearance at a post-lunch gathering at the Angel Village cafeteria.

In 2007, when the Vick case hit the news, the standard procedure was for authorities to simply kill all dogs seized in such raids, regardless of age. That policy had been endorsed and implemented by the traditional humane organizations as well, but Best Friends and other grassroots organizations leveraged the notoriety and high-profile status of the case to save the Vick dogs, and in so doing, forced policy changes at the nation’s most prominent humane organizations.

Of the nearly 50 fighting dogs seized from Vick and his associates in crime, one was euthanized for dangerous aggression, 22 of the most problematic came to Best Friends for long-term rehabilitation or court-ordered permanent Sanctuary placement, and the rest went to regional and national pit bull rescue organizations and went up for adoption immediately. So much for the myth that dogs born into the world of dog fighting are “born killers” or “time bombs waiting to go off” — the most common justifications for their summary execution in the past.

All that changed thanks to the common sense understanding of what makes dogs tick and the amazing resilience of a much-maligned and misunderstood breed. Just one example: After the Vick case in 2009, the Humane Society of Missouri participated in the largest dog-fighting raid in U.S. history, confiscating 500 dogs and puppies in eight states. Before the Vicktory dogs, all of these dogs would have been killed without a second thought under the policy that had existed. In light of the Vick case, they decided to change their policy and evaluate the dogs as individuals. More than 60 percent were placed. However, despite the example of the Vick dogs and the policy changes made by some national organizations, there are many cities and even 13 states that deem all dogs seized in fight busts as “dangerous” or “vicious.” Some mandate their killing. Best Friends is actively working to change these laws. In 2011, we spearheaded Florida Senate Bill 722 that deleted the stigma of “dangerous” from seized dogs, so they now can be adopted out in the Sunshine State.

The Vicktory dogs went from trauma to triumph and amazed even the most wide-eyed optimists among us. Part of their journey was documented on the National Geographic show “DogTown” that followed the exploits of Best Friends vets and dog training staff for four seasons.

The coming reunion, which includes Cherry, Handsome Dan, Halle, Oscar, Mel and Little Red, just kind of happened as described by Little Red’s person, Susan: “I volunteer at (Best Friends) every March, and Rachel (who has Oscar) asked if she could come and we could meet up to have the dogs play. From there, it just snowballed. We have often talked about getting together, but geography is a challenge. Some of us have met each other but never all together.” Coincidentally, it is also close to the five-year anniversary of the dogs’ rescue from Vick and his Bad Newz crew, so there will be more reason to celebrate.

Each of the Vicktory dog adopters is a pit bull advocate, even those who had not been prior to bringing one of these survivors home. Here are just a few of the comments they have shared with us.

Richard Hunter on Mel:

“Mel has changed my life. Because I was covering the Michael Vick case from the beginning on my radio show, by the time I found out that Mel would be available for adoption, I was already very emotionally invested in his story. Much to my dismay, in both covering the Vick case and the subsequent reaction of the public who largely welcomed him back into the NFL, I found myself frequently asking myself, ‘What is wrong with people?’ By coming to Best Friends to adopt Mel and seeing the amazing job that his caregivers had done with him, I was able to see what is right about people as well. Every day, Mel serves as an example of what happens when the best of human behavior overcomes the worst. … (The Vicktory dogs’) abusers are without empathy, and the dog’s abuser of today is the human’s abuser of tomorrow. This sociopathic behavior must be taken seriously, and it must be treated. It is not a temporary condition, but rather, a permanent disorder. Mistaking it for a mere ‘momentary lapse in judgment’ is a recipe for disaster and recidivism. Sadly, that is the mistake that has been made by anyone who believes that Vick has somehow been autonomously redeemed. If anyone thinks that everyone has moved on, I can show you a little black dog who still has to gather up his courage every day to overcome mental obstacles that other dogs don’t even consider.”

Susan on Little Red:

“From the day I completed that adoption application, I just knew that she would come to live with me and my other dogs. On September 19, 2011, she came home. I love her for her strength and for her lovely, sweet self. She will always be shy, but she has a huge heart and loves to run and play. She doesn’t dwell on her past, so I don’t either.”

Rachel on Oscar:

“Oscar has changed my life. I didn’t set out to adopt a Vicktory dog. I just wanted a pit bull. 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. … 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.”

Traci on Halle:

“She has really changed my life. I had a lot of people try to talk me out of adopting a ‘dog like that,’ and I nevne 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. When she first came home, she would pancake to the ground and shake whenever I took her to a new place or introduced her to a new person. Now she will sit on the couch next to a stranger and paw at them so they will pet her. She allows kids to hug her. She has taught me great lessons about resiliency, forgiveness, and unconditional love.”


On a sad note, Oliver recently passed away due to cancer. I remember Oliver vividly from when he first arrived. He was traumatized, terrified and confused. A smallish black-and-white dog, Oliver had a profound effect on me. Maybe it was his cuteness or his size, I can’t really say, but his distress and emotional pain said more to me about the true nature of the monsters who had held him captive than the scarred faces of some of the larger Vicktory dogs.

Oliver’s adopter, Erika, sent a bittersweet message of his passing:

“It is with great sadness that I am telling you that my sweet, dear, brave, beautiful Oliver passed away in my arms yesterday morning around 6:15 a.m. … I am attaching a picture of Oliver in his ‘fancy dress.’ When I came home from work a few weeks ago, Oliver came running out of the house in this frilly little dress. I was mortified that David had put my baby boy in a dress, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Then, Oliver didn’t want to take his pretty dress off! The next morning, he searched the house high and low for his dress until he found it. Then, he kept bumping his nose against the dress as if to say, ‘Well, Mom, what are you waiting for? Let’s dress up! Put my pretty dress on me!’ I have so many fond memories of Oliver. He will forever be my heart.”

There are so many threads of our movement wrapped up in the Vicktory dog narrative: that our commitment to the life of every creature is never wasted; that our animal companions are stronger and more resilient than we can imagine; that kindness and compassion always trump cruelty and abuse; and that there are more than enough loving and generous people in the world to save all of the animals who find themselves in life-threatening circumstances, be that a dog-fighting ring or an overcrowded animal shelter. We can save them all, but there is still much to do.

Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

  • Heidi

    I understand Michael Vick has yet another dog. Does anyone know if this is true?

  • I am so glad BF and others stepped up for these dogs. It’s infuriating that HSUS sticks up for Vick.

    • I read the book by Mr. Pacelle president of HSUS. I do not believe that HSUS is sticking up for Michael Vick but that everyone can change and perhaps this is a case of someone changing but only time will tell. It is time for the humane person to stand up for the fighting dog and see that not only the dog fight promoter, owner of fighting dogs and all those who profit from this “sport” but also the spectator including those who bring their children to the “fights” are prosecuted.

  • Jane Brewster

    Can’t wait to see pictures of, and hear stories about, the reunion. Richard Hunter, adoptive “dad” to Vicktory Dog Mel, is a fellow rescuer in my area and my friend. I’ve had many opportunities to hang out with Mel, who is such a brave yet gentle sweet little dog.

  • O Block!

  • Lynn

    I don’t believe Mr. Vick should even be allowed a pet rock. But now that he does have a dog, I would like to believe that just maybe his children can learn that dogs are loving companions not objects of torture and abuse. We have a pit bull in our family that was given to my son. When he came to us at 6 months old, he was covered in scabs. That and a few other clues, it didn’t take us long to figure out what he was bred for and being raised to do. We are so grateful that this wonderful, beautiful dog entered our lives and was spared a horrible fate. Fantastic breed of dog. Thank you for all you have done for the pit bull and for all of the animals.

  • Theresa

    So glad there are people like you to take these dogs in!!!! Still very angry about him, not right he is still making money and not hurting like he hurt these dogs!!!!

  • sue

    Why is there not a petition for this evil guy that he can own no more dogs full stop. The Belgian Malinois is a stunning beautiful intelligent in the right hands like our Bullies what can we do is there no way to have a petition started and how does one go about it? I couldn’t stand it if he was allowed to give out free gratuous cruelty to another dog or dogs what can we do there must be a way?

  • Anonymous

    People talk so bad about Mike (becasue we KNOW what he did). Just because some of the people adopted the dogs does not mean they are total good people! We dont know if they have good morals and what goes on inside their homes. They may verbally/physically abuse their wives or husbands. Drive drunk, be a thief, my point is dont be so quick to judge, because everyone has a problem and is not sorry until they get caught!

  • Stacie

    So many people still judging him get over it and get a life our younger black men are gunned down daily my son one of them there was more press on them dogs then there was my son’s murder!! Hey there are a lot of kids looking for good homes get your priorities right.

    • Leslie

      No disrespect to you or your loss but why are you even commenting on here? This is to celebrate the wonderful dogs and their families. And the reason there was more press on “them dogs” is because a FAMOUS ATHLETE was torturing and killing them! The poor souls who actually made it out of there alive are to be celebrated for all they have overcome and the people who helped them do that. So Stacie perhaps your comments are better off on another page.

    • Darlene

      I am sorry for your son. That does not take away from all the other terrible things happening in life that we are and should be addressing. Dont murderers often start out as pet abusers???

  • Lucia

    I have followed these wonderful dogs since the story broke. BF, the dogs and their families show the power of love. I look forward to seeing pictures of the reunion.

  • irene johnson

    These awesome pups and their stories have held many people spellbound.its a very good day when the dogs get a victory.

  • Jamie

    Don’t let the person steal the story. This win is for the dogs. Miss you Little!!!

  • Jo AnnD

    Vick is a degenerate, and will always be a degenerate

  • vanshell

    Love the article, as one who’s been following the Vicktory dogs since the beginning. Love reading about them, and this story is excellent!

  • Patsy Nielsen

    Thanks for the wonderful blog Francis, I always enjoy reading about the Vicktory dogs and their people. Their stories have all touched my heart and to know that they will soon be together again with their families is so pawsome. But I am curious about Georgia, I have not heard anything about her since she went to her new home. Well I hope everyone has a good time and enjoys the reunion, I wish I could be there in person instead of spirit. God Bless All.

  • Lori Schmid

    I have had the opportunity to meet Cherry several times at different events on the East Coast. I am following Handsome Dan and Cherry as they film little snippets from the long ride to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and post publically on Facebook. What an awesome man to drive these two pups along with another one in his car, whilest the rest of the family flies. I would have took the road trip too. So much cooler than flying. I enjoyed Best Friends Animal Santuary. This is one of the most spiritual places I have ever been. My husband and I volunteered last fall after the NO MORE HOMELESS PETS convention in Las Vegas…I wish I could have spent some time on the Sanctuary next week for this event. I have followed the VICTORY DOGS since the beginning and will follow them through the end. Thank you to all who saved these wonderful pitties. Blessings to all.

  • linda steinberg

    Everyone of these adopters are such beautifully compassionate individuals. Thanks and love to all! Linda S (Pitbull pwner of Lilly (who unfortunately has AIHA),and Lacy, her sister—rescued from a fighting ring.

  • TisIDi

    So AWESOME! So amazing! Best article EVER on pitbulls; all of you take a bow! And thank you from one rescuer to others! XOXOXO!

  • nancy

    thank you francis for your commitment to animals and your wonderful writing about them.

  • glad for the dogs…..vick should be banned from animals for life!!!! i think he’s not sorry, only sorry he got caught!!!

    • I agree with you 100 per cent !

  • Shannon

    I have just finished lecturing on the immune system and would like to give Michael Vic an acquired immunity to babesia. Pretty sure he would remember what he has done to these animals. Vic is not a hero and no one should allow their children to consider him a role model. An apology doesn’t even cover the damage he has done. His apology should have said something like “Da,, I’m sorry I got caught”.

  • k kazinski

    I dont believe they still talk about and allowed this abuser m vick to have another animal!!!

  • Anonymous

    what a great story. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Anonymous

    Definitely much to celebrate and much more to do but thankfully society is going in the right direction, towards more compassion. Wish we could be there in person but thankful that we can share in the joy of the reunion with pictures and videos. Also, a big thanks to ALL the people and groups that played a part in helping these amazing dogs ALL along the way and still do so to this day for these dogs and other dogs and animals. These dogs only enrich people’s lives and it’s hard to imagine a world now without the Vicktory dogs and RIP to the ones already gone.

  • Leona

    Love reading about the Vicktory Dogs and everything they had to overcome and about the people who helped them, cared for them and those who eventually adopted. God bless all!!