Best Friends Blog

The Champions: A game changer for pit-bull-like dogs

Lucas the Vicktory dogWe’re happy to share the news of an award-winning documentary fittingly called “The Champions.” The film tells the compelling stories of five of the dogs rescued by Best Friends from Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring. It’s an ambitious film, weaving an epic story that sets out to change hearts and minds — and while I may be biased, I think it easily does all that and more.

The film’s tagline is “More forgiving of our species than we could ever be of theirs.” While impressive progress has been made regarding how we as a society relate to the canine victims of dogfighting, that tagline is all too often true.

To their credit, 19 states across the country have banned any kind of local discriminatory ordinances against dogs based solely on their breed. That’s incredible progress and it’s all because of one simple idea: Dogs are individuals and deserve to be treated as such, which is the central theme of “The Champions.”

Sadly, there is still a long way to go, as some animal organizations still hold to the bizarre belief that in order to protect pit-bull-like dogs, we must exterminate them. They inexplicably believe that because some people choose to abuse these animals, the best way to deal with the possibility for abuse is eliminating the breed entirely. It is twisted logic, at best, and, at worst, possibly borderline psychopathic thinking to believe that killing innocent animals is the best way to deal with a minority of people who are actually the “bad guy.”

Of course, we never believed the animals were at fault. Anyone who abuses an animal is the real offender here, and it is outrageous to suggest otherwise. That’s why we stood up in 2007 and demanded the dogs from the Vick dogfighting case be saved. How could we allow these dogs to be victimized twice — victimized once from their horrific lives as fighters and again by allowing them to be summarily killed without even as much as an evaluation. Our letter to the court eight years ago helped secure those evaluations and, ultimately, not only saved 48 dogs from that case, but thousands of dogs since then who were also seized as part of busts of dogfighting operations.

Heather and Handsome Dan the Vicktory dogThere’s a good chance you know what happened next, especially if you saw the “DogTown” series on National Geographic. Twenty-two of the dogs came to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and their resilience and response to human kindness showed that these dogs, like every other type of dog, are indeed individuals. Their stories are everything you’d want in a Hollywood blockbuster, and now we have a film to prove it. The stories of these amazing survivors have gone on to help us change the future for thousands of dogs across the country, and they’re going to save even more thanks to “The Champions.”

Currently on the festival circuit, the film is uplifting, at times emotional, but always hopeful. The documentary tells the story so well that it’s already winning awards. Recently, it premiered at the prestigious Hamptons International Film Festival in New York, where it earned the Zelda Penzel Giving Voice to the Voiceless Award. Past winners of the award include the Oscar-nominated documentary “Virunga,” so it’s quite an honor indeed.

Next up, the film will be shown three times at the Denver Film Festival. Considering that both Denver and the suburb of Aurora have breed bans in place, this is an important opportunity. There will be Q&A sessions following two of the screenings and, of course, we have invited local policy makers to attend and see for themselves why their discrimination policies are misguided.

The film will be shown at other festivals around the country and, hopefully, will be released more broadly in the future. Updated information about the film and release information can be found at the website or by following the film’s Facebook page. In the meantime, please watch the trailer.

The Champions Official Film Festival Trailer from Darcy Dennett on Vimeo.

Gives me the chills every time I watch it!

From the trailer alone, I think you’ll agree that this film has the chance to reach so many people — more than we’ve ever been able to reach with this message before. I want to express a big thank-you to director-producer Darcy Dennett for bringing such an important story to the big screen, and for telling this story so beautifully.

Together, we can Save them All.

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Julie Castle
Chief Development, Marketing and Communications Officer
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Rhonda Rhea Redmond

    I can’t wait to see the movie! The Vick dogs hold a special place in my heart…

  • Patricia Zielinski

    I saw the film yesterday. It was Great, Amazing, Happy Sad & full of Hope.I have been a monthly supporter of Best Friends for over 10 years as well a ssome local rescue groups in NYC. This film truely about the dogs. Thank you to all far and near who made the lives of these poor dogs exactly what they should be & deserved.

  • Rose Z Dearman

    I cant wait to see the finished journey this small sample left me in tears and gratitude for those who saved them. Dogs lives matter too!

  • Cindy Guarnieri

    I just watched the trailer and it made me cry. Would love to see the whole movie. So glad you guys are putting this out there. More people need to understand the cruel and disgusting situation that despicable people put these dogs in, and that they can be made to forget their past and go into loving homes. Thank you for bringing this to us. Please get it out to as many people and the media as possible.

  • Linda

    I can’t wait to see this film. I hope it gets a big release so everyone will know that pit-bull terrier type dogs are awesome and that everyone deserves a chance. Great job Best Friends! Keep up the good work! 🙂

  • Julie Samuelson

    i wish you had a chance to show it here in Michigan

  • Terry Sheldon

    I wonder if this movie is perhaps as hard to watch as The Lost Dogs is to read? I still can’t bring myself to read that book. I so want to see this, though!

    • jondunn


      The movie is uplifting, inspiring, and definitely emotional – but all in good ways (at least in my opinion). It shows how resilient these dogs are and definitely made me cry happy tears. When you have the opportunity, I strongly suggest you see it! It will restore your faith in humanity, and remind you why we work so hard every day to save these precious animals.

      • Terry Sheldon

        Thanks Jon (?), I really do want to see it. Since the Vicktory Dogs came on the scene, thanks to Dogtown, I’ve become a pit pull advocate, owned 2, walk dogs at our local shelter, am “friends” with many Vick dogs on Facebook, and really see what wonderful people are out there who work for these unwilling fighting dogs. Can’t wait to see this!

  • Jim

    Is John Garcia still on staff. And, where/how is Georgia?

    • Terry Sheldon

      I believe that Georgia passed away in 2013. Don’t know about John…I know he left sometime after Dogtown (I especially remember him with Handsome Dan, who he called Handsome), and he came back later. Don’t know about now!

      • jondunn


        As Terry says, Georgia did sadly pass away just about two years ago. We wrote a piece about her life back then:

        John Garcia is still a Best Friends employee. He works with us in our Rapid Response Department.

        Jon Dunn
        Best Friends Animal Society

        • Terry Sheldon

          Jon, loved reading the piece about Georgia’s life again. When my husband and I came to BF to volunteer, I came home with a Georgia T-shirt!

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  • Clare

    Just saw the movie The Champions. It is Amazing !
    The individuals who work with these dogs are awe-inspiring.
    Also, I cannot believe that Nike sponsors Michael Vick. I will not be buying any Nike products until they end that relationship. Shame on Nike.
    Kudos to Best Friends Organization.

  • Crystal

    I would love to see the whole video… It had me tearing up just by watching the trailer! Thank you all for everything you do and for working so hard to keep the playing field fair for all breeds; your organization and those who believe and help in your cause are phenomenal human beings. Endless thanks from my family (including my Am. Staff. mix Molly) to yours, and to all the pit bulls out there who are more than just dogs but family members.

  • Thank you BFAS for giving them a chance when so many others were saying they couldn’t rehabbed. You believed in the dogs, knowing that the dedicated staff at BFAS could make a difference. Thank you for showing the world that all lives matter. The Vicktory Dogs have forgiven humans….they have taught us more than we could ever give back to them. I can hardly wait to see it. Having met them over the years, I cry while watching the trailer. In the end, they are the winners.