Best Friends Blog

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry: The Champions, the documentary about the Vicktory dogs, releases today

Little Red the Vicktory dog being heldA number of events over the course of Best Friends’ history have constituted watershed moments not only for our organization, but for the animal movement as a whole. Our work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was a defining moment for Best Friends. So, too, were the Michael Vick dogfighting case and the ensuing effort to save the canine victims of Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

We dubbed them the Vicktory dogs and it is fair to say that the world of animal welfare was different after their story was told.

The Champions is the account of that change, highlighting how the dogs themselves were the transformational agents.

In April 2007, 51 pit-bull-terrier-like dogs were rescued from Vick’s Virginia property. As if life hadn’t already been bad enough for these poor victims of thug cruelty, they were headed from the frying pan into the fire. The very people who rescued them and should have been laying out the best possible future for them were, in fact, planning to kill them, just as every other dog associated (even circumstantially) with dogfighting had been killed in the past. That was just the way it was.

Fight-bust dogs, so the “experts” at some national organizations said, were just too dangerous to be spared. After all, they were natural born killers. Right?

Wrong! And the animal-loving public let everyone concerned know that it was wrong.

We knew that, given a chance, most of these dogs could still enjoy a good life. We also knew that pit-bull-terrier-like dogs were under pressure in shelters across the country and were being killed in disproportionate numbers, mainly because of breed profiling and discrimination.

Here was our chance to demonstrate what we knew to be true on a very large stage. If these dogs — supposedly the worst-of-the-worst, with little, if any, positive life experience — could be rehabilitated, that would go a long way toward dispelling the myths about pit bulls. It could also change the way law enforcement authorities related to dogs rescued from fight-ring busts. Best Friends took on the 22 most challenging dogs from that case.

The dogs, who have since become poster children for the case to treat every dog as an individual, have made an incredible impact on us as an organization, the entire no-kill movement and even some of the same national organizations that were calling for their death.

Perhaps you’ve seen the National Geographic television program DogTown. The show highlighted the work of Best Friends and one episode in particular (S2 E1) focused on our rehabilitation work with the Vicktory dogs. You can imagine our surprise when Darcy Dennett, a segment producer on the program, reached out to us six years later with the idea of creating a feature-length documentary on the topic. And as these things go, you never really know how they’re going to turn out. Well, I guess I wouldn’t be writing this blog if we were not delighted with the final result — an incredible story that is being told in such a moving way!

The film was completed last year, and has since made its way through the film festival circuit. It was received well by audiences, and garnered awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Denver Film Festival. Now, we’re very happy to be able to see this film released to the public; we know it will have a tremendous impact.

Right now, the film is screening in 38 communities (and counting). Click here to see if the film is playing in a town near you. The list of cities may seem random, but it is very much a targeted list. Giving our supporters a chance to see the film is a priority, but there’s a bigger picture than that.

Each year, our legislative team works to pass laws in a handful of states that will ban all breed discrimination in those states, along with other bills that remove the stigma from dogs rescued from fight busts. That kind of progressive work simply wasn’t happening prior to the work with the Vicktory dogs.

These remarkable dogs (Aren’t they all?) showed clearly that every dog is an individual and that every dog deserves a chance.

Best Friends is working on bills in several areas of the country, including Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Missouri. The Champions is screening in major cities in those areas, and we’ve extended an invitation to every single state lawmaker in those states. We know that once they (or anyone, for that matter) see the film, they will view the issue in a different light.

If The Champions isn’t scheduled for a showing near you, not to worry. Starting today, you can purchase a digital copy of the full-length film here, and watch it whenever and wherever you like.

Together, we saved the Vicktory dogs, who were once deemed unsavable. The Champions is their inspirational story.

Together, we will Save Them All, and what a story that will be!

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

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  • Coni Moore

    Hi Melissa, I can’t wait to see the documentary! I’ve followed that story and also remember the episode of Dogtown! I was so disappointed when Dogtown was cancelled. Will it ever be renewed or come back to TV? I really miss that show! 🙂 Thanks!!

    • Melissa Miller

      Hi Coni,

      Dogtown was certainly a favorite around here, too! While there are no plans for it to be renewed, we’re always open to other new opportunities.

      We appreciate your support!

      Melissa Miller
      Best Friends Animal Society

  • HFR

    Does a portion of the proceeds from the purchase of the film go to BF or other rescue orgs?

    • Melissa Miller

      Hi there,

      Thanks for asking! A portion of net proceeds does benefit Best Friends.

      We appreciate your support and everything you do to help homeless pets!

      Melissa Miller
      Best Friends Animal Society

  • Trappedincalifornia

    I remember watching the Vicktory dogs on Dogtown. It was the reason I was open to a pit bull when I visited the Oakland, CA shelter in 2008. The Oakland Shelter had a higher % of pit bulls than any other breed. An 8 week old puppy, who had been abandoned at 4 weeks stole my heart. Sarah is almost 8 now & still the same sweet, happy dog. In 2010, we adopted again & this time we chose a pup with a few issues. Leavitt’s Mom had been rescued from a notorious dog fighting ring & SPCA said he had to go to a family who already had experience with pitbulls. Our boy had a much longer training cycle & even went away for 6 weeks to a special program for hard to train dogs. Today, he is 6 years old & when I see him sleeping next to our 16 year old cat I’m so happy he joined our family.

    We cant imagine our lives without these fur kids.

  • James Bridwell

    How long does the film run?

    • Melissa_BestFriends

      It’s just about 90 minutes, James!

      Melissa Miller
      Best Friends Animal Society

      • James Bridwell

        Thanks Melissa

  • peter

    I was able to see the documentary Champions in Newport, Rhode Island late last year. It was a great movie. It should be nationally viewed so everyone can view it. I will purchase the DVD on netflix when it becomes available.


    I live in New Zealand the Tugg movie system doesn’t work here. So I was wondering how I go about getting permission to buy the download but to screen it publicly in a conference facility where I can bring in others and use a large screen. Who do I need to get permission from? I don’t want to knowingly break copyright – but it is darned hard to sponsor documentaries like this one.

    • jondunn

      Hi Doggymom,

      Thank you for your interest in showing the film in NZ!

      I think your best bet would be to contact the folks with the film. You can do that here:

      Jon Dunn
      Best Friends Animal Society