Best Friends Blog

Vicktory dog Denzel says goodbye

Denzel the Vicktory dogVicktory dog Denzel was a fighter, but not in the way that NFL player Michael Vick wanted him to be. This brave dog fought against the trauma of his past to find happiness and friendship at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. He also fought against serious health issues that threatened to take him down time and time again. He suffered from a strain of the blood parasite babesia, which is spread among dogs forced to fight by way of bites. It can be managed but not cured, and each bout takes an increasing toll.

Sadly, Denzel lost his battle today. His health had declined during the past few months and his body was tired. Surrounded by his friends — the Best Friends caregivers and vets who loved him and fought for him until the end — Denzel took his last breath and left this world.

There were no dry eyes in the house. As one of the 22 dogs who came to Best Friends in January of 2008 after being rescued from the dogfighting ring at Michael Vick’s property, Denzel had survived unspeakable trauma in his early years. But he never let his past define him.

Dog rescued from fighting ring leaves a legacy

Denzel and the other survivors who came to Best Friends nine years ago last week were dubbed the Vicktory dogs because, once they were saved and brought to safety, their lives changed from trauma to triumph. They proved to the world that dogs rescued from illegal fighting rings deserve a chance at life. In the process, they touched the hearts and the lives of the people who loved them at the Sanctuary, while also becoming national ambassadors for other dogs forced into illegal dog fighting.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly nine years since the Vicktory dogs arrived at Best Friends,” says Michelle Weaver, director of animal care at Best Friends. “Some have gone on to loving homes, some have passed away and others are growing older. For the people who love and care for them as their own, it’s always really hard to say goodbye. But it helps to know that these dogs have a legacy that lives on.”

Their story reached millions through the National Geographic Channel’s 2008 television show “DogTown,” as well as The Champions, a documentary film about their lives. They became well-known to many who had never met them, but felt like they knew them.

Dogs with individual challenges

Like all dogs, each of the Vicktory dogs was an individual. Each one had his or her own challenges to overcome. There were shy dogs and more outgoing dogs. There were a few like Denzel who chose to place their trust in very few people.

One of the first people at Best Friends to meet Denzel was John Garcia, the assistant manager of Dogtown when the Vicktory dogs were first rescued. John traveled to meet the dogs in the Washington, D.C., area prior to their transport to the Sanctuary. “Denzel was a great guy,” says John. “The first time I met him and did his assessment, he was a wild, fun-loving big guy who loved everyone.”

Similarly, when Denzel first arrived at Best Friends, he wasn’t picky about who he liked. Instead, he was happy to be surrounded by people who wanted to help him. But the babesia often made him feel sick and less interested in meeting people.

As time passed, Denzel became more and more selective. Unless you were in his small inner circle, he could be challenging to work with. So, while many of the Vicktory dogs went on to adoptive homes, Denzel stayed with Best Friends.

Denzel got the best possible medical care and emotional support at the Sanctuary, and he needed a lot of it throughout the years. But he didn’t simply live out his days at the Sanctuary. This was Denzel’s home, and the people who loved him were his family.

The following includes those family members’ memories of the dog who will live forever in their hearts. Denzel, beloved for years by those who cared for him as their own, will be sorely missed.

Denzel’s signature trick
Denzel the Vicktory dog does his signature trickDogtown caregiver Paul Lindley started working with Denzel about six months after he arrived at the Sanctuary. “Denzel loved training and always remembered it,” says Paul. “He learned to wave, and that became his signature. You could be standing across a parking lot, wave at him, and Denzel would wave back. It’s what he was known for.”

Once Denzel opened his heart to someone, he loved that person fully. “He had his core group of people with him always,” Paul says. “He didn’t forget his people. Once you were in with Denzel, it was for life.”

Every time Denzel needed intensive treatment for babesia, he’d get meds three times a day. The third dose at midnight was often administered by Paul, who would then take him for a short walk. “It meant a lot to me to be able to do that for him — to be there for him when he was sick,” Paul says.

Choosing friends and forming bonds

Carissa Hendrick was another Dogtown caregiver who was there for Denzel from the early days. “Denzel remembered his original caregivers no matter what,” says Carissa. “It was a very strong bond. He was affectionate and snuggly (with us), and most people didn’t get to see that side of him. We were very lucky.”

Anyone to whom Denzel offered his friendship felt extremely special. One such person was Joe Menard, a Dogtown maintenance worker. “He picked me,” says Joe, who spent a lot of time working in the maintenance area behind Denzel’s yard. At first, Denzel put on a big barking show every time Joe came around, but that eventually changed.

“One day he stopped yelling and barking at me,” Joe says, “and soon he would come up and lean against the fence when I was there. It was cool to be friends with him. We had a good relationship. He loved car rides and would rest his head on your shoulder when you were driving.”

The sweetest guy

It was momentous when Denzel let someone in. “That moment when you first got to pet him was really special,” says Dogtown caregiver Haylee Heisel. “We were in his yard one day, and he just nudged my hand and let me pet him.” Denzel only let his friends see his sweet and sometimes quirky personality. Dogtown groomer Alyssa Hill says, “My favorite memory of him is when he was in the back of my car. He would rub on everything and roll around back there.”

Denzel the Vicktory dog with Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Patricia PattersonAnother bond forged from true dedication was the one Denzel developed with Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Patricia Patterson. She says, “Almost all my interactions (with him) were medical, but he and I kind of hit it off from the start, and I became one of ‘his people’ who he was more comfortable with. He was super sick from babesia when he came in after his rescue, and we nursed him through that. Then he had a couple of surgeries and we nursed him through that, too. I stayed all night with him at the clinic after one of his surgeries. I will most remember him for being the sweetest guy with me. I take that as a huge compliment, because he was not that way with everyone.”

Denzel loved the people who surrounded him with love and worked tirelessly as a team to keep him healthy and safe. His world may have been small, but he lived his life to the fullest at the Sanctuary, with his days full of things that brought him joy.

He loved playing with his bright red Jolly Ball. He loved food. He delighted in exploring different parts of the Sanctuary and hanging out in the most serene parts of it. He loved swimming in the creek and watching horses and mule deer with a quiet curiosity.

His favorite thing in the whole world was going to Angels Landing (a beautiful natural amphitheater on the Sanctuary grounds) and swimming in the pond there. He also loved going to the dog park and taking as many car and golf cart rides as he could get.

A lifesaving trust

“Denzel’s worth wasn’t at all diminished because he didn’t move on to a home,” Haylee says. “The most special thing about taking care of him, for me, was knowing he’d had that trauma and doing whatever we could every day to show him that he was safe here, and that it was OK.”

“Denzel was so strong in overcoming the abuse and battling his way back from health problems time after time,” says Michelle. “And here at the Sanctuary, he lived a life filled with love, surrounded by those he chose to love so fully in return.”

Denzel was many things to the people who loved him. Most of all, he was living proof to them and to the world that dogs rescued from fighting situations deserve a chance to know love and happiness. “When I look at him, I see all the other dogs (from fighting situations) who will have a chance now,” Paul says. “Denzel just needed someone to trust him.” That trust saved Denzel’s life, and it’s what will save other dogs like him.

The defining principle of Best Friends is that the life of every animal has intrinsic value, and their lives are not ours to dismiss or abuse. That’s why we accepted the Vicktory dogs and that’s why Denzel was able to enjoy a full life enriched by his friends and extended by the loving care of our medical staff.

All of us here at Best Friends and all of our members and friends are better for having had Denzel in our world. Rest in peace, my friend.

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Gregory Castle
CEO Best Friends Animal Society

  • debee94544

    Big Boy…
    Enjoy your new adventure @ Rainbow Bridge. You deserve the very best with your next adventures & continue to be an teacher/leader for all to learn from. Rest in Paradise…

  • Mari

    He was loved and in the end, that’s all that matters.

  • David Mckenzie

    So many years have passed and many of the dogs rescued from that evil place have passed away, now Denzel has joined them . he endured much in his life more than any dog should have to along with so many others, He knew he was loved ,and recieved lots of care from his special people , to those special people , I am so sorry that your loving Denzel has left you .so Denzel Rest In Peace sleep safe now safe in the arms of angels up above , God bless you boy ,

  • cealg

    Thank you for loving him and giving him a great nine years.

  • KarenLea

    Very sorry for your loss. Glad Denzel had the 9 years with people who loved him & who learned to understand him.

  • Morgan

    Dog Speed across the Rainbow Bridge Denzel.

  • Mary Stevens

    Run free sweet angel.You won.Love you always.

  • RJ Perry

    Thank you for loving Denzel! R.I.P. Sweet Boy

  • km0221

    Is there any work being done to cure this disease?

  • km0221

    RIP sweet boy ….

  • Sheila5

    Thank you all for loving and taking such good care of Denzel. I am so happy he had as much time as he did being happy with people who truly loved him.

  • Lisa

    So very sorry for your loss! Thank you Best Friends for all you do! RIP sweet boy!

  • Donna Drake

    The only words I have are not I am sorry but thank you. He knew love after so much misery. To those who loved him I am sure there is a Denzel-sized hole in your hearts. But your hearts gave him his everything.

  • Patricia A. Miller

    Rest in peace, beautiful boy.

  • Jasmine Gilson

    I saw the film Champions on Netflix and it was about these babies and about some of the ones lucky to have made it to Best Friends and the fosters and though I do not recall Denzel, I know by seeing this film, they were loved. Denzel will see “his people” again. Run free Denzel.

  • Sharon Frost


  • Madison59

    Sweet, beautiful tribute to a wonderful dog. The Vicktory dogs were an example that aggression is a state of mind, not a breed. Through great adversity these amazing animals found love, acceptance and showed unconditional love.

  • Frances Ilnicky

    My heart breaks that Denzel is gone. He was a tribute to dogs everywhere! His joy being at Best Friends made my heart sing. I look forward to meeting him at the Rainbow Bridge where he can play with my other dogs!

  • MaryLouise Brennan

    What a beautiful story of this dog’s life. He overcame a stigma that is still held against this Beautiful breed. RIP and find my boys Nacho and Coalie over the Rainbow Bridge and play nonstop with them and tell them that I love them still.

  • Ronda Cheever

    I’m so happy he had love and safety at Best Friends. Thanks for all you do for the animals.

  • Elaine Allison

    RIP Denzel

  • Citycat

    We share you sorrow. But, are happy we got to meet Denzel and some of his friends when we volunteered at BF in August 2015 and had a special (small) tour of Dogtown. #Never forget #Keep It up, BF !

  • Gail Upchurch

    Heartfelt Thoughts

  • Lisa Lopez

    So very sorry for your loss. He is free now and please know that he knew he was loved and I am sure that he was happy. You guys gave him a new life.God Bless..

  • Kim McKenna

    RIP Denzel! May God comfort you now. I’m so sorry for your tragic beginning. Thank goodness that the last part of your life you found love with Best Friends. And Micheal Vick, burn in hell you monster!