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Vick dog finds happy home in Dallas

I never expected our year-long cross country trip would include Ace riding in the back seat of a car with a former Michael Vick dog.

Then again, I never expected we’d be hanging out in a strip club, either.

But our visit to The Lodge in Dallas led us to meet Mel, a still meek and fearful, sad-eyed, mostly black pit bull — small in stature, short on confidence, and sweet as pecan pie.

Mel was adopted from Best Friends by Sunny Hunter, manager of VIP services at the swanky Dallas gentlemen’s club, and her husband Richard Hunter, a talk show host whose outlook on life isn’t as bleak as his goth appearance may lead you to think — especially since Mel came into their lives.

Meet Mel and the low esteem in which you may already hold Michael Vick — and, yes, we know he served his time — plummets even lower.

For one thing, you see — in his fearful eyes, his tentative stride — the effects of the torture Vick inflicted; for another you see a true innocent; a mild-mannered dog whose lack of killer instinct led him to be designated a bait dog, a living chew toy.

But you also see a dog who, despite all that humans did to him in his first year of life, seems to hold no grudge against the species.

Mel was only about a year old when he was seized from the Vick estate in Virginia. He was one of 47 survivors, and one of the 22 who, deemed most hopeless, were sent to Best Friends, the animal sanctuary in southern Utah.

He spent nearly two years at Best Friends, where trainers worked to help him overcome his fearfulness and eventually pronounced him adoptable.

Richard and Sunny already had an application in by then — starting off a process that would take more than a year. Sunny had grown interested in adopting a Vick dog after seeing a documentary. Richard had one of Best Friends’ trainers on his talk show.

The couple waited for nine months, then underwent a criminal background check, and a home visit. Finally, they were invited up to Best Friends to spend a week living on the grounds and getting to know Mel. They brought their dog Pumpkin, a terrier mix, along as well.

Pumpkin immediately became friends with Mel, and became his guardian — a role he continues to fulfill.

Last fall, the adoption having been approved by the same judge who sent Vick to prison for two years, Mel was delivered to the Hunter’s home in Dallas by a Best Friends trainer and caregiver, who stayed in town for a week, visiting daily.

Richard describes the adoption process as “daunting,” but worth it. Mel slowly came out of his shell, and though he still quivers at first when strangers show up, or when he’s in new surroundings, he’s getting more used to meeting people. It used to take three visits before he was comfortable with a stranger, now it takes only 20 minutes or so.

Pumpkin, who is 13, has been a huge factor in his transition.

“At home, when a new person shows up, Mel sits in the corner with his back to the wall, like a statue. Pumpkin gets in front of him and screens him. Pumpkin has been instrumental in getting him to relax,” Richard said.

Mel has never barked, or made any sound, in the time they have had him. At night, if Mel needs a trip outside, Pumpkin takes note of him standing by the door and barks for him.

Mel seems most comfortable when he’s in a car, Sunny and Richard said — so we decided that’s how we all should meet. We greeted Mel and Pumpkin through a window, then loaded Ace into the backseat with them — a tight fit, but no one seemed bothered by it. Pumpkin shielded Mel the whole time, allowing him to be sniffed and petted, but never leaving his side.

After a spin around Dallas, we all got out and sat in a patch of grass outside The Lodge. Mel skulked and quivered at first but within a few minutes grew at ease.

Richard says Mel was used as a bait dog, due to his small size and mild temperament. He was likely muzzled when he was thrown into the ring with other dogs being trained to fight. He was not one of those that Bad Newz Kennels terminated — sometimes by drowning or hanging.

“Most people really didn’t take the time to look at the details of the case – the jumper cables, the hanging, the drowning, the distance throwing contests. That’s just bizarre. It’s diabolical,” Richard said. As for Vick’s return to the NFL, he said, “It was very disappointing to me that the American public stood for it. He’s psychopathic, like a serial killer.”

While Vick’s dogs were, in most cases, rehabilitated, Richard is among those who doubt the same was truly achieved by Vick, despite his appearances in an anti-dogfighting campaign.

Mel’s tail, which was broken in his youth, stayed between his legs for the first few months, Richard said. “Now, he smiles and he walks with his head up. His tail was broken, so it doesn’t really wag.”

“When he plays, he plays in secret,” said Sunny. “At first he would just sit there and shake. Now he waits on the couch for me and gives me a kiss when I come home.”

“His resilience is amazing to me,” Richard said. “He really has changed my life. It’s amazing to me that he’s willing to love us — that he’s still able to judge people individualy when for the first year of his life, if he saw a human being, it meant something terrible was going to happen to him.

 “We just want to make him as happy as can be.”

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)


Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time July 28, 2010 at 8:09 am

What an precise, intimate look and incredible story. I have read twice and I am still crying. I’m sure that it will become an important and memorable experience for you and Ace. Thank you for this perspective!

Comment from Leesia | Atlanta Dog Photographer
Time July 28, 2010 at 9:39 am

Thank you for this amazing story! I’ve met a few of the Vick dogs in person as well but during the rehabilitation and never got to witness such a happy ending first-hand. Beautifully written testament to the forgiving and resilient spirits of our wonderful dogs.

Comment from debbie
Time July 28, 2010 at 9:59 am

I concur with eightenpaws comment, word for word.

Comment from kathryn
Time July 28, 2010 at 10:11 am

As I sit with the picture of Mel and Richard and Ace, I know in my gut that Ace is sending Mel his silent blessing and that Mel, with his silent ways, is receiving it too. Great story, well done.

Comment from Jenni
Time July 28, 2010 at 10:20 am

Amazing, beautiful, inspiring story that brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much to the writer, Best Friends, and to Sunny and Richard.

Comment from Cami
Time July 28, 2010 at 11:08 am

What an incredible story. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Comment from Maria Tomasetta
Time July 28, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I needed this story today, I am so sick of that big fat slob, Ried forcing that dog killer down our throats. There are plenty of people in this area not excepting him back in the NFL. How about the state of Virginia, pushing the whole shooting under the rug. I thought it was illegal to shoot someone, this smells like cover up to me. This scum bag is laughing his ass off every night at all the people he has fooled.

Comment from Maria
Time July 28, 2010 at 8:29 pm

It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for the wonderful story. What great people there are in this world.

Comment from LIsa
Time July 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I am so happy for Mel, but I am equally happy for his family. It is a unique experience to help bring a dog out of it’s shell and watch him/her bloom as their confidence grows. I have to formerly feral/shy/people are unbearably scary dogs that I adopted from Arizona (not far from Best Friends – I also have a Best Friends dog). They were babies when rescued from near death, I got them at age 2. I’ve had them for almost 1 yr and the other (littermates) for 1 1/2 yrs. It has been the most enriching time of my life.
God bless you all and especially Mel and Sweet Pumpkin (Dogs are SO smart!)

Comment from Is this realkly true??
Time July 29, 2010 at 4:57 am

Simply question – if that dog was a ‘bait’ dog, a living chew toy, then where are all the scars ???

That dog looks like its never been bit by anything in its life!

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time July 29, 2010 at 8:13 am

Well, we did mention a broken tail. As for any wounds that have healed and scars that were left, beyond the obvious emotional ones, we did not perform a full physical.

Comment from Mary
Time July 31, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Thank you for giving Mel a loving home!

Comment from Sam
Time August 1, 2010 at 9:21 am

That makes me cry, in a happy way though. I’m so glad we have Best Friends and people like these who take them time to care.


Comment from Shane
Time August 1, 2010 at 10:36 am

Lmao @ that dog being a bait for anything. There’s not one scratch on him. You people are idiots.

Comment from Shane
Time August 1, 2010 at 10:41 am

A broken tail? Is that the best you can come up with??? That could have been the result of many things. What a joke!

Comment from Christine E Cairns
Time August 9, 2010 at 3:05 am

Thank you for giving Mel a chance at a new life. You are very special people.

Comment from Shanon Kelley
Time August 10, 2010 at 11:53 am

What a wonderful story. Thank dog for the Best Friends Society. When I saw the episode of Dogtown on National Geographic that introduced the Vick dogs and their stories, my whole outlook on pitbulls changed. I had been a dog foster parent for about 2 years and had only taken in small dogs, never considering a pit bull. After seeing the show, I started doing some research and found 2 organizations in my neighborhood that advocated for and re-homed abused and abandoned bull breeds. http://www.hugabull.com and http://www.bullybuddies.net Within a month, I had my first pitt bull foster. His name was Spunky Doodle which didn’t seem fitting for the 100 pund mass of dog that he was. Spunky had been kept in a crate at almost all times and had sores from rubbing against it as well as bloody feet and tail from them due to extreme seperation anxiety. With a lot of love and patience, Spunky healed and began to trust and relax. He was eventually adopted and now lives with a fantastic family and is living the life he deserves. I have since fostered 2 other pitts, both with issues, both full of love, cuddles and deserving of stability and protection and constant respect and care. I doubt I will ever foster a different breed again. I have never felt more love from a dog than I do from the pitts. Thank you for standing up for Mel and giving him the love he so deserves.

Comment from Chelsea
Time August 24, 2010 at 3:32 pm

This makes me so happy and breaks my heart at the same time. Mel has such a sweet face, how anyone would want to hurt him amazes me. He looks so much like my Kobi. He’s so very lucky to have an amazing family raising him! It makes me so happy that people were willing to stand up for them and protect the ones they could and give these dogs a second chance.

Comment from Thee_N
Time August 25, 2010 at 11:46 am

Truly great article!

@ Shane: Go f*ck yourself.

Comment from Maureen
Time August 25, 2010 at 1:24 pm

How about if we use Shane for bait next time?

Comment from Tonya
Time September 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Shane…..you are the only idiot on here. You don’t always have to have scars to be abused.

Comment from lisa
Time September 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

So sad that people could make such terrible comments here. Thank you for caring for Mel I also have an abused dog who would cowar in the corner and had his leg broken by some guy for the hell of it. There are some very sick people in our world and unfortunately too many people tolerate this behavior or just look the other way. You are doing a great job with him and so is Pumpkin!

Comment from Charlene
Time September 20, 2010 at 9:40 pm

darling you need to saddle up to one of those breeding stands they use, maybe then something sensible would come out of your mouth. Go talk to Pelosi or Reid see if they will listen to ya

Comment from Norm Starr
Time September 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm

The U.S, is no different than Canada (where I am) when it comes to the pedistal-ing of sports figures no matter what else has been or is in their lives. IMHO, Vick should never have been welcomed back to the nfl or any other sports venue. He is, in my mind, a psycopathic sick demented piece of sh*t and he always will be.
A huge BOOOOOO to the Eagles for accepting him and another huge BOOOOO to the sports fans for allowing him back to the fold as if nothing ever happened.

Comment from Norm Starr
Time September 25, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Thee_N, I second your post to Shane
Shane- Go f*ck yourself

Comment from Judy Boone
Time September 26, 2010 at 2:19 am

Some write ins seem disapointed the poor dog wasnt in shreds- I think they might be in Vicks corner -along with the Devil –Vick should have been kept in prison –he has only remorse for getting caught people who can do such evil to animals have no soul–no soul= no real remorse for anyone but self

Comment from Rebecca
Time September 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm

What an amazingly beautiful article! Thank you so much for the dedication it took to a) get through a year-long adoption process, and b) care for a dog with so many inarguable SCARS–yes, clearly this dog is covered in scars! They may not be physical (I don’t know because the pictures aren’t close-up enough, for all any of us readers know he may have several visible scars), but it is clear Mel has MANY emotional/psychological scars. I’m so incredibly happy he will never again know terror or pain–he now has the loving home he has always deserved! Thank you for sharing such a touching story about such a beautiful soul! 🙂 And to idiots posting rude comments–Jeez people GET A LIFE!

Comment from Janegael
Time October 7, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Maybe if Mel looked more like my Gloria the idiots who posted here would understand better. They obviously don’t understand psychological scars and the ones that have healed and don’t show on a small photo. My Gloria was a bait dog too and had her head bashed in so that it’s flat on one side. She’s luckier than Mel because she has so much brain damage she doesn’t remember the abuse. Psychos like Vick and Gloria’s abuser think its funny to hurt a victim that can’t fight back. I now think of the NFL as the National Felons League. I hope there is a very large dog-lover who gets a shot in and takes Vick out permanently on a scrimmage. Now that would be justice.

Bless the people and dog who saved him, helped heal his soul and who now are his family. You can’t find a better friend than a pit bull.

Comment from Kelly
Time October 7, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Thank you for this story — I’ve heard several of the happy endings that Vick’s former victims have had, and this is one more to add to the good news. I’m the proud auntie of a rescued pit who was beaten nearly to death at four months for not being aggressive enough to be a fighting dog. An angel found Gloria’s ‘owner’ dragging her, mangled and bleeding, down the street, with the intention of selling her as a bait dog, bought her, and got her medical attention. She has a jaw that can never be fully fixed, a blind eye, brain damage, body heat regulation issues, balance problems, and drools constantly. Why not just put her down, I can hear some of you ask. Because Gloria is just about the sweetest natured dog in the known universe. Despite everything she’s been through, and all the damage she has taken at the hands of humans, she loves her mommy, and her auntie, and her siblings (my sister has a houseful of special needs dogs) — the other dogs know Gloria isn’t quite right, and make allowances for her that they never would for any ‘normal’ dog. She, like Mel, will never again know terror or pain, and will be able to give all the love that dogs seem pre-programmed to give to us lowly humans. Mel, you are a brave, handsome boy, keep your family and your brother safe. To Richard and Sunny, thank you for hanging in for the rigorous adoption process — you have a treasure that I know you will cherish. And to the people who posted unkind comments — I hate to respond in kind, but you are insensitive, ignorant, and obviously delight in being hurtful. Find somewhere else to play, please.

Comment from maureen o’brien
Time November 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Even though I live in Thailand, the Michael Vick story is known worldwide – not just in America. As a dog lover, I am appalled that the claim is this guy has been “rehabilitated” – I know what kind of rehabilitation I would choose for him. Thank god so many of his dogs have overcome their appalling past. I agree with Richard’s comments, dog abuse is not something you do, it’s the person you are. Shame on you Michael Vicks!! Thank you and the other families who have worked so hard to make these dogs lives happy again. Maureen O’Brien

Comment from Sammi Newsome
Time November 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I followed the “vick” dogs since I live in Virginia. MV was only sorry he was caught, and having been caught, discovered that without celebrity and money, he would be just another “black man” with nothing to offer. The dogs will give themselves until they draw the last breath.

Comment from natalia
Time November 24, 2010 at 1:44 pm

For all you VICK AKA DICK FANS here posting your NASTY and UNWANTED comments about Mel, GO KILL urself losers

Comment from Janice Harral
Time December 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm

WHY CAN’T I GET AN ANSWER? I so want to buy and read the book Lost Dogs, however I keep asking on every web site IF any of the money from the book goes to M.Vick or the NFL in any way and I cannot get a simple NO. So I have not purchased the book as of yet. Seems like a simple answer if indeed the bastard is not getting any proceeds from the book or the NFL that is making him look so good once again. Why can’t I get an answer?

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time December 21, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Having read the book, and being familiar with the author’s reputation, I’d feel pretty comfortable giving you a simple “No.”

Comment from Tera Powers
Time February 18, 2011 at 11:11 am

“Mel has never barked, or made any sound, in the time they have had him. At night, if Mel needs a trip outside, Pumpkin takes note of him standing by the door and barks for him.”

Perhaps nothing sums up the complex splendor of this story better than that passage.

THANK YOU, Richard and Sunny.

Comment from Meggan
Time March 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Hi! I just finished reading The Lost Dogs and while I was angry when this first came out, my level of anger was such that on Monday night I was completely unable to speak. I’m so glad to hear another one of the dogs rescued is doing well. A huge thank you to Richard and Sunny for giving this handsome guy a home.

Comment from Marta
Time September 3, 2011 at 12:40 am

YOU BOTH are as beautiful on the inside as you are ON THE OUTSIDE. THANK YOU for your loving spirit and giving heart to this humble creature that I KNOW WILL SERVE YOU WELL. BLESSINGS, MARTA

Comment from Kassandra
Time September 23, 2011 at 6:26 am

Such a sad story of what happened to Mel. I, mean how many dogs will do that? Being beaten the first year of it’s life and it’s still able to judge people individualy.

Comment from MzButterfly
Time April 15, 2012 at 7:02 am

I wanted to praise you for taking in and adopting Mel. I have raised, bred, and most importantly loved all the so-called bully dogs (Dobermans, Rottiweilers, & Pit Bulls) my entire life. Not once have I had one attack me, kids, other dogs, or strangers. I find Mike Vick repulsive and he should have been put down. I was outrage to find he is back playing NFL. It brought tears to my eyes when I read your story, as it does when I read or watch anything about abuse to animals. I must admit the bigger dogs are my favorite! Regardless, my heart would never allow me to hut any animal. Dogs are known for their loyalty and compassion. I consider mine and treat them as kids. Once againe, I just wanted to say thank you for having not only an open mind but an open heart! It is people like yourselves that make the world a better place for humans and animals.