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Tag: vick dogs

Pit bulls: Trials and tribulations

We can’t remember a week — at least not since 2007, when federal authorities raided 1915 Moonlight Road – that pit bulls have grabbed so many headlines … without even biting anyone.

Here in Baltimore, the week began with a pit bull parade, sponsored by B-More Dog and designed to improve the image and shatter the misconceptions about the breed — such as the one that they are innately inclined to inflict violence.

Those who ran into the pack of four-legged goodwill ambassadors at the Inner Harbor Sunday got a chance to see beyond the myths.

The very next day, a mistrial was declared in the case against twin brothers in Baltimore accused of setting a pit bull on fire in the summer of 2009. Phoenix, as the dog was dubbed, died five days later. The police investigation that followed, testimony at the trial indicated, was something less than thorough — likely, I think it’s safe to say, because the murder victim was a dog, and, in particular, a pit bull.

Jurors were unable to reach a decision, and a new trial is a possibility, but as of now, it appears the fatal burning of Phoenix will go unpunished. Despite that, she leaves a legacy.

“We waited almost two years for justice for Phoenix and though justice was not met for her, she became the change agent and public figure for animal abuse,” said Jennifer Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS). “Thousands of people offered their support on her behalf. Because of her, a Mayor’s Commission on Animal Abuse has been formed and the seriousness of animal abuse has been elevated to a national level.”

No dog, I will go out on a limb and educatedly guess, is more often the victim of abuse and neglect than the pit bull type — just as they are the most often maligned. Society, rather than simply label them as aggressive, and ban and muzzle them,  needs to come to terms with the fact that, in those instances when they are violent, our fellow humans are responsible for it, training them to fight, attempting to breed for viciousness, and trying to turn their natural born tenacity into something mean and macho.

Which brings us, once again, to Bad Newz Kennels.

Down in Dallas, the adoptive parent of one of Michael Vick’s dogs confronted the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and offered him an opportunity to meet Mel, a shy and fearful pit bull who was apparently used as a bait dog at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

The convicted dogfighting ring operator — in Dallas to receive the key to the city — declined, and his entourage shoved Mel’s new owner, local radio personality Richard Hunter, who captured the whole episode on his shaky camera, out of the way.

A few days after that, reports surfaced that Vick’s former estate on Moonlight Road, the Surry, Virginia, headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels, which has sat empty for three years, may be getting a new owner — Dog Deserves Better, a Pennsylvania-based dog rescue and advocacy group.

They hope to turn the former Vick mansion — where 51 dogs were seized by authorities and eight more were found dead and buried on the grounds — into a training and rehabilitation center for rescued dogs.

As usual, bringing up Michael Vick brings on lots of comments, on this blog and others, from his supporters — those who say “give it a rest,” those who say “he served his time,” those who say he’s a different person now who should be permitted to move beyond his besmirched reputation.

Be that as it may, I’m wondering when pit bulls — given they are regularly accused and punished without any trials, given that any violence they display has been instilled into them by humans, given that their bad reputation is mostly undeserved – will be afforded that same opportunity.

As a breed, they’ve done their time.

(Photo by Tim Quinn)

Vick turns down chance to see former dog

 

Richard Hunter, the adoptive parent of one of Michael Vick’s dogs, confronted the Eagles quarterback in Dallas after a ceremony Saturday in which Vick received the key to the city — and asked him if he wanted an opportunity to see one of his former dogs.

Instead of getting an answer, Hunter, a local radio personality who we met this summer in our Travels with Ace, got pushed out of the way by Vick’s entourage. He put together this video of the event afterwards.

Hunter and his wife, Sunny, VIP manager for a Dallas gentlemen’s club, adopted Mel about two years after 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 there before trainers pronounced him adoptable.

Ace and I got to meet the whole family during out visit to Dallas, which included a car ride in which Ace shared the back seat with Mel and the Hunter’s other dog, Pumpkin.

Michael Vick showed little interest in learning more about Mel, despite Hunter’s persistent offers, and at one point a member of Vick’s security team told him, “We don’t care about the dogs.”

In presenting the key to the city, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway told Vick, “You deserve it, you earned it.”

Hunter’s response to Vick getting presented the key? Maybe, he said, it’s time to change the locks.

What the Vick dogs taught humans

In 2007, it was one of the most sickening, disheartening stories of the year — NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s arrest and imprisonment on dogfighting charges. Revelations of what transpired at Bad Newz Kennels showed just how cruel some humans can be.

By 2009, though, the story of Vick’s dogs had become one of the most heartening of the decade. What made the difference? Mainly, the dogs – the pit bulls. For despite what they’d been put through, despite being abused, trained as killers or used as bait, they were — once the decision was made not to euthanize them – amazing the world with their remarkable resiliency.

Saving and rehabilitating the former fighting dogs of Michael Vick was not achieved without a battle, and not without the efforts of a lot of dog-loving, self-sacrificing humans. But the silver lining that eventually shone through the dismal story was provided mainly by the dogs, who showed that, no matter how bad a human messes them up, there’s hope.

Once again, the irrepressible species was teaching us humans a lesson.

Vick’s former pit bulls have gone on to reside in new homes with young children, become cherished pets, serve as therapy dogs and, in many cases, serve as shining examples of what is right with and special about the much-maligned breed.

How all that transpired is rivetingly detailed in a new book by Jim Gorant, “The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption.”

(For a preview, you can read an article by Gorant in today’s Parade magazine.)

In the book, to be released next month, Gorant expands on his 2008 Sports Illustrated  story on the Vick dogs (the one that featured Baltimore’s own Sweet Jasmine on the cover), recounting how they were rescued from Vick’s estate and how — though euthanasia was routine until then for animals seized from dogfighting operations – they were saved from that fate by an outpouring of public appeals.

The outcry helped lead to a court order that Vick pay nearly a million dollars in “restitution” to the dogs — money used to allow a handful of agencies across the country  to rehabilitate them.

The book recounts the ASPCA-led evaluations of each dog — and how, though there were a few hardened fighters among them, many more were dogs ready to be loved, ready to forgive and try to forget.

In “The Lost Dogs,” we learn more about Johnny Justice, the former Vick dog that participates in Paws for Tales, which lets kids get more comfortable with their reading skills by reading aloud to dogs; about Leo, who now spends three hours a week with cancer patients and troubled teens; and about Sweet Jasmine, who was coming out of her shell while living in Baltimore until she got loose and was hit by a car.

The book lists the outcomes for all 49 of the surviving pit bulls that were seized in April 2007 from Bad Newz Kennels, the Smithfield, Va., dogfighting ring run by Vick, then quarterback of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, now — getting a multi-million dollar second chance of his own — a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

While experts were expecting only 5 percent of Vick’s dogs could be rehabilitated, only two, initially, had to be put down. One was excessively violent and the other was suffering from an irreparable injury. For the rest, though, there was hope, and no small amount of faith – which, more than anything else is what “The Lost Dogs” is about.

Rather than showing aggression, the Vick dogs tended to be  “pancake dogs”— animals so traumatized that they flattened themselves on the ground and trembled when humans neared, much like our friend Mel, the former Vick dog we recently met in our travels through Dallas.

Many more seemed to be dogs with normal temperaments, but who had simply never been socialized.

Accomplishing that fell to the handful of animal welfare organizations that stepped forward, offering to take the Vick dogs in and work to rehabilitate them — among them Baltimore’s Recycled Love, California’s BAD RAP, (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls), and Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.

As Gorant writes in the Parade magazine article, “… rescuers argued from the start that rather than be condemned as a whole, the dogs should be individually assessed and treated — and this has turned out to be one of the great lessons of the Bad Newz dogs. Generalizations and preconceptions are as unhelpful and counterproductive for pit bulls as they are for people.”

(To read more dog book news and reviews, visit ohmidog’s “Good Dog Reads” page. ”The Lost Dogs,” and some of our other favorite dog books, can be purchased at ohmidog’s Amazon Affiliate store.)

Vick dog finds happy home in Dallas

I never expected our “Travels with Ace” adventures 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.”

Former Vick dog meets third graders

hectorStill bearing scars on his chest and front legs, Hector, a pit bull that was part of Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation, mingled with third-graders Tuesday at the Barack and Michelle Obama Learning Elementary School in St. Paul.

Hector, one of 52 dogs rescued from the NFL quarterback’s dogfighting operation, is now a registered therapy dog. His school visit was part of an educational program sponsored by A Rotta Love Plus, a pit bull and Rottweiler rescue group.

The 4-year-old dog was placed with a family in Rochester, Minn.

“He’s the sweetest dog in the world,” said Kellie Dillner, of the rescue organization. “It’s hard to imagine him having to act any other way.”

The 55-pound dog received several hugs and lots of attention from the students, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

Vick, a former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback, served 18 months in prison for his role in dogfighting, in which several dogs were killed and dozens more injured. He was reinstated to the NFL and joined the Philadelphia Eagles in September.

(Photo: Hector with owner Clara Yori of Rochester. By Kyndell Harkness, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

That tattoo artist who rescued a Vick dog

“Vicktory To The Underdog” takes an in-depth look at tattoo artist Brandon Bond and his work with one of the rescued Michael Vick fighting dogs.

Rather than focusing exlusively on the dogfighting problem, the movie looks at the kind of solutions that can lead to “Vicktory” for all the underdogs –”tattoo people, pitbulls, parolees and all the other people in this world that society has turned their back on through ignorance and racism.”

The movie also examines the life of Brandon Bond and “his struggle with balancing fame, fortune and the Rock-N-Roll tattoo lifestyle with a more fulfilling life that focuses on the betterment of both animals and society as a whole.”

Proceeds for the film will be going to Villa Lobos Pitbull Rescue.

The movie also features a, multi-artist soundtrack — 34 tracks in all, the first of which is entitled “God’s Creatures Brutalized,” by Sen. Robert Byrd. (I’m guessing this is the only album you will ever find Toetag, Skam Dust and Sen. Robert Byrd all featured on.)

Read more »

Love story: First “Vicktory” dog finds a home

The first of the Michael Vick dogs taken in by Best Friends Animal Society — one of those that were thought to be too corrupted to ever make pets — has apparently found a home, and a soulmate.

Halle (that’s her on the right) was one of the 22 Vick dogs that went to Best Friends — sent there because they were considered the most hardcore, most traumatized, least likely to be rehabilitated. At Best Friends, the reasoning went, those who couldn’t be socialized would be able live out their lives at the animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. The less severe cases went to other rescue organizations, and many have gone on to get adopted as pets, and even become therapy dogs.

Halle, though, is the first of the Best Friends batch to make the transition.

While the adoption isn’t official yet — the so-called Vicktory dogs, under court requirements, must complete a six-month foster period — Halle has moved into a home with a new caretaker, identified as Traci, and Best Friends reports that it looks as if the arrangement might be a forever one.

Read more »

Faron pleads guilty to dogfighting

North Carolina dog breeder Ed Faron entered a guilty plea today to 14 counts of felony dog fighting as part of a plea bargain.

He was sentenced to 8 to 10 months in prison, according to the Wilkes County Clerk of Court office. Under the plea bargain Faron will be under supervised probation when he gets out of prison and will not be allowed to own, possess or care for any dogs.

Faron is to report to prison on March 5, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

The future of the 127 dogs seized in a raid on Faron’s Wildside Kennel on Dec. 10, 2008 — and even more born since the raid — remains up in the air. County animal control officials have said the dogs would be euthanized, under county law, after the legal case was resolved.

Today, Best Friends Animal Society issued a press release today urging that attempts be made to rehabilitate the dogs.

“To make the judgment that all these dogs are dangerous, solely on basis of their breed, is simply wrong”, says Ed Fritz, campaign specialist for Best Friends, which in the past 12 months has been working to rehabilitate the Michael Vick dogs at the society’s 3,700-acre sanctuary in southern Utah.

“We have witnessed many heartening examples of individual success with our dogs that confirm our view that pit bulls are just dogs,” Fritz said. “Given the right opportunity any dog, with few exceptions, will respond to positive care and training. We believe the Wildside Kennel dogs deserve just such an opportunity and should be evaluated on an individual basis, especially in the case of the puppies.”

Fritz said Best Friends welcomes an opportunity to talk with county officials about helping to cover the cost of spay/neuter services for the dogs, as well as assisting in the process of placing the dogs.

“It’s bad enough that some of these dogs’ natural instincts to please their owner have been exploited into violence for profit. But to kill them merely punishes the victims and does nothing to stop the criminals engaged in illegal dog fighting,” Fritz said. “There simply are better solutions than just destroying the dogs.”

Michael Vick’s pit bulls re-revisited

KANAB, Utah — There are the perky, high-energy sorts like Lucas, all wagging tails and let’s-go-play vivaciousness.

There are the runners like Curly, who never saw a fence line or dirt trail they couldn’t wear down.

And there are the divas like Georgia, who go on publicity junkets and stay at the Beverly Hilton, wearing rhinestone-studded collars and hot pink tank tops that say “Biscuits are a girl’s best friend.”

They could be your dog, your neighbor’s, even one of those you see in a magazine being doted on by a celebrity owner.

These, though, are Michael Vick’s dogs.

Fourteen months after some experts left them for dead — in fact, said they should die — they are alive and thriving at the Best Friends Animal Society in the rocky red hills of Utah, rewriting the book about what pit bulls really are and what they can be.

Yes, it’s yet another story about Michael Vick’s pit bulls – but this one in the Detroit Free Press is so well done, we can’t help but direct you to it.

(Photo courtesy of Best Friends)

Baltimore’s “Vick dog” lands on SI cover

Jasmine — the pit bull who went from Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation to life with a young family of four in suburban Baltimore — graces the cover of this month’s Sports Illustrated.

One of three Vick dogs turned over to the Baltimore rescue organization Recycled Love for rehabilitation, Jasmine ended up in the home of Catalina Stirling, a 35-year-old artist and Recycled Love volunteer who, upon first meeting Jasmine, crawled into the cage where the dog cowered beneath a blanket.

The Sports Illustrated article looks at what has become of the 51 dogs seized from Vick’s Virginia estate — dogs that even some animal welfare organizations were saying had been so brutalized that euthanasia, not rehabilitation, was the only solution.

Jasmine was likely born at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels and, because of her youth, was a “bait dog,” used to provide practice matches for the fighting dogs, spending the rest of the time chained to a car axle in the nearby woods.

During evaluations of the Vick dogs, Jasmine was being considered for sanctuary with Best Friends in Utah, where the most severely traumatized dogs were sent, when Recycled Love volunteers went to see her and the other dogs being held at the Washington (DC) Animal Rescue League.

Stirling, seeing the dog under the blanket, crawled into the cage and began massaging and whispering to her, and Jasmine seemed to respond. The dog was turned over to Recycled Love, then sent to live with Stirling, her husband, two young children, two other dogs and a cat.

For months, Jasmine sat in her cage in Stirling’s house and refused to come out. “I had to pick her up and carry her outside so she could go to the bathroom,” Stirling says. “She wouldn’t even stand up until I had walked away. There’s a little hole in the yard, and once she was done, she would go lie in the hole.”

It was almost four months before Jasmine would get out of the cage by herself. Visits from another Vick dog living in Maryland, Sweet Pea, helped draw Jasmine out of her shell — enough so that after six months Stirling could finally take both dogs for a walk in a park near her house.

Jasmine is still fearful, the article says. She almost always walks with her head and tail down. She won’t let anyone approach her from behind, and she still spends most of the day in her pen, sitting there quietly, even thought the door is open.

In the end, 47 of the 51 Vick dogs were saved. Two died while in the shelters. One was destroyed because it was too violent; and another was euthanized for medical reasons. Twenty-two dogs went to Best Friends. The other 25 have been spread around the country. Ten went to California with BAD RAP. Fourteen of the 25 have been placed in permanent homes, and the rest are in foster care.

(To  learn more about the Vick dogs, you can check out ohmidog!’s earlier incarnation, Mutts.)

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