The Victory Dogs Changing minds, winning hearts

On April 25, 2007, investigators raided 1915 Moonlight Road near Smithfield, Virginia. The property, owned by NFL quarterback Michael Vick, was home to Bad Newz Kennels, a dogfighting operation. This raid set in motion a series of events that would change the way the public perceives dogs recovered from fight busts.

A total of 51 pit-bull-terrier-like dogs were removed from the property and assigned to five different shelters in the area.

The dogs were considered property of the federal government and their fate was left to the courts. At that time, it was common practice for dogs seized from dogfighting busts to be automatically deemed vicious, and standard procedure was to kill dogs rescued in such raids. But Best Friends was among those fighting for the dogs’ rights to be evaluated as individuals.

By December 2007, two of the dogs had died in a Virginia shelter and two were euthanized, one because she was deemed beyond rehabilitation and the other due to illness. Several organizations stepped in with offers to take the remaining 47 dogs. Best Friends was asked to take 22 of the most traumatized dogs.

And so it came to be that 22 of the most challenging dogs rescued from the property of Michael Vick found safe haven at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
Michael Vick served a 23-month prison sentence on a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge.

The 22 Vicktory dogs settled into their new surroundings.

The dogs, all individuals with their own personalities, arrived at the Sanctuary with unique challenges.

Most of them suffered from kennel stress because they had been living in kennels since the previous April. None were house-trained. Some had severe fear issues and would flatten on the ground when introduced to new people and places. Some dogs had more energy than they knew what to do with, while others simply hid in their kennels. The caregivers and trainers had their work cut out for them, but they embraced these challenges wholeheartedly.

Ultimately, they shared a simple goal — to help the dogs learn to love and find happiness.

Trainers at the Sanctuary evaluated each dog to determine his or her needs. They charted the dogs’ mental and emotional states on a scale of 1-10, considering six parameters: confidence, fear, energy, human interest, individual enrichment and happiness.

“The Vicktory dogs went from trauma to triumph and amazed even the most wide-eyed optimists among us.”

— Francis Battista, co-founder, Best Friends

Oscar

Oscar arrived at the Sanctuary scared and shy. He had a hard time connecting with humans and refused to eat with anyone in the room. Slowly and with great patience, his caregivers drew him out and he started to seek affection from people. It took several attempts, but he was finally able to pass his canine good citizen test, the first of the Vicktory dogs to do so. The court ruled that the dogs pass this test before they could be adopted.

Oscar was adopted on November 29, 2012. Rachel, his adopter, reports that his favorite thing is to relax on the couch. “I remember the first morning I found him on the couch,” she says. “He’d been home with me a few weeks, at most, and he had a party overnight. There were toys everywhere, as well as a few books he’d snagged from the bookcase. He was on the couch, with a pair of my flip-flops, just looking at me with a look that said, ‘This couch thing is pretty cool.’”

Lucas

As the grand champion of Bad Newz Kennels, Lucas was under court order to live out the rest of his life at Best Friends. He arrived at the Sanctuary with a condition called babesia, a blood parasite that can be passed between dogs through deep puncture wounds, like those inflicted during fighting. His condition was managed with medication. Once Lucas realized he was safe, his friendly and outgoing nature emerged fully and he became an ambassador for his breed.

“He won our hearts and taught the world about the integrity and depth of character that is a dog,” said Gregory Castle, CEO of Best Friends.

Lucas’ health took a turn for the worse and Best Friends had to say goodbye to him in June of 2013. But he had some wonderful years at the Sanctuary where, for the first time in his life, he came to know love, friendship and freedom.

Georgia

Georgia came to Best Friends scarred and terrified. All her teeth had been pulled out, her ears had been cropped, and her jaw and tail broken. But none of that stopped her from being one of the most adored of the Vicktory dogs. With TLC from trainers like John Garcia and others, Georgia learned to trust and went on to star in the National Geographic series DogTown. She was featured in The New York Times and appeared on the Ellen show. Despite her celebrity status, she never stopped loving belly rubs and plush toys.

Georgia was adopted on August 14, 2012. Her adopter Amy said: “Despite her horrific past and all that she endured, she has shown us that she was not only able to survive, but to thrive and be happy and enjoy life in a home as a loving family member and truly a best friend.” Georgia passed away in December of 2013.

Meryl

Meryl’s trust issues caused her at first to react fearfully to those around her. Like Lucas, she was ordered by the court to live at Best Friends for the rest of her life. She’s made friends with other dogs at the Sanctuary and has grown to trust and love new human friends, too. She’s perfected her leash manners and serves as an example to other dogs who have trouble relaxing around their canine companions.

Meryl has come a long way since her days as a victim of dogfighting abuse. With agility and obedience training she’s learned to be less aggressive and is beloved by her trainers and caregivers at the Sanctuary.

Little Red

Like many of the Vicktory dogs, Little Red was extremely shy when she arrived at the Sanctuary. It took her close to three years to come out of her shell and trust humans. By attending a wallflower class and hanging out in one of the offices, Little Red conquered many of her fears and was able to approach people for treats, something that was nearly unthinkable when she first came to Best Friends.

Little Red was adopted on March 19, 2012. Her adopter Susan says: “I love her for her strength and for her lovely, sweet self. She will always be shy, but she has a huge heart and loves to run and play. She doesn’t dwell on her past, so I don’t either.”

Halle

Halle was a sweet, bashful girl who was afraid of her own shadow. To her, the world was a terrifying place. She would flatten out on the ground and shake when she was introduced to anything new. Through positive reinforcement — and lots of treats — she learned to trust people and overcome her fears.

Halle was the first of the Vicktory dogs to find a forever home. She was adopted on July 18, 2009. According to her adopter Traci: “Now she will sit on the couch next to a stranger and paw at them so they will pet her. She allows kids to hug her. She has taught me great lessons about resiliency, forgiveness and unconditional love.”
The Vicktory dogs showed the world that, like all dogs, they are individuals deserving of love.
Five-Year Vicktory Dog Reunion

On March 11, 2013, six of the adopted Vicktory dogs returned to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for a reunion. Cherry, Handsome Dan, Halle, Little Red, Mel, Oscar and their forever families gathered at Angels Landing to share their stories and celebrate the remarkable progress of the adopted dogs. More than 150 fans of the Vicktory dogs showed up to join the celebration.

Michelle Weaver, Best Friends animal care director, said of the reunion: “It was great for everyone to see how well the dogs are doing. It was a wonderful reminder of what we are all working for.”
Thanks to the Vicktory dogs and all who stood with them, public policy is slowly changing. States are passing legislation that ensures dogs rescued from dogfighting situations are evaluated individually and given the chance to be rehabilitated, instead of being condemned as a group and immediately put to death.

Best Friends runs the nation's largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, as well as lifesaving programs in partnership with rescue groups and shelters across the country.

Working together, we can Save Them All®.

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