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Old 01-27-2008, 03:17 PM   #1
alittlejazzbird
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Default From Fighters to Friends, Michael Vick's Pit Bulls Learn New Life

A wonderful, uplifting story about the power of compassion....enjoy!
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The big dog -- 52 pounds -- is social, people-focused, happy now, it seems, wearing a rhinestone collar in his new home in sunny California.

But as Hector sits up, deep scars stand out on his chest, and his eyes are imploring.

Hector ought to be dead, Nuccio knows -- killed in a staged fight, executed for not winning or euthanized by those who see pit bulls seized in busts as "kennel trash," unsuited to any kind of normal life.

Instead, Hector is learning how to be a pet.

After the hell of a fighting ring, he has reached a heaven of sorts: saved by a series of unlikely breaks, transported thousands of miles, along with other dogs rescued with him, and now nurtured by Nuccio, her roommate, Danielle White, and their three other dogs.

The animals barrel around the house, with 4-year-old Hector leading the puppy-like antics -- stealth underwear grabs from the laundry basket, dashes across the living room, food heists from the coffee table -- until it's "love time" and he decelerates and engulfs the women in a hug. Hector has come a long way since he was trapped in the horrors of Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels.

The bust

Authorities descending last year on 1915 Moonlight Road in Surry County, Virginia, found the venue where Vick, the former NFL quarterback, and others staged pit bull fights in covered sheds, tested the animals' fighting prowess and destroyed and disposed of dogs that weren't good fighters.

Vick is serving a 23-month federal sentence after admitting he bankrolled the dogfighting operation and helped kill at least six dogs. Three co-defendants also pleaded guilty and were sentenced. The four now face state animal cruelty charges.

Officers who carried out the raid found dogs, some injured and scarred, chained to buried car axles. Forensic experts discovered remains of dogs that had been shot, electrocuted, drowned, hanged or slammed to the ground for lacking a desire to fight.

Hector and more than 50 other American Pit Bull Terriers or pit bull mixes were gathered up. The dogs, held as evidence in the criminal prosecutions, were taken to six different pounds and shelters in Virginia.

Hector was bunked in the Hanover pound in a cage below a dog named Uba who was smaller and showing anxiety.

Uba flattened on all fours when Tim Racer, an evaluator on a team assembled by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, arrived at his cage.

"Are you going to kill me now?" was the message another evaluator, Donna Reynolds, read in Uba's eyes.

The black-and-white dog tried to wriggle away once out of the cage, but he came around after a while. He wagged his tail when the team showed him a 4-foot doll, to test his response to children. He spun around and got into a play position when they brought out a dog.

"This is the big secret. Most of them were dog-tolerant to dog-social. It was completely opposite of what we were led to believe," Reynolds said.

How much to trust the capacity of fighting dogs to have a new life as pets or working dogs is an issue that has divided animal advocates. Some believe they should be put down as a precaution, while others say they must be evaluated individually. One dog seized at Bad Newz was euthanized as too aggressive, but the others have had different fates.

Nearly half have been sent to a Utah sanctuary, Best Friends Animal Society, where handlers will work with them. None showed human aggression and many have potential for adoption someday. Others, evaluated as being immediate candidates for foster care and eventual adoption, went to several other groups.

Chance for a new life

Among the latter was Hector.

A team of animal welfare experts got things rolling last July when federal authorities sought ownership of the seized dogs. The result, they say, was groundbreaking.

The Oakland, California-based pit bull rescue and education group Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, or BAD RAP, which had done similar rescues from busts in California, asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gill for permission to evaluate and rescue as many of the dogs as possible, with the hope of eventually placing them in adoptive homes.

"Much to our amazement, he said yes," said Reynolds, who heads BAD RAP. "This doesn't happen. People don't say yes to pit bulls."

Gill declined to comment, but those familiar with the Vick case said the Justice Department hoped early on to find a way to give the dogs a second chance. As part of his plea deal, Vick agreed to pay for the dogs' care.

The court even appointed a guardian and special master, Valparaiso University animal law expert Rebecca Huss, who oversaw the dogs' disposition and recommended which rescue groups would accept them.

One result of the unusual process, said ASPCA's Stephen Zawistowski, is that shelters that always euthanized such dogs are now saying "you've given us permission to care" about giving them a second chance.

Each dog was evaluated as an individual. Huss recalled the good-natured-but-quiet Rose, whose overbreeding had led to mammary tumors. In the end, needing surgery but unable to tolerate anesthesia, Rose was mercifully put down, just days after being transferred to a foster home.

"The good thing was she didn't die in the shelter," Huss said. "She had a little time in the sun, not enough, but a little time in the sun."

Huss received reports from an ASPCA-led evaluation team and from volunteers who observed and worked with the dogs where they were being held as evidence in shelters and pounds.

Nicole Rattay, a volunteer from BAD RAP, spent six weeks visiting the Vick dogs in shelters every day, e-mailing and phoning her observations to Huss.

"Some dogs were ready to learn 'sit' and obedience," she said. "Some needed more time to accept touch and feel comfortable in their surrounding. Sometimes I would just sit in their kennels." For some, bits of roasted chicken became a "motivator," she said.

She mentioned Handsome Dan, who bridled at touching at first but gradually grew more comfortable, though not enough for foster home placement, at least not yet. He ended up going to Best Friends.

"I hope that he can overcome what was done to him," said Rattay.

Hector's journey

BAD RAP won government approval in mid-October to transport a group of dogs to California foster homes to get them out of confinement.

Hector and a dozen others were about to make the cross-country trip in a rented 33-foot recreational vehicle.

But first, they had to get ready.

Four BAD RAP members -- Racer, Reynolds, Rattay and Steve Smith -- cruised a Richmond, Virginia, Wal-Mart, loading up with doggy sleeping mats, crates, bowls and chew sticks. The next day, they split up in twos to pick up, bathe and exercise the 13 pit bulls from four shelters. Then they loaded them up.

Rattay walked through the RV, cooing and checking her cargo to the thump-thump-thump of happy tails against dog crates. One dog circled his bed. Another stretched and yawned. A third slathered her outstretched hand with kisses.

"Oh my goodness," she cooed to them. "It's nice to see you again. Hi buddy, hi."

At first, the caretakers put cardboard between the crates to offer the dogs privacy and calm. "But they were happier when they could see their neighbor," Rattay said.

She and Smith took turns driving and napping on the 2?-day trip (Racer and Reynolds flew home to prepare for the dogs' arrival).

The dogs drifted to sleep in their crates -- atop the RV table, benches, queen bed and couch, and an area above the cab -- but jumped right up each time the RV stopped for a break at a highway rest area.

Assembly-line style, the couple walked, watered and fed each of the 13 dogs, causing some gawks from other drivers who'd stopped, but never any questions from the dogs.

"They did fabulous," Rattay said. "They understood the program right away and got in and out of their crates."

Mostly things went fine for Hector and his fellow passengers in the rolling kennel, though one incident briefly worried Smith and Rattay.

It hadn't occurred to them to map a route that avoided places with ordinances banning pit bulls. A groundskeeper at an Arkansas rest stop warned them that "further down the road, they will take that dog from you unless you have proper paperwork."

"We finished it up and got moving," Rattay said.

At 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, Rattay pulled the RV in front of Racer and Reynolds' house.

It had been a long trip, and soon after the two couples unloaded and walked the dogs, both drivers and animals fell asleep in the living room waiting for foster families to arrive.

Smith snored a little, Rattay remembered, and a dog gave a low grumble.

Hector's settling into his new life, getting further and further from his past.

Weekly "canine good citizen" classes are correcting his social ineptitude. And he's taking cues on good manners from patient Pandora, a female pit bull mix who's queen of the household's dogs. Once Hector graduates, he'll take classes to become a certified therapy dog, helping at nursing homes and the like.

For now, he's learning the simple pleasures of a blanket at bedtime, a peanut butter-filled chew toy, even classical music.

"I put on Yo-Yo Ma one day and he ****ed his head, laid down and listened to the cello next to the speaker," Nuccio said. "He's turning out to be a man of high class and culture."

http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayof....ap/index.html
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:41 PM   #2
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Default Re: From Fighters to Friends, Michael Vick's Pit Bulls Learn New Life

Oh my gosh jazzy - what an awesome story!!! I had tears in my eyes reading this and how far these sweet, innocent little creatures have come after what those barbarous bastards put them through.

Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful piece of writing with us.
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:59 PM   #3
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Default Re: From Fighters to Friends, Michael Vick's Pit Bulls Learn New Life

By the way, I have been a longtime supporter of Best Friends Animal Society and have made a trip to the sanctuary, which is in Kanab, Utah, to work as a volunteer (with hopefully more trips planned in the future!). I cannot say enough about the wonderful work they do. The pit bulls who ended up going there, even if they can never be adopted, will live the rest of their lives forever free of cruelty and fear, surrounded by loving and compassionate care.
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Old 01-28-2008, 10:36 AM   #4
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Default Re: From Fighters to Friends, Michael Vick's Pit Bulls Learn New Life

I defy anybody to read that story and still say Vick's punishment was "too harsh."
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Old 01-29-2008, 02:15 AM   #5
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Default Re: From Fighters to Friends, Michael Vick's Pit Bulls Learn New Life

Quote:
Originally Posted by fansince'76 View Post
I defy anybody to read that story and still say Vick's punishment was "too harsh."
i was one of those who said vick's punishment was too harsh... after reading this im shocked, apalled and surprised that these dogs are still alive and surprised vick hasn't gotten life.. my gosh... what a story... this is a GOOD story... compared to stories ed buchette writes... this is a true example of good writing...
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Old 01-29-2008, 05:44 AM   #6
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Default Re: From Fighters to Friends, Michael Vick's Pit Bulls Learn New Life

This just warms my heart reading articles like this. I adopted a dog, and will continue to do so as long as I can.
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