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Rehabilitated Pit Bulls

BELIEVE IT OR NOT PEOPLE ...IT IS POSSIBLE! Every dog deserves a chance no matter what they've been exposed to or forced to endure in the past. This page will show wonderful stories of dedicated heaven sent people that gave these dogs the second chance they deserve.

Pits Helping the Public!

 Farewell, Ellen

The Vicktory dogs at Best Friends, indeed all pit-bull-type dogs everywhere, have lost a true ambassador. Ellen, one of the most affectionate dogs a visitor could hope to meet, passed away peacefully last weekend. At 11 years old, she was one of the oldest of the Vicktory dogs (seized from the property of NFL quarterback Michael Vick).

“Ellen's health is failing,” explained Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Patti Patterson right before the decision was made to humanely euthanize Ellen. “Although we do not know the cause of her illness and deterioration, we have exhausted all diagnostic and treatment efforts that we feel could help Ellen.”

The caregivers and medical team fought long and hard for Ellen, but in the end her health wouldn’t turn around. Some unknown disease was causing weight loss and muscle loss, as well as preventing her stomach from emptying. Despite a barrage of tests, the medical team couldn't determine the source of the problems. Her quality of life was no longer at an acceptable level.

During her final two days, Ellen had a steady stream of visitors, all of them stopping over to say goodbye to this dog who was so easy to love.

Ellen Belly

“I’ve never had a dog who was so affectionate,” says caregiver Maddie Haydon. One of Ellen’s nicknames, in fact, was Ellen Belly. Ellen’s favorite thing in the world was to flop over for belly rubs. As a close second favorite activity, she was extremely fond of handing out kisses by the dozen.

“She bonded with everyone she met,” Maddie says. That’s an even greater accomplishment than you might think, considering that most of the time she was meeting people from a distance.

Per court orders, the Vicktory dogs were not allowed to interact directly with Sanctuary visitors. Even though she couldn’t visit with them face to face, Ellen still left a lasting positive impression on those who came near her.

Ellen the ambassador

When tour groups stopped by, a caregiver would often bring out Ellen on one side of the parking lot with visitors watching from the other side. She would smile, wag her tail, and flirt with them the whole time. “The impact that it had on our visitors, tours and guests was visible,” says caregiver Tom Williams. “You could see those people were touched.”

One such person Ellen touched deeply was a local volunteer named Betty Grieb, who fell in love with Ellen instantly. Betty wasn’t about to let the fact that she couldn’t enter Ellen’s play area get in the way of anything. So, she spent more than three years reading to Ellen on the other side of the fence. “Ellen would go crazy whenever she heard Betty’s car pull up,” Maddie says.

Last month, Ellen’s dream to meet visitors up close finally came true. The red collar (staff-only) status was lifted for seven of the Vicktory dogs, including Ellen. At last, she could greet visitors face to face. “She was in her glory,” Tom says. When visitors stopped by, she loved nothing more than to march right into their midst and hand out kisses with unabashed enthusiasm.

Admittedly, once they heard about Ellen’s background, many of the visitors were somewhat hesitant at first to meet her. After all, there are a lot of myths still floating around about fighting dogs and their personalities. Such reservations, however, only lasted seconds once she turned on the charm. “You could just see them change their perception,” Tom says. “She went a long way toward helping not only the Vick dogs that are here, but pit bulls in general. She helped to dispel the myths about them.”

A day to celebrate

There was at least one volunteer, however, who already knew what a loving soul Ellen was. When Betty Grieb finally did get to greet Ellen right up close after so many years, it was definitely a moment to remember. “It was like a dream come true,” Betty says.

Naturally, Ellen wasted no time in kissing Betty within an inch of her life that first day, and every day they shared thereafter. “I really loved her,” Betty says. “She was such a sweet girl, so full of life.”

Farewell, Ellen, and thanks for everything. You will be sorely missed.

See Betty Grieb and many others who loved this special Vicktory dog in our video celebrating Ellen's life at the Sanctuary.

Roommate Heaven

Roommates can be a pain. At one time or another, almsot everybody has dealt with the roommate who always leaves a sink full of dirty dishes or who blasts music late at night. On the flip side, though, a great roommate is a lot fun to have around. But the perfect roomate? Well, that's something quite rare. Just ask Oliver and Meryl.

Vicktory dogs Meryl and Oliver, seized from the property of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, are discovering a whole new side of life in each other's company. They've only been living together for a week, but they already behave like high school sweethearts. Couldn't have happened to two more deserving dogs, either.

When they first came to Best Friends, neither one was ready for doggie friendship. Oliver was so shy and nervous that anything new felt scary. Whether learning how to go on car rides or just seeing new equipment in the play area, Oliver didn't like anything outsie the "norm." (He's come a long way since then.)

Meryl, one of the stars of National Geographic's "DogTown," had her own issues to work through. The whole concept that people could be friends was a brand new idea that took some getting used to. But she got there. In fact, Meryl now loves people so much that she sprints toward them and doles out slobbery kisses every chance she gets! 

Always on the lookout for more ways to help the Vicktory dogs, their caregivers have been taking them on supervised play dates. Meryl and Oliver hit it off so well, time after time, that it seemed they could even be roomies. They decided to give it a try.

Here's a little game they've developed: There are two dog houses in their play area. The game starts when one of them zooms across the open space and jumps into a dog house, with the other dog following right behind. The one chasing jumps in and gives a playful nip to other dog's heels, and then they reverse the process. The chaser becomes the chased, darting to the second dog house with the same rules in play.

This game of tag/ hide-and-seek happens over and over. In fact, sometimes they keep it up for so long you wonder why they haven't worn a three foot trench in the ground! Safe to say, these two are not going to be filing for a roommate swap anytime soon.

Story by David Dickson; Best Friends; February, 2009

It's Official!!!!

The first Vicktory dog is being adopted! Woohoo! Sound the bells, toss the confetti! Halle the Vicktory dog proves once and for all that not only does every dog deserve a second chance, but she can take that chance and run with it to a happy ending of epic proportions. Her life now is totally backwards and opposite in every possible way from her days before as part of Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring. Good for her.

You may remember that six months ago Halle went into foster care with her new mom Traci. Part of the intricate legal hoops with adopting any Vicktory dog is that the dog must first live in a potential new home for six months before being considered for adoption. There are a whole host of other things that have to happen during those six months as well (such as working with a trainer toward Canine Good Citizen certification) but in the end it all came down to waiting out the time. Traci and Halle sailed through the other stuff perfectly.

In fact, Traci’s application, paperwork and so forth are already filled out and approved. At this point, it’s just a matter of waiting for the calendar to flip over to the date when everybody can sign on the dotted line and Halle will be adopted once and for all.

So, when exactly does that happen? This week, as it turns out! The six-month date falls this Saturday, July 18. Traci has big plans, including an even bigger party, for Halle and pals on her big day. But here’s the best side of the whole thing. To Halle, the festivities will be nothing more than business as usual. To her, every day is a party now!

Backing up a bit, several months before Halle went into foster care, Traci had adopted another pit bull from Best Friends. Anybody remember Tacoma? He came to Best Friends from the local animal control. Almost immediately, Tacoma proved his invaluable skills as an office assistant in Dogtown. Nobody could knock over furniture and swoosh files off the counters like Tacoma. But his true genius, his ace in the hole, as it were, was that Tacoma could bring a smile to any face that walked in the door.

If you had a chance to meet him during his brief stay at the sanctuary, you won’t have to wonder how Traci fell head over heels in love with him. She decided to adopt and Tacoma was everything Traci hoped he would be. Soon, however, she was thinking about finding him a friend.

She thought it may be a long shot, but Traci applied to adopt one of the Vicktory dogs. Traci wanted to help one of those dogs have a better life. In her application, she asked the staff members to pick whichever dog they felt would best get along with Tacoma (since they knew Tacoma).

Put simply, the adoption staffers hit one out of the park with Halle. She was the picture-perfect match for Tacoma, and he for her. She has always been a little shy, but Tacoma has enough confidence for three dogs. They hit it off the very first day, snuggling together on a sleepover and everything. Traci knew Halle was the right fit.

The last six months have been magical indeed for Halle, Tacoma, and Traci. Traci is able to bring the two dogs to work, where they soak up loads of attention and treats from coworkers. The dogs go on hikes with Traci all the time, they have play dates with other canine pals, and the two are inseparable day and night. They play constantly in the house and yard. Swimming pools in the summer, snow wrestling in the winter, Tacoma and Halle are stuck like glue. In fact, Traci says that even though she bought them double beds, they’re never in more than one at a time. They double up in the dog beds, on the couch, Traci’s bed—anywhere!

Halle has come a long way with her confidence, too. Here’s one example. Back when she first went into foster care, the video folks at Best Friends wanted to get some footage of the big day. That didn’t work out, though, because Halle got really nervous around the cameras. A couple weeks ago, however, Traci attended a nearby news conference to talk about pit bulls. This time around, Halle had no problems with the cameras. She let the reporters pet her and everything.

Sometimes that confidence isn't always a good thing, though. Halle has developed a mischevious streak! Traci says that one of Halle's new favorite pastimes is to sneak up on her while she's applying makeup for the day. Halle watches, waits, then as quick as can be, she grabs one of the cosmetics and dashes out of the room. (Hey, she's gotta look good for Tacoma, right?) Safe to say this is one happy family. Congratulations, you guys. Some happy endings take a bit longer than others, but this one was worth the wait.

 Halle and Tacoma are helping to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding pit bulls. For more information about breed discriminatory legislation, dogfighting, and other challenges pit bulls face, see the "Pit Bulls: Saving America’s Dog" campaign.

Story by David Dickson;, obtained from website July 28, 2009

Photos provided courtesy of Traci

Rescued fighting dog now a therapy pooch

By Steve Fidel

SALT LAKE CITY-A pit bull named Hector, rescued from NFL quarterback Michael Vick's illegal dog fighting operation in 2007, is now a certified therapy dog that makes visits to hospitals and nursing homes.

He and owner/trainer Roo Yori also made a visit to Glendale Middle School on Monday to teach kids how to interact safely with animals.

"What do you do if you want to pet a dog?" Yori asked students. "Ask if you can pet it. The most important thing is to ask if you want to pet the dog. Not all dogs are as friendly as Hector, unfortunately."

The "friendly" moniker might be unexpected for a dog rescued from a dog-fighting environment.

In the case of the 51 dogs saved from Vick's illegal fighting operation, Yori said 47 were either sent to rescue sanctuaries or adopted instead of being euthanized.

"Every dog coming out of that situation handled it differently. Hector came out of that situation pretty much like this," he said, pointing to a docile, friendly dog that gives high-fives, rolls over on command and wears a vest that reads "Ask to me- I'm friendly."

Hector needed the usual socializing skills once Yori and his family adopted him-he needed to learn not to jump up on the dining-room table or chew on the furniture. That successful socialization is also part of the work Yori promotes in his role as director of care and enrichment at the Animal Farm Foundation.

"He's got scars all down his chest (from fighting). He's got scars down his leg. He's got a missing notch out of his tongue," Yori said.

But Hector settled down quickly once his environment changed. "We promote the idea that all dogs are individuals," he said.

Football star Michael Vick was quaterbacking for the Atlanta Falcons when he was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy and running a dog fighting ring. He served time in federal prison and remains highly controversial among animal-rights activists since being signed with the Philadelphia Eagles one year ago, less than one month after his release from prison.

Cherry's Happy Ending

When Paul and his fiancé Melissa saw Cherry the Vicktory dog on the National Geographic show “DogTown,” they fell head over heels in love. Of course they weren’t the only ones. When Paul would hop on the Best Friends website to follow Cherry’s progress journal each step of the way, he’d also notice the other eight zillion fans Cherry has out there. And even though he figured it was a long shot at best, he decided to fill out an adoption application. He told himself he at least had to try.

A good thing, too. Cherry has gone home!

Backing up a bit, Paul actually sent in his adoption application a full year before Cherry came home. These Vicktory dogs all have a long list of court-mandated requirements that must be met before they can ever be considered for adoption. And even then, it’s always a foster home first (for six months) and then a reevaluation for the final adoption. Not a simple road.

All along, Paul says that Best Friends’ adoption coordinator Kristi Littrell was great. During the past year, says Paul, "I think I bugged her more than I’ve bugged anybody in my whole life!" Hey, this is Cherry we’re talking about. He’s worth a little bugging over, don’t you think? Paul and Melissa certainly thought so, and so did Kristi. Together they kept working toward the goal, as did Cherry’s caregivers.

All in the family

After almost a full year of preparation, it was finally time for the big meet and greet. Paul and Melissa came with their pit mix Madison. Madison, a female they’ve had since a puppy, is a super confident and friendly dog. They all thought she would do great with Cherry, who has some issues with confidence (yet loves other dogs).

The plan was for Paul and Melissa to meet Cherry without Madison, and then go from that point. Only problem, Cherry decided to hide under the desk. Dogtown co-manager Michelle Besmehn tried to coax Cherry out, but it was no use. Finally, Michelle suggested that they might as well try to introduce Cherry and Madison, since he’s always done better with dogs than people anyway.

That’s when things really started to turn around. They went over to a neutral play area and the two dogs hit it off amazingly well. After letting the dogs play for a while, Michelle suggested they all go to a smaller space so there would be a better chance to get to know Cherry.

They went back to her office, this time with Madison in tow, and then flopped down on the floor for five hours! Paul and Melissa sat very quietly, and Madison lay down for a nap in between them. After observing the situation from every possible angle, Cherry also parked it right next to Madison. He allowed Paul and Melissa to pet him and the connection began.

They spent the next two days with him and took him on two sleepovers. With every day, Cherry’s confidence grew, as did his trust in Melissa and Paul. As for Melissa and Paul, they were more in love than ever. Because of their early flight schedule, however, they couldn’t bring Cherry on a sleepover for their last night in town.

That final evening, Paul and Melissa looked at each other and realized something was missing. Their family wasn’t complete any more. They knew Cherry belonged with them. It would be a long week and a half before Cherry could come live with them, and Paul describes that as the "longest stretch" in the entire year. But oh, was it worth the wait! Cherry is now living the life he’s always deserved. He has two people who adore him to pieces and a dog friend he can play with day in and day out. Madison has taken on sort of a mother role with him, teaching him confidence and teaching him to trust. Within short weeks, Cherry has made miles of progress.

Cherry and Madison = Love

The sunny side of life

"He learns a new confidence every day," says Paul.

And with that confidence, they’ve been able to see a whole new side to Cherry. A side most people don’t get to see. Cherry gets to romp through the woods with Madison. He gets to go hiking and conquer high peaks. And, best of all, he has developed his very own ”Cherry dance.”

Here’s how the Cherry dance goes. First, he stops all movement whatsoever. You might imagine he hears something in the distance, but no, he’s just gathering his artistic energy, honing it into a ball of creativity that explodes after thirty seconds of utter stillness. First he starts to stomp his feet up and down rapidly, then he performs several impressive sideways hops, and finally he tosses his head and ears around in reckless abandon. After a minute or so, he freezes again to let the focus build once more. …

The dance makes Paul and Melissa laugh every time. But, more than that, it shows he is feeling at home, which is worth every single hoop they had to jump through along the way.

Story by David Dickson

Photos by Sarah Ause and courtesy of Paul and Melissa

Learn more about Cherry in his “DogTown” progress journal. And you can help be a part of that progress as he adjusts to his new home through sponsorship.

The End Dogfighting Program

On a chilly evening last fall, a raid on a dogfight in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood on the south side turned up more than 50 people, including a pregnant woman and a few juveniles, in a basement watching dogs fight a bloody battle.

This summer, young men and their pit bulls gather on hot evenings in that same neighborhood to compete much more constructively (watch the video). The owners learn positive training methods and new ways of thinking about their dogs. The pit bulls, some of whom start the classes wildly aggressive, learn to run an agility course and show off their new obedience skills. Participants shower their dogs with praise and treats and start to see their canine companions as friends instead of fighters.

The HSUS' End Dogfighting program makes the difference in Englewood and other troubled neighborhoods where dogfighting is all too common. People from the community spread the word about our "Pit Bull Training Team" and invite dogs and their owners to attend free classes.

The healthy competition in our classes has turned around many dangerous situations. Greg and his 95-pound bruiser Bolo struggled at first when Bolo tried to attack other dogs. Greg took Bolo out of the room sometimes because of his barking and lunging. Working with Bolo alongside more advanced dogs got him to settle down and make progress. Eventually, Bolo could sit calmly while other dogs wrestled in front of him -- unthinkable at the start of the session.

One famous face symbolized the dangers of dogfighting last week: quarterback Michael Vick. To a rapt young audience in Chicago, he described his downfall by dogfighting and urged them to care for animals, not fight them.

Vick also gave his first interview since prison on last night's edition of 60 Minutes. He says he has a new attitude toward animals and that he's committed to helping boys and young men in inner cities break away from the horrors of dogfighting. On the show, I explained that we need to tackle this larger problem, and that Vick might even be able to help with it. (See my blog for more of my thoughts.)

A few years ago, Michael Vick thought he was on top of the world, while in fact he teetered on the brink of losing everything. Our End Dogfighting program brings solutions to others who may not even know they need one.

A few years ago, Michael Vick thought he was on top of the world, while in fact he teetered on the brink of losing everything. Our End Dogfighting program brings solutions to others who may not even know they need one.

Aug. 2009; [email protected]; go to website and look for "Vick:Let's not fight" to view videos of the program