It’s easy to become demoralized in the world of animal rescue and cruelty prevention. There are so many occupational hazards that it often feels as though we’re simply putting our finger in a dike. Just as one animal is helped, another appears. The pace is punishing and often masks how much progress we are actually making.
Last evening the Show Your Soft Side family attended the Baltimore viewing of The Champions, the documentary film about rehabilitation of Michael Vick’s crime victims, fondly referred to as the Vicktory dogs. It was an emotional and moving film (one of us sobbed for over an hour), but it is primarily an inspiring story of redemption.
Michael Vick plead guilty in 2008 to one count of conspiracy to sponsor an animal fighting venture and admitted to drowning and hanging 6-8 underperforming dogs. While organizations such as PETA and HSUS recommended that the seized dogs be euthanized, nine of the country’s most experienced canine experts, many from the ASPCA, evaluated the dogs to determine if any could be saved. For the first time in history, each dog was treated as an individual crime victim.
The film shines a particularly positive light on two women who we are proud to call friends, Ledy Van Kavage of Best Friends Animal Society and Professor Rebecca J. Huss of Valparaiso University. Van Kavage is an attorney who heads the Pit Bull Initiatives for Best Friends. She travels the country fighting against breed discriminatory laws and she devoted considerable time, effort and resources in Maryland to help overturn the Tracey v. Solesky opinion through a breed neutral law. Professor Huss was appointed the Guardian/Special Master of the Vick dogs and recommended a suitable placement for each animal.
Each woman represents a profile in courage. They faced criticism regardless of their decisions. The repercussions were enormous if they got it wrong. A canine expert who evaluated the dogs initially believed that only 10% — or approximately 5 of the 49 dogs seized – could be saved. After evaluation, only 1 was euthanized and the rest were sent to rescue organizations, such as BAD RAP of San Francisco and Recycled Love Rescue of Maryland. Those who could not be fostered went to the Best Friends Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. The Champions shows how the Vicktory dogs have not only survived, but thrived. Some, such as Jonny Justice, have even become therapy dogs.
The Champions reminds us just how far we have come. But it is important to recall how much progress we have made in other areas as well. It wasn’t all that long ago that most people bought dogs from breeders and pet stores, docked their ears and tails, and rarely neutered. Animal shelters were euthanasia factories.
The arc of history is long and we must pause periodically to assess our progress. Those who accomplish the most in this field take care of themselves, are not afraid to take breaks from time to time, and have a broader view. They celebrate successes and seek inspiration. They never give up. Do the animals and yourself a favor. Watch The Champions and be inspired.
Our sincerest thanks to Bella’s Bully Buddies and Bmore Dog for bringing this moving documentary to Baltimore, and to Best Friends for showing the world that if we work together, we really can save them all.
Written by Caroline Griffin, Board Member at Show Your Soft Side, Inc.