Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Awesome Day

Cherry Garcia, soaking in some love.
This week, I've been volunteering at Dakin Animal Shelter's Animal Adventures camp. This week's group is comprised of 24 kids between six and twelve years old, and everyday they welcome guest speakers and their animals. The Forest Park Zoo came with a porcupine and a hedgehog, a woman named Rae came with a Ball Python, a blue-tongued skink, and a sugar glider. And today, a man named Paul came with his amazing pit bull terriers, Cherry Garcia and Madison.

Paul rescued Madison, now 10, at 6 weeks old while he was still living in South Carolina. Cherry came into his life in a different way. Cherry is a Vicktory dog. He was one of the 50+ dogs rescued from former quarterback Michael Vick's Virginia property, "Bad Newz Kennels," an underground dog-fighting establishment.

When Vick's dogs were rescued, Cherry was probably about 2 years old and likely had been there since he was a puppy. His name derived not from the delicious ice cream, but from the huge welt around his eye that reminded workers of a cherry and gave them a way to identify him from the myriad other frightened, unsocialized pit bulls.

Vicktory Dogs are landmark cases because, prior to this, it was believed that the dogs - pit bulls in particular - could not be rehabilitated after being "taught" to be aggressive and were thusly rescued, used in trials, and subsequently euthanized. Not so with the Vicktory Dogs. An organization called Best Friends took them in - after nearly a one and a half year trial - and spent the next year rehabilitating them, and only one of the dogs was deemed too aggressive for rehabilitation.

Paul explained that, initially, Cherry, who now eagerly greets people, sits in their laps, and stretches calmly in a room of 24 eager children, was petrified of people, having known only hurt. His back and face were covered in acid burns, which makes it difficult to believe that he was one of the lucky ones. According to court statements, dogs who didn't perform well were tortured or executed in cruel ways. Those who lived or did perform well were encouraged in aggression by various heinous methods and sometimes steroids. According to Vick and his three convicted associates, this was "fun" and all asserted the opinion that dogs were property and defended Vick's right to do with them what he pleased.  Vick served 18 months in prison and was then hired onto the Philadelphia Eagles as a quarterback with a starting salary of $1.6 million in 2009 and resigned as the starting quarterback a year later with nearly a five time increase in pay.

The majority of the Vicktory Dogs have stories similar to Cherry's: they've been adopted into homes that came with federal stipulations, and are changing people's minds about fighting dogs, pit bulls in particular.

It's a common misconception that pit bulls are naturally aggressive. While aggression can be a bred trait, Paul explained that over 90% of dogs bred for fighting are deemed "unfit"because they are inclined to be docile, loving, and loyal to people and to other dogs.

As Cherry walked around them room, he plopped himself on anyone who wanted his attention and on some kids who didn't even ask for it. Laid back and relaxed, it's almost impossible to believe that this dog spent the beginning of his life being "trained" to fight. We can all learn a lot from Cherry about trust and forgiveness. He still bears some scars of his days at Bad Newz Kennels, including what Paul believes are whip marks down his back. We don't know if Cherry remembers that part of his life, but we do know that he's managed to move on in a big way.

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