Reclaiming vicious dogs

Given all the heartbreaking stuff that’s going on with our dog this week, I’m rather grateful to John Lehrer for pointing me to this uplifting article about the dogs abused by the evil and despicable Michael Vick.

It turns out that that bastard didn’t end up leaving all his dogs so vicious that euthanasia is the only option or too vicious to be reclaimed. Through love and hard work, most of the dogs have been saved:

Of the 49 pit bulls animal behavior experts evaluated in the fall, only one was deemed too vicious to warrant saving and was euthanized. (Another was euthanized because it was sick and in pain.)

More than a year after being confiscated from Vick’s property, Leo, a tan, muscular pit bull, dons a colorful clown collar and visits cancer patients as a certified therapy dog in California. Hector, who bears deep scars on his chest and legs, recently was adopted and is about to start training for national flying disc competitions in Minnesota. Teddles takes orders from a 2-year-old. Gracie is a couch potato in Richmond who lives with cats and sleeps with four other dogs.

Of the 47 surviving dogs, 25 were placed directly in foster homes, and a handful have been or are being adopted. Twenty-two were deemed potentially aggressive toward other dogs and were sent to an animal sanctuary in Utah. Some, after intensive retraining, are expected to move on to foster care and eventual adoption.

It’s a story that made me smile, even now. I only wish the writer could have curbed her tendency to insert some woo into it:

Witness Sweet Pea, a compact cinnamon-colored dog with a pleat of wrinkles above her eyes who was hiding under the desk of the Frederick animal acupuncturist trying to treat her for anxiety. Fred Wolfson dimmed the office lights. Soft Native American flute music wafted through wall speakers. Wolfson held out his hand for Sweet Pea to sniff. When she would not budge, he sat on the floor and took his bowl of needles to her.

Sweet Pea began to pant.

“She pants when she’s nervous,” said Stacy Leipold, who volunteers with the Baltimore-based animal rescue organization Recycled Love and is fostering Sweet Pea in her home. “I thought for a very long time she was just a hot dog.”

As Wolfson rubbed the dog’s head and felt along her spine for the proper relaxation points, Leipold explained that Sweet Pea was little more than a lump when she came to her home in December. She rarely left her crate. If she did, it was to hide under a desk. She had to be carried outside to do her business. Over time, with Leipold meticulously tracking her behavior, Sweet Pea began to pace in a circle and wag her tail when she realized it was time for a walk. And she seemed to take comfort in Leipold’s other dogs, a Jack Russell terrier and a Great Dane. Still, one of her favorite places is the landing on the basement stairs. That way, up or down, she has two routes of escape.

Five needles and 12 minutes later, Sweet Pea stopped trembling.

I’m guessing that 12 minutes of dimmed lights, soothing music, and gentle palpation of the spine went much further to make Sweet Pea stop trembling than did sticking needles into her. (Sticking needles into her probably slowed the relaxation process, if anything.) I could also have done without the credulous quoting that ERV pointed out, not to mention confusing the Humane Society of the United States with a real animal welfare agency.

Still, I’m glad that these dogs have recovered for the most part. It would have been a shame for them to be further victims of Vick.


  1. #1 Niobe
    July 7, 2008

    Awww it’s like a massive overdose of Animal Cops.

  2. #2 jayh6
    July 7, 2008

    Sadly, even in the public press and legislators (esstntially attempting to ban the breed with draconian laws), ‘pit’ bulls are perceived as some inherently vicious animal. This is utter nonsense, raised with love and attention they are loyal, affectionate animals.

  3. #3 Noadi
    July 7, 2008

    One of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met was a pit bull. It’s all in how they are treated and trained. One of the most vicious dogs I’ve ever met was a lab, a breed usually known for being very sweet. Not surprisingly the owners of that lab treated him terribly but not to the level where animal control could do anything, it’s not illegal to scream at a dog all the time or keep a it chained up outdoors so long as they have adequate food, water, and shelter.

  4. #4 Patrick
    July 7, 2008

    Colorado cities have been taking on the breed bans with fervor over the last few years. They’ve gone well beyond just pit bills. My american bulldog is illegal in Denver proper and Aurora. Sweetest dog you’ll ever meet. He’s deaf as well. Any dog can be trained with enough patience and caring surroundings.

    I think the dog bite trends are related to the popularity of the breeds. When german shepherds were popular, the % of dog bites from that breed went up. etc.

  5. #5 Grimalkin
    July 7, 2008

    It’s interesting that you mention HSUS as a fake. I work in an animal welfare agency up in Canada and I’d never heard of this! We don’t work with the HSUS or anything, but we’ve borrowed some of their statistics to start our own Canadian-based research in the past.

  6. #6 BB
    July 8, 2008

    Grimalkin, HSUS is a known fake and their stats aren’t worth beans. They are not a humane society, they give something like 3% of revnue to acutal charitable works, and their pres Wayne Pacelle said once in an interview he’s indifferent to dogs. He’s a grandstander par-excellence. HSUS is under investigation by the Louisiana state AG for fraudulent money raising in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina- very little money went to animal rescue, few animals were rescued, but millions of $$ were raised. HSUS = PeTA in nice suits.

  7. #7 Calli Arcale
    July 8, 2008

    One problem with Humane Societies is a problem shared with Montessori schools — the name is not trademarked, and so anybody can call themselves that if they want, resulting in considerable brand confusion. Just because a group calls itself a Humane Society does not indicate any affiliation with other Humane Societies. But most people don’t know that.

  8. #8 Patrick
    July 8, 2008

    Oh no!!!

    From the frying pan into the fire. Take a dog that was abused in fighting/training, then torture it with questionably ‘therapeutic’ pinpricks? (Where are the peer-reviewed studies showing that this Therapy has any Value, where is *gag* Peta in this case?)

    I am glad that Sweet Pea is easing out of the anxiety, but think the adoptive parent is a bit off about appropriate rehabiliation.

  9. #9 Dave S.
    July 8, 2008

    Update: Michael Vick has filed for bankruptcy.

  10. #10 Tlazolteotl
    July 8, 2008

    Well, let’s just hope that none of these dogs snaps later on and kills somebody.

  11. #11 Liesl
    July 9, 2008

    FYI: The Utah sanctuary where the dogs were sent is the Best Friends Sanctuary. They fought PETA and the HSUS for the right to try and rehabilitate the dogs. Best Friends is one of the only animal welfare societies that actually walks the walk. Their fondness for woo notwithstanding. If I knew how to do the fancy html, I’d link their website. Cut and paste will have to do:

    Thanks for posting this, Orac. Best Friends is my all time favorite charity and I know they appreciate any extra attention to the cause.

  12. #12 DLC
    July 9, 2008

    Unfortunately, Pet woo is a booming and perhaps even growing business. There’s even one guy on TV selling homeopathic “pain relief” spray for dogs and cats.
    I suppose it’s mean spirited of me, but I’d like to see this crumb have to deal with post-op pain or a gunshot wound to the belly with nothing more than his homeopathic water.
    Then there’s “dog whisperers”, Pet Psychics, and now doggie acupuncture? Where’s a 19ft tall man to come and seize this dirtball by the scruff of the neck and hold him down while sticking pins in his skin.

  13. #13 Liesl
    July 9, 2008

    DLC: I think I mentioned this on another blog post of Orac’s, but I still find it freaking hysterical: I decided to try kitty acupuncture for my cat’s asthma when all else failed. This cat was squirmy on a good day, imagine him with needles sticking out of him. So, the acupuncturist told me that the squirming would get better once the cat realized how much it was making him feel better. Cat’s being known for their ability to reason, and all.

  14. #14 Holly
    July 9, 2008

    As a trainer who has dealt with aggression and/or pitty’s I do NOT subscribe to the either/or syndrome of them being either angels or devils. As with any breed, you will find good and poorly tempered individuals. Those individuals that you find out in our area are more likely to be less aggressive than those you will find in or around Detroit. We do not have the gangs or the Michael Vicks breeding specifically for courage and aggression around here. Genetics is genetics and you can breed for or against many traits in any breed.

  15. #15 Holly
    July 9, 2008

    oh, and one more thing, I’m very sorry to hear about your beloved dog. The good thing about pets is that they love us for who we are, regardless of how wonderful or vile or anything in between that might be. The bad thing is the length of time we have with them, it is never long enough.

    Hugs and give her a cookie from the Pack at W Congress.

  16. #16 CoolClyde
    July 10, 2008

    where’s Cesar Millan when you need him? whispering in some other rich person’s dog’s ear?

  17. #17 anon
    July 11, 2008

    People are talking about HSUS and PETA, I’d just like to point out that the ASPCA played the biggest role in both the investigation of Vick and the evaluation of the dogs for rehabilitation. (Full disclosure: I have connections with the ASPCA.) The ASPCA also opposes breed specific legislation, and gives good reasons for it.

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