EW Description: “The 51 pit bulls seized from NFL star Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring were thought to be lost causes. In this moving nonfiction book, a Sports Illustrated editor recounts the efforts to give some of them new lives.”
I hate books about dogs. I’ve loved dogs my entire life and inevitably, any book about dogs ends in death and despair. I can’t watch movies where the dog dies. I can’t listen to songs about dogs that die. I just can’t do it. So, when I got this book, I was extremely skeptical and sure that the book would end with me in tears, clutching my own dog for fear he would die if I let go.
This book proved me wrong, though. This is one of the most inspirational and heartwarming books I have read in quite some time. The best thing about it is that it’s inspriational without being saccharine. It doesn’t read like a Mitch Albom book. It’s just a story about how these dogs overcame all the odds and started new lives.
Nearly everyone knows the story of Michael Vick and while Gorant goes over some of the details of the case, the primary focus is on the dogs’ rehabilitation and recovery. When BAD RAP (one of the agencies that oversaw the evaluations of the dogs) came in, they hoped to be able to save 10 percent of the dogs, which translated to five. Out of the fifty-one dogs, they only thought they could save five. They ended up recommending two for euthanasia (one due to inoperable injuries, the other because she had been forcibly bred so many times they believed she had gone insane and was simply too violent). Two of the dogs had died while in government care. That left forty-seven dogs they thought they could save.
Many of the dogs went into foster care. Some went to animal sanctuaries. Some went to shelters. All of the dogs were evaluated individually and given a customized recommendation for what should happen to them. Even the Humane Society of the United States believed all the dogs should be put down, but fortunately, no one listened to the naysayers. With a lot of love and attention, these dogs were able to be reformed.
Reformed might not even be the best way to put it. The majority of these dogs were not violent. Only a couple of them had actually been used successfully in fights. Most of the ones who did not perform well were killed, as per Vick’s demands. He often helped with the killing. Many of the dogs found alive were gentle, but were suffering from severe PTSD symptoms. The biggest problems the animals faced were that they were terrified of most humans and many other dogs. Instead of becoming violent, they would go catatonic. They didn’t pose a danger to anyone.
Since the dogs have been taken, five more have died. Two were hit by cars in freak accidents. One developed cancer and died. The other two died during surgeries due to their injuries. Of the forty-two remaining dogs, several have been certified as therapy dogs. One of them, Jonny Rotten, now works with public libraries to go in and read with children. The idea is that children who are extremely shy suffer when reading because they’re afraid to read to other people. So, they send dogs in to sit next to the children while reading, so the kids can work on their reading skills with an animal who will not judge them. It’s a really adorable premise and apparently, Jonny loves being around kids.
Many of the animals still have a long way to go. Some are still extremely afraid of humans, which makes their training difficult. Others are terrified of other dogs and cannot be around them. Every animal has their own little quirks, but the people rehabilitating them are treating them as individuals. They are not thought of as a “Vick dog.” One of the first things the rehabilitators did was to go through and name each individual dog. They gave them an identity for the first time in the dogs’ lives.
The biggest thing this book did was to completely change my outlook on pitbulls. This showed me these dogs are not vicious creatures. They can be trained to be vicious and mean, but that is not their inherent disposition. They are extremely kind animals who are great with children. They just get an awful rap from the media. Honestly, I really want to get a pitbull now. They seem super sweet.
There are some graphic scenes toward the beginning of the book when Gorant describes what Vick did to the dogs and how they were found. However, for every graphic scene, there are five scenes where the dogs are completely adorable. I highly recommend this to any dog lover. It’ll bring a smile to your face by the end of it.