As the dogs saved from Michael Vick’s fighting ring went on to live as family pets or at sanctuaries, their everyday lives became a testament to the power of rehabilitation. For years, leaders in animal welfare have praised how these dogs, once viewed as damaged beyond repair, changed the perception of animals seized from dire circumstances. As the 2007 rescue slipped further into the past and the dogs reached old age, their human advocates and adopters knew there would soon be a time in which these dogs lived on only through the change they helped spark.
Frodo, the last dog remaining from this group, died Saturday, Oakland-based organization BADRAP announced, adding that Jonny Justice, another dog saved from Vick, died just two days earlier. As this dogfighting case became a national story because of Vick’s fame as an NFL quarterback, BADRAP became an early voice advocating for the dogs when others believed they should be killed.
“If they put them all down, it will just seal the deal and everyone will believe that they deserved it and that’s what was supposed to happen,” Donna Reynolds, executive director of BADRAP, said in 2019, noting her organization’s past success working with dogs from fighting situations. “It became kind of this urgent sense of, ‘Oh, my God, This is a case that we really need to get in there if at all possible.’ But how to get in there was the tricky part.”
Ultimately, 47 dogs rescued from Vick’s property in Virginia landed with organizations around the country. (A 48th dog, Rose, had to be euthanized for medical reasons before the dogs were officially allocated to rescue groups.) The 22 dogs considered the most challenging cases went to Best Friends Animal Society, which has a sprawling sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. BADRAP took 10 dogs, and the rest headed to other organizations in smaller groups.
As the dogs began their new lives, some families kept the high-profile background of their pets private, while others used their stories as a platform to advocate for pit bulls and dogs saved from fighting situations. The dogs’ lives diverged, with some still affected by the emotional trauma they endured and others experiencing no lasting damage.
Frodo, a black pit bull with long ears, was adopted by Kim Ramirez and lived in California. He found his new home in the fall of 2007 and was one of the younger dogs rescued from Vick’s property.
“When I got Frodo, the world was a scary place,” Ramirez said in an interview two years ago, describing her dog as initially “very, very shut down.”
Early on, Frodo had nightmares, and he would let out cries. Ramirez would get up from bed to console him. She either left the TV on a music channel or had a fan running to create white noise to drown out any sounds from outdoors overnight.
“I’ve had to somewhat rearrange my life in a way for Frodo,” Ramirez said then. “And he’s worth it, believe me.”
Ramirez worked with Frodo so he would become more familiar with everyday objects, and eventually he became comfortable inside his house and yard, even though the outside world still sparked some fear.
Frodo lived to be an estimated 15, and BADRAP’s social media announcement about his death said: “THIS is the important part — the last 14 years of his life were spent being pampered like a prince with the Ramirez family and dogs. Sweet Frodo — How we loved him. He was one of the bravest survivors we’ve ever met.”
In Frodo’s final moments, he ate steak while surrounded by his family members.
The rescue groups wanted these dogs to be seen as individuals during the evaluation process, and their lives after showcased their uniqueness.
Audie participated in agility competitions. Ginger enjoyed exploring natural places, and adopter Stacy Dubuc, a Green Bay Packers fan, took a road trip with Ginger from California to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., to visit the brick that honors Ginger. Handsome Dan lives on through the rescue organization that bears his name. Harriet lived most of her life on a farm in Maryland. Jonny Justice loved children and spent time with kids through a literacy program. Collectively, leaders in animal welfare believe the rehabilitation of these dogs, sometimes referred to as the Vicktory dogs, prompted policy change and led others seized from fight busts to be given a chance to live.
“After an astonishing legacy, from coast to coast, from warm homes to state capitals, these beloved dogs have been the living embodiment of resiliency,” Best Friends wrote in a social media post Monday. “Their courage proved that there’s no such thing as ‘too damaged’ or ‘beyond hope.’ ”
John Garcia, who at the time of the Vick case co-managed Best Friends’ area devoted to dogs, was closely involved with this rehabilitation effort. On a summer day in 2019, he shared vivid memories of some of the dogs — Cherry, Bonita, Ellen, Lucas — and when he imagined how they would be remembered after all of them had died, he said: “They’ve gone through so much, and they’ve changed so much. They’ll never be forgotten.”
Garcia, standing in the run of two of the Vicktory dogs, paused briefly to acknowledge barks coming from Mya, who lived at Best Friends until she died in 2019, and then said, “I think the legacy of these guys is going to be forever.”