The abused pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting hell are making great strides toward recovery. Read how these remarkable dogs are getting the love they deserve. – Global Animal

Jonny Justice, one of the dogs rescued from Vick's kennel. (CBS)


On Sunday, Michael Vick made his first appearance as starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles since his release from prison. His arrest and conviction for animal cruelty horrified animal lovers when authorities raided his Virginia farm and found a dog fighting operation.

“Early Show” Resident Veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell shared the story of what happened to the dogs that were rescued from the farm.

Bell explained, “When dogs are confiscated from a dog fighting operation in the past, the standard procedure was to put them down. The assumption has been they are too dangerous, too scarred to ever be trusted pets. But the fate of the pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s farm is different. Instead of assuming they were beyond hope, they were given a second chance.”

Investigators uncovered the illegal dog fighting operation in April 2007. Vick, a National Football League superstar quarterback, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty. He served 19 months in a federal prison and became a lightning rod for critics.

However, few paid much attention to the 51 pit bulls taken from Vick’s farm. Their fate seemed sealed.

Donna Reynolds, director of the Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit bulls, told Bell, “We had been told that these were the most dangerous, aggressive dogs in America. In all likelihood, we knew they were going to be destroyed. That’s the way it’s been done throughout the past few decades.”

But Reynolds, who specializes in the rescuing and rehabilitating pit bulls, was on a panel of animal experts that found that the dogs were not aggressive towards people. The panel believed these dogs should get a chance to live.

Reynolds said, “Once we met the dogs, we knew that we had a lot of work to do because so many were shut down around people, scared to death.”

When the 51 dogs were first evaluated, hopes for rehabilitation were guarded at best.

Journalist Jim Gorant told CBS News, “The experts going in to the evaluations went in hoping to get maybe 10 percent, or four or five dogs.”

But of the 51 dogs recovered, amazingly 47 were given reprieves. Gorant has recently come out with a new book, “The Lost Dogs,” which tells their story.

Read excerpt: “The Lost Dogs”

Gorant said, “They were facing down, you know, death at several turns, and somehow against very long odds, they overcame it every time. So, it’s a long shot for them to be here, but they’re making the most of it.”

Reynolds added, “It’s a great story of redemption, without a doubt.”

Reynolds’ organization, Bad Rap, received 10 of Michael Vick’s dogs. But for many of them, everyday life remains a struggle. A dog named Frodo still fights his fears.

Reynolds explained, “A lawnmower makes a loud growing noise. Yeah, that’s scary stuff for a dog like him.”

But each day brings progress.

Reynolds said of Frodo, “I’ve never seen a dog like this in my life try so hard to be brave!”

Bell also showed one of Vick’s dogs, now named Uba. In 2007, headlines branded him menacing. Two years ago he wouldn’t even let people get close.

As Bell petted Uba, she said, “I mean he’s letting me touch his ears, you know, touch his head.”

Reynolds said, “He is a normal dog. And he has been a normal dog. He just had an abnormal beginning to his life.”

And then there’s Jonny. The dog formally known as Jonny Rotten, is now named Jonny Justice.

“He’s as sweet as they come,” Bell said.

Cris Cohen, who now owns Jonny Justice, said, “When Jonny is in the presence of kids, it’s like a little switch turns on.”

So how far has Jonny come?

After rigorous training, Jonny earned the right to become a therapy dog, helping kids cope with shyness, a companion they can read to and get close to. No one at a recent event for kids knew Jonny’s background as a Michael Vick pit bull — and that’s the point, Bell said.

Bell asked Jonny’s owner, “What does (Jonny) teach us?”

Cohen replied, “Forgiveness. It’s absolutely heartwarming to see that good won over ignorance.”

Bell added on “The Early Show” that of the 47 dogs rescued from the Bad Newz kennels, 21 went to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which is the largest no-kill sanctuary in Utah. The rest either found foster homes or are in permanent homes.

On the broadcast, Bell showed Hector, a pit bull mix who was rescued from Vick’s kennel. Hector still bears the scars from dog fighting on his neck and chest.

“He was either a bait dog or a fighting dog,” Bell said.

Hector’s owner Andrew Yori said having Hector is just like having any other dog.

“He’s my buddy. He’s my pet. And we enjoy spending the day together, and just enjoying new things,” he said. “… His scars are all external.”

Bell added this story tells a lot about the pit bull breed.

“Not all pit bulls are menacing monsters. … Many of these dogs rescued from Bad Newz, they weren’t aggressive or they would not have been saved. They dealt with issues of fear and lack of socialization, so that’s where the big burden was, to get them socialized, help them deal with their fears and some of them are still dealing with those fears.”

For more on these remarkable pit bulls: Michael Vick Dogs Get Second Life