The Vicktory Dogs

If you know me, you know that I’m mildly obsessed an avid follower of the Vicktory Dogs but truth be told, back in 2007 when the Michael Vick investigation took place, I really didn’t give much thought to “those dogs.”  I’ve never been a fan of MV, but hey, whatevs.  This whole dog fighting thing was foreign to me.

A common question at Best Friends is “how did you hear of us?”  and the pat answer for me was through the Michael Vick thing, but really it was this article that set me on a path that has truly changed my life.  That was when this gal happily plunged down the rabbit hole of Pit Bull ownership, rescue, volunteerism and became not only a fan of so many dog blogs, but of all of the Vicktory Dogs who have a public persona.

Part of my collection.

Part of my collection.

(Side note:  technically “Vicktory Dogs” is the nickname for only the 22 dogs who went to Best Friends though the other roughly 28 dogs might be referred in a similar manner, I use this term both ways.)

So immersed am I in following the incredible journey of these dogs and their families that I often forget (or it never occurred to me) that some people go to Best Friends for reasons other than the Vicktory Dogs.  Still countless others are completely unaware of their existence.  That’s just crazy talk to me.  Until I read that article about Mel, I really never saw these dogs as the victims, even though I was a dog lover.  I just didn’t make the connection.  That article was to change my life for the better and as a part of that, it was my hope to someday meet one of these small heroes who endured so much to come out better on the other side and who have directly effected a change in how dogs from fighting busts are handled.

I knew that there are six Vicktory dogs still at Best Friends as well as one that “works” there so it would be a pretty good bet (I hoped) that I would get to “meet” at least one of them but not in my wildest dreams did I expect what actually happened.

Ray the Vicktory Dog

Earlier this week I mentioned that we “encountered a special surprise” at Angel Village.  Ray was once and always will be a Vicktory Dog, but he now enjoys not only a home of his own but he comes to work every day with his Mom who actually works at Best Friends.  I knew from his Facebook page that he and his Mom walk to Angel Village every day so on Friday, our first day at the Sanctuary, after our tour ended we headed over to Angel Village waiting for lunch to begin.  As we sat in the car, I saw from the mirror a familiar-looking woman walking an oh-so-familiar little dog.  I may or may not have squealed at Kevin, “There’s RAY!” and then proceeded to freeze in my seat.  As they completed their business inside Kevin said, “They’re leaving, you better say Hi,” and I quite literally spilled myself out of the car.  I flung open the door, dropped my camera out of my lap and into the dusty dirt, spilled my purse and caused enough of a ruckus that Ray and his Mom stopped in their tracks, presumably assessing the crazy lady.

They approached and let us pet Ray who leaned against me (swoon) as I gushed we chatted a bit and then Ray’s mom said something magical and so generous to me.  If we finished with lunch early enough, we could come take Ray for a car ride. He isn’t so keen on leash walking with strangers but he will ride in a car with anyone.  Naturally we made sure we were done so that we could have the honor of driving Mr. Ray about the Sanctuary.  He definitely loved his car ride and effectively ignored his chauffeurs!

I’m sure you’re dying right now, right?

Meryl

Lucas and Meryl were court ordered to live out their lives at Best Friends.  Lucas was the grand champion and deemed to be of great value “on the street” so lived out a good life at the Sanctuary.

From Best Friends website:
“Meryl has worked so hard at Best Friends to overcome her painful past as a fighting dog rescued from the property of Michael Vick. It took a lot of effort, time and patience, but Meryl can now meet new people (staff members only) very politely. She can also allow new people near her octagon without having a panic attack. That’s tremendous success for a dog who once equated people with terrible pain and suffering. And now the student has become the teacher! She’s been paying it forward here at Best Friends. Because she has such good leash manners around other dogs, she’s been used as a model for others without the same grace. Meryl’s calm, cool and collected nature puts the other dogs at ease, so they no longer feel compelled to react when passing another dog. Meryl was court-ordered to live at Best Friends for the rest of her life.”

I was fortunate to volunteer at Meryl’s octagon and snap a few pictures of her.  I called her name and she faced me with her ears perked and a friendly countenance.

Meryl

Meryl

She is beautiful, fit and seems like a very happy dog..

Mya and Curly

Meeting Ray and being allowed to take him for a car ride was more than I had ever hoped for.  Seeing pictures hanging in tribute to Lucas in Dogtown’s headquarters was touching, spying Meryl through the fence of her run was very cool and all of those things combined could have been enough to send me home with an overabundance of the warm fuzzies.  But then, there was that one last volunteer shift.

Mya and Curly live in Dogtown offices during the week to help them with their social skills but return to The Clubhouse on the weekends.  The striking thing about all of the Vicktory Dogs was that they are all so tiny; none of them were taller than knee-height to me and I’m only 5’3″.

When I met the caregiver that Sunday morning and we talked about the agenda for the day and my slight obsession interest in the Vicktory dogs he said we would try to get me some time with them.  Just that glimmer of a hope was pretty cool and seeing them in their run was enough to make me happy.  Mya is short and stout with bowed legs and Curly is even smaller and more compact and together their presence could be mistaken for two little shy dogs of no notoriety at all.  When it was time, the caregiver, T,  brought them both out on leash.  His plan was that we would walk side by side and if the dogs didn’t seem too freaked, I would take a leash.  I waited outside with my back turned (non-threatening body language) and he stopped next to me.  Both dogs effectively ignored me as much as I struggled to ignore them so he handed me Mya’s leash and off we went for a walk.  The trail for The Clubhouse like all of the others I had seen have a short version and a longer one, so the caretaker decided we would let Curly and Mya decide which way to go and to my delight, they chose the long path.

I didn’t take any pictures of them.  These two brave little souls are still struggling with strangers and this big world and it wasn’t in my nature to disrupt them at all.  Throughout our walk, “T” and I chatted about all things V-dog while Curly cast backward glances at me as if to insure that I was keeping my distance while Mya stoutly refused to acknowledge that anyone was on the other end of her leash, so there was no need to look around.  I, on the other hand was on cloud 9.

Oh, how do I end this post?  How do I end this adventure?  Eventually our walk came to and end and we returned Mya and Curly to their area where they skittled away quickly and after about a 10 second try to coax them back, we respected their wishes and moved on.  I walked a few more dogs and too soon Kevin came back to collect me and though I shook hands with the caregiver and left politely, inside I was kicking and screaming and refusing to leave.

We were off to the next part of our adventure and  with but  a small exception were both wishing we were back in Angel Canyon.

 

In case you’re wondering, here is a list of V dogs Facebook or other sites to the best of my knowledge and in no particular order.

Ray the Vicktory Dog

Oscar

Cherry Garcia and Cherry Garcia 

Handsome Dan

Vicktory Dog Mel

Vicktory for Layla

Squeaky Jean

Little Red

Stella and Crew

Ginger Girl

Shadow 

Jhumpa Jones

Jasmine’s House

Gracie’s Guardians

Hector the Pitbull

Audie’s Journey

Hallie and Friends
If I’ve missed any, be sure to let me know!

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Best Friends-Volunteering

At last!  Time to volunteer.  We signed up for three shifts, the afternoon of arrival and both shifts the following day and planned as well to do sleepovers both nights.  As it turned out, knowing we wouldn’t be able to check into our hotel in Las Vegas for the final leg of the trip until late in the afternoon I was able to grab one last shift on Sunday morning, which became yet another highlight of the trip.

Friday

After lunch, we drove to Dogtown headquarters in time for our first volunteer shift.

Pictures of Lucas hang in the Dogtown lobby.

Pictures of Lucas hang in the Dogtown lobby.

 

Since we were first time volunteers there, were offered three different “octagon” areas of Dogtown Heights; The Fairway, The Garden or Old Friends.  Puppies?  No thanks.  Young adults?  Eh, we’ll pass.  Older but bolder?  Yes!  Old Friends was definitely an area we wanted to be in so we proceeded to the octagon buildings named Homer and Dolores after some very generous donors and after meeting the two dog caretakers there, set off walking some pooches and doing some general tasks in between.

There are set paths outside of Old Friends and the dogs definitely know their way around.  There’s a junction and you can take the shortest, the longest or the one in between but all are pretty clearly marked and trod, so you won’t loose your way.  When you return, you wait outside until the caretakers see you and they retrieve the dog from you and bring you another one.  It’s pretty simple and relatively taken for granted that making sure each dog is walked is the first priority.  All dogs in this area are “green collars” and for the most part really easy to walk.

 

Saturday Morning 

Upon arrival at Dogtown Headquarters on Saturday morning, I requested Conrad and Leopold’s in Old Dogtown because I especially wanted to meet one of the dog caregivers in that area.  Old Dogtown differs from Dogtown Heights in that it’s larger and also older.  In Dogtown Heights there are actually 4 octagon areas consisting of two octagons each.  The three listed previously house all “green collar” dogs-the dogs who can be handled by anyone.  In Old Dogtown, there are purple collars which can be handled by anyone over 18 and red collars which are staff -only in addition to green collars.  Conrad and Leopold’s was a total blast!  Not only did we get to take dogs on regular trail walks but we got to take Sydney to Tara’s Run which you might recognize from the Dogtown Series as the training facility and we got to help with a training walk.  This area was not only hands on but just more challenging in the best possible way.  I loved it!

Sydney and Kevin

Sydney and Kevin

Saturday Afternoon 

This was also spent in Old Dogtown in the octagons called “3 and 4” though they actually had real names as well.  Hermosa’s Hideaway was one name but the other escapes me.  For this shift, Kevin decided he would rather do an “outing” so he and Bolt went back to the Cottage to hang and chill.  Bolt is a tripod and you almost want to say “thank goodness.”  If Bolt had four legs there might not be a human who could keep up with him.

This area was similar in that the caregivers brought me a dog to walk on the trails with after giving me the run-down on any particulars or triggers.   Upon completing the walk we would wait on a bench within view to have the dog retrieved.  This area seemed pretty busy and I didn’t walk too many dogs, but I did get to see a “celebrity.”

Meryl was one of the (only) two Vick dogs court ordered to live out their lives at Best Friends; Lucas was the other one. Today rather than be a victim of her past and circumstances, Meryl shares a run with another dog, Buddy Arnold. Meryl will remain at the Sanctuary not because she is dangerous, but for her own protection as her value as a “trophy” is still thought to be very high.

 

Sunday Morning 

Scheduled to leave that morning, I convinced Kevin that I really needed to take one more shift and he agreed to finish the packing, loading and checking out while I worked.  Boy was it worth it.  I asked for and was assigned “The Clubhouse.”  Although The Clubhouse is in Dogtown Heights, it is run and feels more like Old Dogtown in that there are red, purple and green collar dogs.  I met the caregiver outside and we chatted about what the needs would be for the morning.  Breakfast had been fed, so bowls needed to be washed, dogs needed to be walked and Sunday was deep clean day at Amra, one of the two octagons.  I mentioned that I had requested The Clubhouse knowing that Mya and Curly were there and the caregiver worked an interaction into our schedule.  That morning after washing breakfast dishes, I walked a few dogs and this time actually accompanied the caregiver into the runs to collect my walking buddy.  Upon returning, it was again to a waiting bench, but this time waiting was minimal.  We swept and mopped kennels and then finally I got my chance to see Mya and Curly up close and personal.  Well, as up close and personal as was possible with them.  I’ll tell you more about it later this week, so be sure to stop back.

Things I was pleased to have: comfy jeans and wellies!  The terrain is very sandy and a bit hilly, so comfortable (close toe) footwear is a must.  Since I knew the temps would vary from the 30’s to the 50’s I was happy to have my boots.  Good traction and sand resistance was a must.  Layering the tops with a lightweight jacket was a good idea as well.  One of the things I forgot, much to my chagrin, is that I forgot to activate my Walk for a Dog app.  I’m sure I racked up some serious mileage because I actually was able to pull a pair of jeans off without undoing them by the end of the week.  WOOT!

The Walk of Life

I’m feeling a bit teary-eyed as I reflect on yesterday’s walks with my boys and after having read a few archived posts. As Ray and I have been perambulating around the neighborhood lately and I’ve been marveling at how well we’ve been progressing, I’ve secretly been dreading knowing that Julius needs leash work. Badly.

 

The last time I took Juli for a walk, the muscles in my back and arm got a darned good work out, so I was hesitant to take him out again. Which means he wouldn’t get training and practice, which means I wouldn’t want to take him out…so he wouldn’t get practice…

 

Butt, Butt, Butt

Butt, Butt, Butt

So what would someone do if they, say, had a dog who used to be a nightmare to walk and one who still is? Oh, and the combined weight of those dogs was, say 160 pounds of big muscles? Surely the sane person wouldn’t decide to walk them together!

 

Playing around with the clips

Playing around with the clips

Well, fully expecting that Ray’s good manners would osmosize to Julius and that this outing would be a short disaster, I leashed up the dogs and set out down the block. And it was bad. The good news though is that it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, so I thought about what the challenges were and brainstormed my new game plan.

 

Freedom Harness

Freedom Harness

Julius pulls and skitters back and forth across the sidewalk which made for a tangle of legs and leashes. I had them both on just their martingale collars with my double clip Freedom leashes. Clipping Juli to Ray was a bad idea, clipping the leashes together to make a longer one was a bad idea, walking in the heat of noon was a bad idea, walking home while it started to rain was a bad idea.

 3butfar

Fully heartened by the midday walk being less of a failure than I anticipated, I decided to take an evening walk with the boys, Asia, and the baby (because we’re all about the distractions.) Reevaluating the hook up situation, I knew Julius needed his harness back on, but previous outings didn’t make for any less pulling and though I was using the stopping method, it was going one step at a time. After clipping the leash front, top, to this, to that, we finally figured out that using his Freedom harness and only clipping to the front worked wonders. The walk actually went so well that we went further than planned and were rewarded with tired, happy dogs upon the return home.

 

We can do this!

We can do this!

I fully intend to make this a regular part of our routine and believe that a happy ending is in sight.

Yay for Ray

I almost want to say that I’ve never enjoyed a walk with Ray more than the one we had last night, but in reality, most of our walks lately have been surprisingly enjoyable and gratifying.

ray

We started off the day with a visit to PetSmart for no other reason than go give Ray an outing and a chance to work on his social skills. Since Julius has Day-Play, he doesn’t often get to go “shopping” like Ray unless we stop quickly on the way home. This visit to PetSmart was relaxed, Ray got to sniff around the parking lot for a bit before we walked inside. He ignored the beautiful peach colored Standard Poodle who was checking out with his/her people and we ambled around the store for a bit. One of the store employees was working with a lady and her Keeshond and I heard someone gasp at how handsome Ray was as he walked by. We encountered the lady and the Keeshond several times. They would stop at the end of an aisle we were in, she would ask her dog to sit several times and then finally walk away. At one point they seemed to loiter at the end of the aisle making me unsure as to whether we were supposed to discontinue looking at the merchandise and move away or if they were gauging something. Ray continued to ignore them. I finally caught a glimpse of them darting into an aisle as we approached (I often do this myself) as I heard her say to her dog, “I don’t trust you to not react.”
We ended up purchasing a few sale stuffies headed for certain destruction and returned home to share the bounty with Julius.

Later in the evening, I felt like taking a walk and Kevin suggested I take Ray. I actually was intending a longer, faster walk but knew that Ray would enjoy himself and since I had a new doggie water bottle I wanted to try, we headed out. Upon leaving the yard, the first thing I spotted was a couple walking their Shepherd-type dog on the other side of the street. I turned towards them so that we would pass on opposite sides and she immediately asked to meet Ray. Only she asked from across the street and waited for the answer!  (WOOT!) I said Ray was a little dog selective, but that he would love to meet her and she left her pretty blonde dog with the hubby and came over to meet Ray. We chatted a few minutes and she asked if he was a full “American Pit Bull Terrier” and I gave her Ray’s breed blends while she loved on Ray then we all continued on our paths.

Towards the end of our walk as we tend to wind down, we encountered some neighbors who I chatted with a bit and Ray took this opportunity to lie down in the grass and relax. We then headed back home where Ray gloated to Juli as only a big brother can about his adventures about the neighborhood.