Apr 27 2011

Book Review: “Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption”

Regardless of how you feel about Pit bulls, I think an understanding can be made that they are the most abused and neglected dog breed. Also, regardless of how you feel about Michael Vick, Pit bull lovers owe a lot of credit to him. Wait a minute; hear me out. First, I don’t agree with anything he did to any of the animals on his property. Secondly, I dislike him with a passion for what he did and I have a hard time believing I will ever forgive him. However, if it were not for him being caught up in this ‘animal scandal’ I don’t believe the mistreatment of pit bulls (or fighting dogs in general), or the stigmas surrounding them, would ever be as spotlighted as it is now. Think about it. Whenever you hear the words “Dog fighting” or “Pit bulls,” you can’t tell me Michael Vick doesn’t cross your mind at least once. His fighting ring was national news! 

Fifty-one dogs were rescued from Michael Vicks’ facility. Out of the 51, only 3 were decided to be unadoptable or unable to be rehabilitated. The others were sent to different shelters and sanctuaries to work on their socializing and obedience skills. They all were also required to pass the Canine Good Citizen Test before they were made available for adoption, which is a test of good manners and obedience. Some of these dogs are now trained therapy dogs, working with children or the elderly on a daily basis. 

‘The Lost Dogs – Michael Vick’s Dogs and their tale of rescue and redemption” by Jim Gorant is a well written, non-biased book about what happened when the Vick Dogs were found. You not only hear the gruesome, and sometimes horrifying details of how his operation was run but you get the back story of how Vick grew up and how he was drawn to the dog fighting ring. 

I will admit I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish the book. The first few chapters were unbearable, and I often had to put the book down after every chapter to reset myself and continue on. But I had to read it. I owed it to every single one of the Vick dogs, and every other abused animal, to know and educate myself about their story and how I could make the difference in changing society’s outlook on this misunderstood breed. 

Gorant is a magazine editor for Sports Illustrated and he originally wrote an article that was the feature story of the issue about the Vick Dogs in 2008. He was amazed at the responses he received. Although most of the comments were positive, there were a handful that asked ‘There are homeless, starving people in the world; why should we care about dogs?” or “Why does it matter? They’re just dogs.” Simply, Gorant replies “As for why our bond with them matters, there are reasons for that, too….a famous Gandhi quote: ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ The idea being that in order to lift the whole of society, you must first prop up the lowest among its many parts. If you show goodwill and kindness toward those who cannot stand up for themselves, you set a tone of compassion and goodwill that permeates all.”

In Gorant’s book you get to meet, and learn about, three particular dogs and their struggles and triumphs. You learn about a dog who would constantly go into ‘pancake mode’ (when a dog is so frightened or shy that they lie completely flat on the ground) and how she ends up trusting and loving her foster mom. You find out about a young male who was so wound up, his foster dad (who eventually turned into his forever dad) didn’t think he would ever pass his Canine Good Citizen Test, but is now a part of a children’s therapy program that encourages children to read. I would love to say that every ending is a happy one but unfortunately, that is not the case.

If Gorant’s book shows you anything, it’s that you can not judge a dog based on their breed or what you hear about them. These pit bulls were taken from a dog fighting bust, and they love, seek out, and desire affection and attention. Pit bulls make up about 80% of all dogs in city shelters. Many cities ban the breed just because of what they’ve heard, not because of the facts. Yes, pit bulls can be dangerous – but I personally know more Chihuahua’s who have caused physical damage than any other dog. And on another note, there is no such thing as “lock jaw.” It is a myth. 

Gorant successfully demonstrates how truly wonderful the Pit bull breed is (I know, pit bull isn’t really a breed, but it’s easier than saying all of the actual breed names). They are loving, loyal, and a lot of fun. Just like any other dog they have certain instincts that you have to be aware of. They can get wound up very quickly and it’s hard to calm them down, so they need plenty of exercise. They tend to have a high prey drive, so having a small animal and a pit bull can be a challenge; but it’s not impossible. I personally know of two adopters who have pit bulls AND cats and they can coexist (and even sleep together) peacefully. 

I live with four dogs — two lab mixes and two pit bulls (one is about 1 ½ years old and the other is about 3 months old). I also live with three cats and a ferret. They all coexist and even get along. There hasn’t been one fight, and the oldest pit bull is probably the most easygoing dog of the group. She was rescued from a chain after starving for a few months but you would never know it. She is one of the best dogs I have ever met. If you feel the same way about pit bulls as I do, purchase or borrow The Lost Dogs. It is a great read for pit bull advocates, and an even better read for those who don’t know anything about the breed, or are frightened by the rumors they have heard. Those who are uneducated about the breed tend to be the ones who cause the most harm to it.

Written by Alyssa Willet
Adoptions Supervisor at Wayside Waifs

Jul 13 2009

Summer Reading with Barney

If you’re a dog lover, you may have laughed and cried over Marley and Me, a book by John Grogan (William Morrow, 2005) and then a film starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson (Twentieth-Century Fox, 2008). Suddenly animal stories sprang up everywhere, and you might have figured they were all pretty much Marley ripoffs.

Not so Mornings with Barney: The True Story of an Extraordinary Beagle, a lighthearted summertime memoir by Dick Wolfsie (Skyhorse, 2009). What makes Barney’s story unique is that he wasn’t just Wolfsie’s dog; Barney belonged to all of Indianapolis. 

Wolfsie, a sometime-TV reporter who drifted from job to job, found himself on the early-morning news hour of a local Indy TV station in the 1990s. Wolfsie’s segment was the three-minute fluff shoehorned in between the “real” news, weather, and sports. 

Enter Barney, a stray from Wolfsie’s doorstep who came to work with him every morning because he was too destructive to be left home alone. Somehow, Barney wormed his way on camera and became Indy’s most beloved news hound. 

Wolfsie captures Barney’s personality on every page, with short, snappy chapters bursting with funny anecdotes. Barney spoke to me because he’s all dog–not a dog trained to be a good person or a polite guest, but a dog who remained obstinately himself, whether baptizing a hotel-room rug or stealing a sirloin from a restaurant kitchen. You’ll swallow Mornings with Barney in a day or two, and yes, you’ll shed some tears–but this story is no tragedy. It’s just a great yarn about a one-of-a-kind dog who captured the hearts of thousands.

Below, get a taste of Barney’s antics–and then read all about them.

Mar 19 2009

A Lion Called Christian

If you can watch the video of Christian the lion without tearing up, you may not be human.  This YouTube sensation made the rounds earlier this year.  Well, the two Aussies who owned Christian also wrote a book about their experience.  Originally published in 1971, A Lion Called Christian has been revised and updated with more than 50 photos. 

This love story struck the nation because everyone could relate to it – whether you love animals or not.  The story was about lost love and reuniting with someone whom you always wondered about.  For animal lovers, it makes us think about the cat that ran away and if he ever thought of you like you thought of him.  It makes you realize that all animals have feelings and emotions. 

Take a moment to appreciate the people and pets in your life.  Watch the video.  Read the book.  This is the stuff we love.

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