10 years, three Vicktory dogs and one incredible journey
It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since 22 Michael Vick dogs arrived at Best Friends Animal Society’s Utah sanctuary. During those 10 years the dogs, who became known as the Vicktory dogs, have been on an incredible journey of hope and healing. Though they once lived in fear, they have now known many more years of unconditional love and kindness at the Sanctuary or in forever homes.
Of the 51 dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s property when the dogfighting operation was found there, 22 brave survivors needed Best Friends the most. They had suffered the worst possible abuse and faced the most challenges. When they came to the Sanctuary, their healing and recovery — indeed, their lives — truly began.
A decade is a long time for our four-legged friends, and the rescued Vick dogs were all at least a year or two old when they came to Best Friends. They are now seniors. Of the nine Vicktory dogs still living today, many have health issues and have slowed down in recent years. But six of the dogs are still enjoying their lives in homes with families who love them, and three are surrounded by their family at the Sanctuary.
Michelle Weaver, Best Friends’ director of animal care, was the manager of Dogtown when the Vicktory dogs arrived at the Sanctuary. She says, “As I reflect on the Vicktory dogs’ decade-long journey with Best Friends (and, for many of them, the years they’ve spent in their forever homes), it’s clear that all the dogs, even those we’ve lost, have triumphed. They’ve all gone on to live happy, fulfilling lives and to prove to the world that they were worth saving. It’s been an honor to take this journey with them, to get to know who they were, who they’ve become and how much love can overcome.”
To celebrate this 10-year anniversary, this amazing milestone in the Vicktory dogs’ lives, here’s a peek into what life is like today for the three dogs still living at the Sanctuary: Meryl, Mya and Curly.
Mya and Curly: Comfort for a close-knit pair
If you’re at the Sanctuary and you see two senior dogs bundled up on a golf cart ride, chances are it’s Mya and Curly. You’ll rarely find one of these dogs without the other, and the close-knit pair, now 11 and 12 years old, are getting even more extra-special care than ever these days. That includes keeping them toasty warm while they’re out joy-riding with their caregivers during the winter months.
On most mornings, Mya and Curly are chauffeured on a golf cart from the area where they live in Dogtown to the Dogtown managers’ office. They’ve been office dogs for years and know the routine. Four days a week, they curl up at the feet of Dogtown managers Dr. Carley Faughn and Julie Tasch and Dogtown administrative assistant Shell Palismo. To Mya and Curly, these people are family members, and the Sanctuary is home sweet home.
Unlike the Vicktory dogs who have been adopted, Mya and Curly haven’t yet been able to successfully complete the behavioral test that is legally required for all Vicktory dogs to be eligible for adoption. Shyness and lingering fears have made preparing for and taking the test too stressful for them. Over the years they have also settled in more deeply at the Sanctuary, carving out spaces where they feel completely safe.
In these comfort zones, the two dogs can unleash the silly, snuggly sides of their personalities. Though Mya is the more reserved of the two, they both greet people they know well with overjoyed wiggles and tail wags. They’ll come in close for snuggles and sometimes even kisses. “Curly is like my therapy dog,” says Dr. Carley. “When I need a good snuggle, I’ll sit on the floor with him, and he’ll lean his head in and snuggle.”
Of course, Mya and Curly aren’t as young or agile as they used to be. Mya goes to hydrotherapy regularly to keep up the strength in her back end. Both dogs have environmental allergies that have flared up a little more over the past year, so caregivers limit the time they spend outside in the sand. But overall they are both doing well — especially when you consider that they are seniors who went through trauma in their early years.
Curly can be a ham when his caregivers dress him up. He wore a nurse costume this past Halloween and donned sparkly reindeer antlers for Christmas. Occasionally, he still gets up to some of his old tricks. “If we don’t put him in his crate when we’re not in the office with him, he’ll throw himself a party,” Dr. Carley says. “The trash can gets overturned and things get knocked off my desk.”
Some things certainly haven’t changed, and one of those things, notes Best Friends’ animal behavior consultant Sherry Woodard, is consistency and routine. Sherry has known the Vicktory dogs since they arrived at the Sanctuary. She says, “Mya and Curly can't handle change. They don't like new places. They can be very silly and relaxed in their comfort zones, but their comfort zones are still really small. But to us, that makes sense. We love them for who they are. This is their home, this is their comfort zone, and they are happy.”
Shell agrees: “It’s a pleasure to have them here in the office while I'm working. Now that they are older, they just enjoy the office. They’ve changed a lot in terms of gaining that trust with me. They are always excited to see me when I come back from vacations. They are snuggly, warm and goofy. And they are very, very loved.”
Meryl: Loved beyond measure
Meryl, too, is loved beyond measure by her friends and family at the Sanctuary. For Meryl, Best Friends was always going to be her permanent home, because a court order requires her to spend the rest of her life at the Sanctuary. But over the years it has become not just her home, but also her true happy place.
Meryl has made some amazing friends here. Her nickname from day one has been “Mama,” in part because she has such good dog skills. “She is great at showing other dogs what’s appropriate play. Her famous play-bow move is the cutest,” says Dogtown team lead Tierney Sain.
Sadly, Meryl’s best doggie friend and longtime roommate passed away recently. But it didn’t take long for Dogtown caregivers to introduce her to a younger dog who helped keep her spirits up during those first difficult weeks. That dog has since been adopted, so Dogtown caregivers are working to find Meryl another perfect match, to ensure that she’ll soon be in good company again.
While it’s easy for Meryl to make dog friends, she struggled with meeting people for a long time. Introductions remain a challenge for her today, and there’s quite a procedure to follow when Meryl meets a new person. She must take a few walks with, and tasty treats from, a new person and her current caregiver before she is able to trust the new person. However, Dogtown caregiver Kathy Gray says, “Considering who she was when she got here, she's pretty easy to meet these days. Just give her treats and she’ll be your best friend forever.”
Once people get over that initial hump with Meryl, there’s no going back; they’re her best friends forever. Tierney says, “Something that I've always loved about Meryl, after working with her for almost five years, is her ability to remember her people. With her, once you're in, you're in for life, no matter how much time has gone by between visits. You could go years without seeing her, but when you do, it's like a little happy reunion and she can't control her excitement. As she gets older, her smile and tail wag when she sees someone she knows and loves are all the more endearing.”
Besides her friendships, Meryl finds joy in many of life’s simple pleasures. She loves the southern Utah sunshine and when it’s warm out, she sunbathes in her favorite spot on a special wooden platform in her yard. She adores extra-tough chew toys (Nylabones are her favorite toys in the world) and golf cart rides, where she’ll snuggle right up to her caregivers and give them kisses while they drive her around Dogtown.
Meryl may be 14 now, but you’d never know it. She still gets around amazingly well. “She's a tough cookie,” says Dogtown team lead Craig LaLonde, “and she’s gone through numerous medical challenges throughout her time at the Sanctuary, but always bounces back with enthusiasm.”
Being mobile is a very good thing for Meryl, because of all the things that brighten her days, walks make her the happiest. “Her favorite activity is walking around the Dogtown trails. She has this certain swagger to her walk. You can tell it's Meryl from a mile away,” Tierney says.
“Nowadays,” Craig adds, “as she's getting older, you can see her just sauntering slowly along the trails at Dogtown, taking her time to smell everything. She knows that for that time, the world revolves around her.”
10 years of triumph
During the 10 years since the Vicktory dogs arrived at Best Friends, these brave survivors have had their share of challenges, both physical and emotional. The passing of time has affected them all.
But in terms of the real battles these dogs have fought and won —facing their fears and moving forward, making new friends and rewarding people with their trust, overcoming medical setbacks, defying stereotypes surrounding both pit bull terriers and rescued fighting dogs — it has truly been a decade of triumph for these champions.
For the dogs who have passed, their legacy lives on in the hearts of the people they’ve touched and in the way that fighting dog rescue has changed for the better. “They have made a difference to so many dogs who are now being given a chance regardless of the situation they came from,” says Michelle.
As for the Vicktory dogs who are still with us, their lives, the unconditional love that surrounds them, and the love and trust that they give are a true testament to the potential that lies within every living creature and the beauty of second chances.
“We took the 22 dogs that the world said weren't OK, and they all have been OK,” says Sherry. “They’ve shown the world that if you offer love, if you accept them for who they are and treat them as individuals, you’ll see their true potential.”
Photos by Best Friends staff