My Vicktory dog story: Volunteer and visitor director Patty Hegwood

It’s been 10 years since 22 dogs seized from NFL player Michael Vick arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. We dubbed them the Vicktory dogs, because even after they’d been through terrible abuse and exploitation, they not only survived, they thrived.

Their amazing resilience and journey back to health and happiness proved that there's no such thing as "too damaged" or "beyond hope," that no dog is inherently vicious (no matter what the breed or background), and that every dog should be treated as an individual.

In celebration of 10 years of the good life for these deserving dogs, we’ve gathered stories and memories from some of the people who know them best. Read them all here.

Patty Hegwood, volunteer and visitor director for Best Friends, shares her story below.

Vicktory dog enjoys a yoga class

It’s funny how major events in your life are encapsulated in time: You remember smells, sights, and sounds — even what you were wearing.

My experience with the dogs goes back before their arrival, when the decision was being made about how many we would be able to take here at the Sanctuary. (Back then, I was the director of animal care.) We’d been asked to take the 22 dogs who still needed a place to go. We gathered as a group — Dogtown trainers, other staff and management — and reviewed videos of the dogs going through assessment rounds. We decided to take them all.

Denzel the Vicktory dog jumping up into the air for a toyI could not believe my eyes when I first saw the dogs. Those “vicious, mean” dogs were a sad and pitiful sight to behold. They were all crouching flat on their bellies, not making any eye contact with anyone and scared witless. My heart broke in an instant, and tears welled up in my eyes. I was filled with gratitude that we were now entrusted with their lives, and that we would do everything within our power to let them know that life is worth living, and not all people are creeps.

Getting to know the Vicktory dogs

When we got the dogs settled into their new digs, each member of our team spent one-on-one time to help them feel comfortable. Little by little, they began to brighten up, with some of course taking more time than others. Once they realized the situation was safe, they began to be even more receptive to human interaction. I say “they,” but all of this happened in waves — some earlier than others. And as for a few, it seemed like it might take years to erase or hopefully reverse the damage done.

Over time, our veterinarians assessed the dogs and discovered a range of health issues, such as broken teeth, a variety of orthopedic issues and (worst of all) babesia, a malaria-like parasite that infects red blood cells, causes infection flare-ups, tanks the immune system and overall makes dogs sick with flu-like symptoms. As time passed, this parasite would cause these dogs the most suffering.

The dogs first had to learn how to walk on leashes and to slowly increase their comfort with walking on leash — first with short strolls close to where they lived, and then to more enjoyable outings to the creek and other areas around the Sanctuary.

Patty Hegwood giving Ellen the Vicktory dog a belly rubEllen ‘belly’

We all pitched in to give office time and outings to our extended Vicktory dog family. Ellen was my favorite. We went to the park and the sand dunes, went on car rides and even picnics. She was a delightful soul with lots of warmth. Ellen was the ultimate cupcake and all that love was highlighted by a robust case of the zoomies, followed by sliding on her back and through my legs for a good belly scratch. I loved that girl.

So many good things came from taking in these awesome survivors, as they overcame a life of abuse and torture to become happy dogs running free, making friends and truly finding their enjoyment of life.

More about the Vicktory dogs

Photos by Best Friends staff