Former fighting dog's legacy

Bonita the Vicktory dog, abused as a bait dog in Michael Vick's fighting ring, dies. Her strong, loving spirit and desire to love and trust lives on.
By David Dickson

The last year of her life was by far the happiest. Bonita, one of the Vicktory dogs, just passed away from anesthesia complications during a dental surgery. She may have only lived at Best Friends for a little over a year, but she packed a whole lot of living into such a short time. She is already missed by many.

Dog from fighting situation possibly used as bait

Bonita was withdrawn and shy when she first came to Best Friends. No surprise, considering the life she'd lived before. Not only was she a fighting dog, but her teeth had been filed down. Coupled with the scars on her body, it's a fair bet she was a bait pit bull dog, or a training dog for other fighters. The worst possible life imaginable.

Those first few days at Best Friends, Bonita kept to herself most of the time. Caregiver Carissa Hendrick remembers Bonita wouldn't even leave her dog house. Yet that didn't last for long. Soon Bonita sensed that something was different in this new place she'd come to live. She came out of her dog house and started sniffing around, hopeful.

Dog who wanted to love and trust

Even early on, it was easy to see Bonita wanted to trust people. She had her doubts and all, but she wanted affection so badly she was willing to take a chance on a few familiar faces. Bonita had a close circle of friends who made her so happy she'd do a little dance of joy whenever they came near. For the first time in her hard life, she was loved. She was happy.

Excelling in dog training

But progress didn't stop there. She started to trust an ever-widening group of people. Then her caregivers began training Bonita in basic good manners, the same they did with the other Vicktory dogs. Bonita, however, took to it more than most. In fact, once she learned a few tricks, she liked to show them off for attention. The wave was her specialty! Bonita learned that when she waved at people, they'd come over and give her some lovin'. You could hardly stop this girl from waving day in and day out!

She became such a star student that Carissa picked Bonita as the next dog she would take through the Canine Good Citizen classes. Carissa had already helped another Vicktory dog, Oscar, pass his tests with flying colors. "Bonita was totally going to pass," Carissa insists. "She was wonderful."

Bloat and babesia challenges

With all the strides Bonita made in overcoming fears, however, there was always one other problem that proved a little harder to solve. Bonita frequently had trouble with bloat, and she couldn't put on any weight. The vets and caregivers tried changes in diet, changes in portions and frequency, and they ran more blood work and other tests than you can imagine. They consulted specialists in babesia ­ which is a tick borne disease known amongst fighting dogs that lowers the immune system.

Best Friends' Medical Director Dr. Michael Dix said, "I can't even tell you how many physical exams we've done on Bonita in the last six months." Between the blood work, the x-rays, and the physicals, she was no stranger to the clinic. Yet aside from the fact her weight never really increased, she proved healthy in all the exams and blood work.

There was a slim hope that a dental could help her gain weight as Bonita's mouth was in terrible condition and managing her teeth and gums was definitely a priority as her teeth had been filed and some were beginning to break. "Dentals are part of our diligence for complete health care at Best Friends," explains Animal Care Director Patty Hegwood. Dentals are only one part of a much bigger picture at the sanctuary to keep all the animals healthy and happy.

A bad reaction to anesthesia

Yet with anesthesia there are never any guarantees no matter how many precautions you take, with animals as well as humans. Clinic staff performed the blood work beforehand, they monitored her closely during the procedure, but in the end Bonita's body didn't respond well to the anesthesia.

A dog with a big heart

Those who loved Bonita knew her as a love-crazy lap dog. Yet even with strangers, Bonita was making great strides. She began to see a world of possibilities with each new face - amazing progress from when she first came to the sanctuary.

It's safe to say Bonita left a hole in the lives of those who knew her that won¹t be filled any time soon. And her life stands as a legacy and proof that no dog, given love and understanding, is ever beyond transformation.

Learn more about the former Michael Vick dogs rescued in the dog fighting bust.

Photo by Gary Kalpakoff