Handsome Dan, former Vick dog, overcomes fear and anxiety

Former Vicktory dog Handsome Dan blossoms with wonderful adoptive family. He makes amazing progress overcoming his fear and anxiety as well.
By David Dickson

Handsome Dan the Vicktory dog used to have a hard time making his wishes known. The old Handsome Dan would rather hunker down and hide from the world than ask for anything. Well, not any more. Lately he’s become so chatty and insistent when he wants something — or when he’s excited about something — that his parents Mark and Heather think they may actually have to teach him the quiet command. It’s a happy dilemma to be faced with, considering how shut down this pit bull terrier mix used to be. The thing is, though, Handsome Dan really does have a lot to be excited about these days!

Adoption of Handsome Dan the Vicktory dog

January 1, 2011, marked the one-year anniversary when Handsome Dan was officially adopted into his home (plus six months prior when he was their foster dog, per court regulations). It’s been a busy year for this celebrity of a dog ever since.

Pit bull terrier mix and baby

One of the most exciting things for Handsome Dan this past year was when his new baby sister was born. Mark and Heather had a beautiful baby girl in April of 2010. They both explain that they didn’t quite know how Handsome Dan might react to a baby in the house. Handsome Dan is still bashful by nature. They wondered if he would be nervous around baby Josephine, especially when she started crying. Handsome Dan proved himself in no time, however, and took to her immediately. "He’s great with her," says Heather.

That relationship has grown tremendously over recent months. Whenever Josephine takes a nap, for instance, Handsome Dan now insists on curling up in his dog bed next to her crib. He won’t budge until her nap is over. This big loveable guy has become quite the nanny dog to his new kid sister and loves cuddling with her on the floor, even when Josephine decides to tug his ears to show her affection. …

A role model for other dogs

Handsome Dan has a lot to be thankful for, and he knows it. He has also managed to pay it forward throughout the year. Heather and Mark run a kenneling service, doggie day care, animal rescue group, and more. They specialize in rescuing and placing pit bulls, among other breeds. Handsome Dan has played a key role in teaching good behavior skills to several such dogs.

Heather and Mark seek out shy, fearful dogs in particular to help, which is how Handsome Dan used to act. Now his confidence is so much higher that he can help these other dogs work through their own shy hang-ups. After all, it’s much easier to find a great home if you’re not ducking behind the furniture whenever somebody new drops in.

Handsome Dan and Little Red the Vicktory dog

Never one to forget his friends back at the Sanctuary, Handsome Dan has a particular dog he likes to stay in contact with as well: fellow Vicktory dog Little Red. He sends her care packages all the time, most often consisting of stylish clothing to help her stay warm. Handsome Dan needs to wear shirts and sweaters to keep cozy, and he knows Little Red is the same way. They have quite the long distance relationship brewing.

Paying it forward

He made a special effort to pay it forward during the holidays (okay, with a little help from Mark and Heather!). Handsome Dan hopped onto his Facebook page and asked for Kong toy donations that he could send along to the local animal control center. The idea was that Handsome Dan’s family would host a Kong-stuffing party right before the holidays, freezing goodies inside the toys and then delivering them to the animal control center.

In the end, his fans came through with such an enthusiastic response that Heather and Mark literally had to store the avalanche of Kongs in friends’ freezers throughout town. All told, Handsome Dan pulled in not only enough Kongs for every dog at the animal control center, but enough for every other shelter and rescue in the entire city. His fans also sent along beds, blankets, tennis balls, and monetary donations for the cause.

Wow. Did we mention he’s getting better at asking for things?

Amazing progress for once-scared and -anxious dog

Handsome Dan was afraid of his own shadow when he first came to Best Friends from Michael Vick’s estate. After all the love and care Handsome Dan experienced at the Sanctuary, then eighteen months later in such a loving home, those days are gone forever. He has most certainly hit his stride.

In truth, he may always hesitate slightly when it comes to experiencing brand new things, but the big difference now is that such hesitations no longer get in the way. He enjoys life and lives it up to the hilt on a daily basis. Mark and Heather continue to take Handsome Dan on regular adventure outings, both for fun and with their rescue efforts. He meets new dog friends, new people friends, and even gets to stay in touch with an old friend in the form of Cherry the Vicktory dog.

Handsome Dan and Cherry, another former Vick dog

Handsome Dan and Cherry were the closest of pals back at the Sanctuary, and they connected again just over a year ago when their two families wanted to let the dogs continue the friendship.

Bottom line, Handsome Dan’s days and weeks are filled with laughter, love, play time, and a family he can call his own. He has certainly found his happy ending. "He’s such a good boy," says Heather. "He’s my best friend."

Vicktory dog video

Watch the Vicktory dogs 2011 video and catch up with these rescued dogs at the Sanctuary and in their forever homes.

Donate to help other animals like Dan get the help they need to find their forever homes.

See our pit bull terrier initiatives from Best Friends to learn more about how you can get involved.

Photos by Aleksandra Gajdeczka