The Champions: A game changer for pit-bull-like dogs

We’re happy to share the news of an award-winning documentary fittingly called “The Champions.” The film tells the compelling stories of five of the dogs rescued by Best Friends from Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring. It’s an ambitious film, weaving an epic story that sets out to change hearts and minds — and while I may be biased, I think it easily does all that and more.

The film’s tagline is “More forgiving of our species than we could ever be of theirs.” While impressive progress has been made regarding how we as a society relate to the canine victims of dogfighting, that tagline is all too often true.

To their credit, 19 states across the country have banned any kind of local discriminatory ordinances against dogs based solely on their breed. That’s incredible progress and it’s all because of one simple idea: Dogs are individuals and deserve to be treated as such, which is the central theme of “The Champions.”

Sadly, there is still a long way to go, as some animal organizations still hold to the bizarre belief that in order to protect pit-bull-like dogs, we must exterminate them. They inexplicably believe that because some people choose to abuse these animals, the best way to deal with the possibility for abuse is eliminating the breed entirely. It is twisted logic, at best, and, at worst, possibly borderline psychopathic thinking to believe that killing innocent animals is the best way to deal with a minority of people who are actually the “bad guy.”

Of course, we never believed the animals were at fault. Anyone who abuses an animal is the real offender here, and it is outrageous to suggest otherwise. That’s why we stood up in 2007 and demanded the dogs from the Vick dogfighting case be saved. How could we allow these dogs to be victimized twice — victimized once from their horrific lives as fighters and again by allowing them to be summarily killed without even as much as an evaluation. Our letter to the court eight years ago helped secure those evaluations and, ultimately, not only saved 48 dogs from that case, but thousands of dogs since then who were also seized as part of busts of dogfighting operations.

There’s a good chance you know what happened next, especially if you saw the “DogTown” series on National Geographic. Twenty-two of the dogs came to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and their resilience and response to human kindness showed that these dogs, like every other type of dog, are indeed individuals. Their stories are everything you’d want in a Hollywood blockbuster, and now we have a film to prove it. The stories of these amazing survivors have gone on to help us change the future for thousands of dogs across the country, and they’re going to save even more thanks to “The Champions.”

Currently on the festival circuit, the film is uplifting, at times emotional, but always hopeful. The documentary tells the story so well that it’s already winning awards. Recently, it premiered at the prestigious Hamptons International Film Festival in New York, where it earned the Zelda Penzel Giving Voice to the Voiceless Award. Past winners of the award include the Oscar-nominated documentary “Virunga,” so it’s quite an honor indeed.

Next up, the film will be shown three times at the Denver Film Festival. Considering that both Denver and the suburb of Aurora have breed bans in place, this is an important opportunity. There will be Q&A sessions following two of the screenings and, of course, we have invited local policy makers to attend and see for themselves why their discrimination policies are misguided.

The film will be shown at other festivals around the country and, hopefully, will be released more broadly in the future. Updated information about the film and release information can be found at the website or by following the film’s Facebook page. In the meantime, please watch the trailer.

The Champions Official Film Festival Trailer from Darcy Dennett on Vimeo.

Gives me the chills every time I watch it!

From the trailer alone, I think you’ll agree that this film has the chance to reach so many people — more than we’ve ever been able to reach with this message before. I want to express a big thank-you to director-producer Darcy Dennett for bringing such an important story to the big screen, and for telling this story so beautifully.

Together, we can Save them All.


Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society