Vicktory dogs’ purple collars and golden hearts

The Vicktory dogs continue to amaze and defy the stereotyping that almost cost them their lives. Indeed, the life expectancy of the rescued canine victims of dog-fighting busts used to be shorter than their unfortunate kin who remained in the ring. That’s because as soon as dogs were sprung from the ring, they were killed by their rescuers because they were — choose your poison here — “bad by breeding,” “time bombs waiting to go off,” “game-bred dogs”... whatever description made killing them the ethical thing to do.

The Vicktory dogs changed all that.

Owing to the high-profile nature of the case, the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s hellhole could not be quietly and conveniently disposed of behind the scenes. The voice of Best Friends, and others who advocate for treating every dog as an individual rather than as a category, prevailed. The Vick dogs were individually evaluated, and to the surprise of naysayers, more than half of them were released to rescue organizations for immediate adoption to the public. The 22 most challenging of the dogs, those who had suffered the greatest trauma and neglect, those who needed more than just a little TLC, came to Best Friends and became known to the world as the Vicktory dogs.

The Vick dogs have been victims of and witnesses to mind-shattering criminal violence. They came with massive scars and other signs of physical abuse — some of the females having had their teeth removed so that they would be more compliant forced breeders. They also came with heartbreaking mental and emotional scars. Some were just too terrified to move in the presence of a human, and some were so reactive that they could only be handled at first by our most experienced trainers.

That was the picture of the Vicktory dogs when they arrived in January of 2008. At that time, the authorities in Kane County, Utah, where Best Friends Sanctuary is located, required us to keep the Vicktory dogs away from visitors and volunteers. Our visual coding for dogs with this staff-only designation is a red collar — one of three color codes for Dogtown dogs. Green collar dogs are easy for any volunteer of any age to handle and walk. Purple collar dogs have minor issues — often only size and strength. We require staff and volunteers to be 18 years of age and over to handle and walk them.

Last week, seven Vick dogs graduated to purple collars and are set to follow nine of their friends who have already been adopted, have an adoption application pending, or are in a foster home. It was a happy day at Dogtown.

While the court ordered that a couple of the Vicktory dogs spend their entire lives at the Sanctuary, I am confident that this class of purple collar scholars will be in wonderful homes before long.

They deserve the best because their hearts of gold have broken the stereotype of the canine victim of dog fighting as dangerous animal. Because of their intelligence and their desire to please the first humans who were kind to them, they earned the right for thousands of similar victims who followed behind them to be treated as individuals and given a chance at a new life. Dogs rescued from fight-ring busts are now routinely evaluated as individuals thanks to them.

The Vicktory dogs, unfortunate victims of cruelty that they were, turned out to be what we always knew they were ... just plain old regular dogs, and they now have the purple collars to prove it.

To view a video of the purple collar crew, click here.


Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society