You’ll laugh, you’ll cry: The Champions, the documentary about the Vicktory dogs, releases today

A number of events over the course of Best Friends’ history have constituted watershed moments not only for our organization, but for the animal movement as a whole. Our work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was a defining moment for Best Friends. So, too, were the Michael Vick dogfighting case and the ensuing effort to save the canine victims of Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

We dubbed them the Vicktory dogs and it is fair to say that the world of animal welfare was different after their story was told.

The Champions is the account of that change, highlighting how the dogs themselves were the transformational agents.

In April 2007, 51 pit-bull-terrier-like dogs were rescued from Vick’s Virginia property. As if life hadn’t already been bad enough for these poor victims of thug cruelty, they were headed from the frying pan into the fire. The very people who rescued them and should have been laying out the best possible future for them were, in fact, planning to kill them, just as every other dog associated (even circumstantially) with dogfighting had been killed in the past. That was just the way it was.

Fight-bust dogs, so the “experts” at some national organizations said, were just too dangerous to be spared. After all, they were natural born killers. Right?

Wrong! And the animal-loving public let everyone concerned know that it was wrong.

We knew that, given a chance, most of these dogs could still enjoy a good life. We also knew that pit-bull-terrier-like dogs were under pressure in shelters across the country and were being killed in disproportionate numbers, mainly because of breed profiling and discrimination.

Here was our chance to demonstrate what we knew to be true on a very large stage. If these dogs — supposedly the worst-of-the-worst, with little, if any, positive life experience — could be rehabilitated, that would go a long way toward dispelling the myths about pit bulls. It could also change the way law enforcement authorities related to dogs rescued from fight-ring busts. Best Friends took on the 22 most challenging dogs from that case.

The dogs, who have since become poster children for the case to treat every dog as an individual, have made an incredible impact on us as an organization, the entire no-kill movement and even some of the same national organizations that were calling for their death.

Perhaps you’ve seen the National Geographic television program DogTown. The show highlighted the work of Best Friends and one episode in particular (S2 E1) focused on our rehabilitation work with the Vicktory dogs. You can imagine our surprise when Darcy Dennett, a segment producer on the program, reached out to us six years later with the idea of creating a feature-length documentary on the topic. And as these things go, you never really know how they’re going to turn out. Well, I guess I wouldn’t be writing this blog if we were not delighted with the final result — an incredible story that is being told in such a moving way!

The film was completed last year, and has since made its way through the film festival circuit. It was received well by audiences, and garnered awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Denver Film Festival. Now, we’re very happy to be able to see this film released to the public; we know it will have a tremendous impact.

Right now, the film is screening in 38 communities (and counting). Go to to see if the film is playing in a town near you. The list of cities may seem random, but it is very much a targeted list. Giving our supporters a chance to see the film is a priority, but there’s a bigger picture than that.

Each year, our legislative team works to pass laws in a handful of states that will ban all breed discrimination in those states, along with other bills that remove the stigma from dogs rescued from fight busts. That kind of progressive work simply wasn’t happening prior to the work with the Vicktory dogs.

These remarkable dogs (Aren’t they all?) showed clearly that every dog is an individual and that every dog deserves a chance.

Best Friends is working on bills in several areas of the country, including Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Missouri. The Champions is screening in major cities in those areas, and we’ve extended an invitation to every single state lawmaker in those states. We know that once they (or anyone, for that matter) see the film, they will view the issue in a different light.

If The Champions isn’t scheduled for a showing near you, not to worry. Starting today, you can purchase a digital copy of the full-length film here, and watch it whenever and wherever you like.

Together, we saved the Vicktory dogs, who were once deemed unsavable. The Champions is their inspirational story.

Together, we will Save Them All, and what a story that will be!


Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society