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A Vick dog - One Year Later

May 29th, 2008, 05:26 AM

Fighting Dogs to Fighting Stereotypes

April 17, 2008 : 8:01 AM
Two dogs given a new chance at life are now helping people to heal physically and emotionally.

By Jennifer Hayes, Best Friends Network

How better to reverse the negative stigma associated with fighting dogs, than to take former fighters and redirect their desire to please people toward tasks that benefit others? That has become the mission of Marthina McClay, Founder and President of Our Pack, who had taken two dogs from the very worst of situations and has literally turned their lives around. In an effort to focus on Animal Cruelty/Humane Violence Week (April 15-21, 2008), this is the continuing story of Leo and Zoe.

It is difficult to believe that this month represents the one-year anniversary of the seizure of Michael Vick’s dogs. Leo (formerly Bouncer) was one of the pit bulls taken from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennel. Zoe (formerly Haley) came from a similar background, though this time in Missouri. Both animals were seized in dog fighting ring busts, and previously would have been unilaterally euthanized following their use as evidence against the accused in court. However, what makes these two cases different is the changing attitude that not all dogs associated with fighting are monsters. People are beginning to realize that instead of being killed, these abused animals should be given the same opportunity as other rescues; to be individually evaluated, rehabilitated, and possibly adopted into loving families.

Through McClay’s dedication and training, both Leo and Zoe have not only overcome their past, but now are living, breathing examples of how it is possible to overcome their abused past and give back to society.

Zoe from Missouri
McClay received Leo last December, and after only five weeks of intense training, he received his therapy dog certification. With such success under her belt, in February, McClay heard about a second large group of fighting dogs who were being given a second chance at life through the Humane Society of Missouri. Pleased with the new trend of compassion for pit bulls, she realized that the shelter’s lifesaving efforts would be in vain if qualified rescue organizations did not accept the former fighters into their programs. McClay contacted Debbie Hill, Vice President of Operations for the Humane Society, and expressed an interest in one of the dogs. Zoe seemed to be the perfect choice.

Not surprisingly, when McClay first received Zoe, the dog was shut down. Having come from a fighting background that did not provide proper socialization, and then having been kenneled for months at the shelter, the outside world was just too overwhelming. However, with time, calm reassurance, a predictable schedule, and training, she has improved daily and is overcoming her fears and learning that both new people and new things can be good. “I want to improve the image of pit bulls,” noted McClay. “I want to show what these dogs really are and what they can be. They are loving, sweet dogs. They want human connection and interaction. Zoe is the perfect example of that; she sees new people and just perks up.”

Already comfortable with banks, pet stores, strip malls, and offices, Zoe has now graduated to medical settings. It is somewhat ironic that the dog, who is so fearful at the veterinarian, can be so comfortable in a human clinic which presents new stimuli such as odd movements, loud sounds, and strange equipment. “She walked in like she owned the place,” noted McClay of Zoe’s first foray into the health center. “She just acclimated instantly. She will definitely be our next certified therapy dog.” While she still has occasional moments of insecurity, she recovers quickly.

In addition to her time in real-world settings, Zoe has also been taking Canine Good Citizen preparation classes. McClay teaches the class, which is exclusively for pit bulls. This class is available for free for all Our Pack foster dogs as well as for the life of any dog adopted from Our Pack.

Pleased with how far Zoe has come in such a short time, McClay noted, “There aren’t bad dogs, there are bad people. It’s the people; the irresponsible owners and irresponsible breeders, not the dogs. I don’t know how you can blame a dog for something. With the right people, look at what they can be and with the right people, look at where they can be.”

Leo, pit bull ambassador
It is not surprising that Zoe could learn a lot from her “brother” Leo. McClay and stated “nothing fazes that dog” and he goes to the medical clinic often enough, that he is announced as Dr. Leo when he arrives for his therapy work. His one to two visits per week are eagerly anticipated by both patients and staff. In fact, when Leo makes his rounds to the administrative area, the employees take a “doggy break” instead of a “coffee break.” Their line of work can be highly stressful and Leo helps the medical personnel decompress. Of course, the patients also adore him and welcome his regular visits.

However, in addition to his work with patients, in March he expanded his horizons when both he and McClay visited some cadets at the Juvenile Division of the Santa Clara County Probation Department. Representatives from the school contacted McClay to ask her to talk to the students after learning that some of the boys were bragging about dog fighting.

As soon as Leo walked in the room, one student commented, “Dang, that’s a bad-ass dog;” however, once the teacher announced Leo was a former Michael Vick dog, they could not believe it. Ever the socialite, Leo instantly started walking around the room making friends, which opened them up to McClay’s presentation. She noted, “He was such an ice breaker. They could see he was a feeling being, who would sit in front of them and like his head to be touched. He was not a monster.”

When asked, all the students replied that they were aware of dog fighting and half either knew someone who fought dogs or had personally attended a fight. However, as McClay discussed the importance of socialization, spaying and neutering, and why not to leave dogs tethered on chains, they boys became engrossed. McClay noted, “I was amazed at what they were living in and what their viewpoints were. Most didn’t think it was cool, they thought it was cruel.” As kids, they were never educated on proper animal care, but they were still open to learning.

“They have this tough exterior, but their human being comes out if you address it,” commented McClay. “There’s a lot more heart there than you would think.” The boys were riveted throughout her entire presentation and she was so impressed she returned earlier this month to teach the boys how to properly train a dog. The irony was not lost on McClay when she stated, “Here we are teaching the cadets positive reinforcement training on pit bulls, with a former Michael Vick dog. This can be a turn in society and for pit bulls.”

Following their appearance, Robyn Schlice, Supervising Probation Officer, sent a packet of 11 thank you notes to McClay and Leo. Schlice wrote, “Enclosed, please find thank you notes from the cadets at the Alternative Placement Academy. The history, care, and raising a pit bull to be a family member was very knowledgeable and helpful for the cadets. Hopefully they will use this information with their pit bull or other animals. Thank you.”

Their notes were carefully crafted and many displayed detailed artwork. Some examples are:
- Thank you for coming and we appreciate you guys to come [sic] on your own time. We learned a lot in your class.
- Thank you for giving us a presentation. It was highly appreciated, please come back soon.
- One was a big envelope that said, Thank you, thank you and when opened it says Thank you again.
- Thank you for giving us the privilege of obtaining knowledge on dogs from you.
- To Our Pack, thank you for coming. Thank you for bringing Michael Vick’s dog and thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
- Thank you from APA [Alternative Placement Academy] to Our Pack. The students at APA just wanted to share some respect and say thank you from all of us. Thank you for your knowledge and time.

While Leo has turned out to be a truly spectacular working dog; McClay is adamant that people should overlook the myths and stereotypes and realize that pit bulls are the ideal breed for therapy work. “It’s not just Leo, so many of these dogs would do exactly what Leo is doing,” noted McClay. “They’re so resilient and they’re so amazing, they’re just such an incredible breed. I think that’s what I want people to see, how great they are and how easily they fit into those shoes.”

If those dogs who have survived the most brutal and cruel world of fighting can overcome their past and blossom into healers, imagine the potential possibilities for so many other pit bulls awaiting homes in shelters nationwide.

For now, she and the other Our Pack members continue to rescue and work as advocates for pit bulls. “It’s what I live for, to help this poor breed that is so misunderstood,” McClay said of her passion. “When you look at what they become, there’s no paycheck like that.”


1. Support
Assist Our Pack in their efforts to rescue pit bulls and promote the positive qualities of the breed. For ways you can help, please see their website:

Our Pack, Inc. (Pit Bull Advocates for Compassion and Kindness)
708 Blossom Hill Rd. #128
Los Gatos, California 95032

2. Learn
Want to find out more about pit bulls? Our Pack Volunteer, Stephanie Lam, will be teaching a free seminar, "Pit Bull Basics," to the public. Please note these classes are solely for people, not dogs.
Date: Saturday, April 26, May 31, and June 28
Time: 1:00 PM
Place: San Jose Animal Shelter
2750 Monterey Road
San Jose, California
Cost: Free

3. Promote
Have a pit bull? Make your dog an ambassador for the breed. Training to become a Canine Good Citizen or therapy dog are two ways to not only make your pet a positive representative for bully breed dogs, but also helps form a closer bond between the two of you.

4. Adopt
There are many, many pit bull and pit bull mixes in animal shelters and rescue groups throughout the United States. If you are considering adding a dog to your family, please evaluate the individual dog, not the breed, and consider adopting a bully.

For more information:
• For more about Leo when he first came to Our Pack, see Eliminating Misconceptions and Becoming Canine Good Citizens.
• For the story of all the fighting dogs, including Zoe, who were rescued by the Humane Society of Missouri, see A Future for Former Fighters.
• See how the 22 former Michael Vick dogs are doing at the Best Friends Sanctuary, The Vicktory Dogs.
• Stop Breed Specific Legislation Campaign
• Pit Bulls – the real story

Posted by Jennifer Hayes, Best Friends Network
Photo credit: All photos courtesy of Marthina McClay and Stephanie Lam of Our Pack.

May 29th, 2008, 06:02 AM
I am in tears, what wonderful news. She is gorgeous, and what a loving personality

May 29th, 2008, 06:20 AM
Thank you for sharing this story!! I am crying so happy that there was a happy ending to some of Vick's dogs.

May 29th, 2008, 08:43 AM
How fantastic is that. Thank you.

May 29th, 2008, 11:27 AM
I'm so glad these dogs were saved :thumbs up already one year .... and look at them now :cloud9: :lovestruck:

May 29th, 2008, 11:33 AM
Well that story made me grab the kleenex box. What an angel these dogs have found. It is so great to read about how well these abused dogs have rebounded with love and patience.

May 29th, 2008, 12:13 PM
I too had to reach for the kleenex...I am just so overwhelmed that there are people who see past what has been done to these dogs and sees what can be done to help them recover from it. I have always believed that all animals are good and innocent, only the owners can be :evil:. It always saddened me and still does that they are the ones punished for the horrible deeds and neglect/abuse of their owners. God Bless that organization that they are able to continue to do this work and show others a better way. :pray::thumbs up

May 30th, 2008, 03:43 PM
OMG,what a difference love and training will do to these poor pups.
Thank dog for Best Friends and Miss McClay,truly wonderful,compassionate people.
I know,here in Ontario these pups would have been euthanized right away,as well as in many states in the US.
Thank you for that very uplifting article LR:thumbs up
I read somewhere,that most of Vicks dogs were rescued,which is wonderful,the injustice done to them was horrific,hopefully they'll all have a wonderful loving future:pray:

June 2nd, 2008, 07:37 AM
What a great happy ending story. It's wonderful to see people like her doing what they can for these abused and neglected dogs.

I wish more people would open their minds about put bulls. The media is so much to blame too. Why don't we see stories like this in the national headlines?