Where once stood row upon row of log-chained fighting dogs now stands a fenced dog park constructed by an organization dedicated to rescuing tethered dogs from across the country. What was once a fighting dog operation known as Bad Newz Kennels is now called Good Newz Rehab Center for Chained Dogs.
In April of 2007, a young man named Davon Boddie was arrested on drug charges. He gave his address as a home in Surry County, Virginia, which belonged to his cousin, Atlanta Falcon’s Quarterback Michael Vick. When a search warrant was served to look for additional drugs, the police were surprised to find a large number of dogs. An additional search warrant was obtained to look for evidence of animal neglect or abuse.
Once on-site, officials discovered four out-buildings which were painted flat black so they wouldn’t stand out and couldn’t be seen from the road. What they found inside these buildings left little doubt that this was a large-scale dog fighting operation: a blood stained “pit”, a “rape rack”, training equipment, and performance enhancing drugs. In a nearby field they found dogs chained with heavy log chains, with wounds and scarring consistent with dog fighting.
The whole country followed the story of the Vick dogs and their journey from being fighting dogs to becoming beloved companions. But what isn’t as well known is what happened to the property itself.
Good Newz Rehab Center on Vick’s former property
In 2011, the non-profit organization Dogs Deserve Better, an anti-tethering group, purchased the property and moved their rehab facilities from Pennsylvania to Surrey County, Virginia. The organization specializes in working with dogs who have lived their lives on the end of a chain. Dogs who have never known the love, care, and comfort that family pets enjoy.
Each and every day, 20 dogs are cared for, trained, and socialized in an effort to get them ready for new homes. The dogs live in the building that was once Michael Vick’s residence, which has been converted to five dog living areas and offices and sleeping quarters for staff and visiting volunteers. Last year, in conjunction with their two other sites in Tennessee and Virginia, the organization was able to rehab and place 254 dogs.
The group is now ready to close the door completely on the past which was Bad Newz Kennels. There are plans to ultimately remove the infamous black sheds, which now serve as storage units. The field where once dogs languished on logging chains has been converted to a 5-acre fenced dog park. And the Dogs Deserve Better folks would like to take it one step further.
There are plans underway to plant a Dogwood tree for each of the fighting dogs who made it out alive. Fifty-one trees will be planted in the field where once the dogs lived such a bleak existence. In the very center of the field, a Weeping Cherry will be planted to commemorate the dogs who did not survive: Those who lived and died never knowing love nor a gentle touch.
Some of the families who adopted the rescued Vick dogs have asked to sponsor a tree in their beloved companion’s name. Some are even considering a visit to plant the tree themselves. The trees are meant to serve as a tribute and memorial for all of the fighting dogs rescued from the site. Denise Cohn is the Executive Director of Dogs Deserve Better, and she told me the efforts are to help “close the circle” and to say goodbye to all the bad karma the fighting operation left in its wake.
Dozer, finally indoors after 14 years on the end of a chain
At the end of the day, what really matters to Cohn -and her supporters – is the ability to rescue and rehab dogs who have endured years of life on the end of a chain. Dogs like Dozer who spent 14 years tethered in a yard before finally being rescued after 2 years of effort by the group. Or Biscuit, whose sibling froze to death before he was rescued. The video of him taking his first run in the field where once the Vick dogs lived in pain and fear will thrill your heart.
Cohn reports that each and every month they receive an average of 400 calls from people concerned with dogs living in substandard conditions. They have an National Coordinator who works tirelessly to contact owners, animal control, and the police to make life better for dogs who are suffering.
Dogs Deserve Better operates solely on donations. If you would like to support their good work, you can visit their website. If you’re interested in sponsoring one of the dogwood trees for the Vick dogs, you can contact Denise Cohn directly at [email protected].
Do you know of someone who is actively involved in individual rescue? Someone who goes above and beyond to do whatever is necessary to improve things for homeless animals? If you’d like to nominate someone for this “Walking the Walk” series, please send me an email at [email protected].
Featured image via PilotOnline