It's a Pit Bull's Life: Ginger - Ten years after being rescued from Michael Vick's "Bad Newz Kennels"

     

It has been ten years since the 15 acre Virginia property, owned by then NFL Quarterback Michael Vick, was searched under suspicion of dog fighting. What was found resulted in several charges of illegal drug activity, gambling and animal abuse. Approximately 66 dogs, 51 of them pit bull type dogs, along with beagles, rottweilers, and a presas canario, were seized from the property and held as evidence.

As the story began to unfold, the world watched in shock as the horror of what happened on the Vick property unfolded. Michael Vick, along with multiple business associates, were forcing dogs to fight. If a dog’s performance was not up to par, the dog was killed by hanging, drowning, electrocution, being slammed against the ground, and/or shot. Mass graves were found on the property.

The dogs seized from the Michael Vick property were held as evidence in multiple locations and received limited human interaction or exercise during the trial. Until the Michael Vick case, it was common to euthanize dogs rescued from these types of situations. Bred and trained to kill, it was assumed they could not be rehabilitated and placed into forever homes safely. For the first time in a case like this, 49 pit bulls (two had died during the trial) held as evidence were evaluated by animal behavior experts. According to the Pit Bulletin Legal News Network, “The evaluators quickly realized that they were facing a very different problem than they had anticipated—the vast majority of the dogs were not aggressive at all, but unsocialized and fearful.” Of the 49 pit bulls evaluated, 1 was euthanized for aggression and 48 were placed in sanctuaries or in foster homes with rescues.

One of these dogs was a small pit bull, thought to be about two years old, named Ginger. Along with two other pit bulls in the case, Ginger was transported to the SPCA for Monterey County. Because there was a federal gag order, some staff, including Stacy Dubuc, were not aware the newly transported dogs were part of the Michael Vick case.

At the time, Stacy was working in the fundraising department at the SPCA and looking for a project. Although she had family dogs, she had never owned a dog herself and wanted to do short term fostering to potentially help dogs overcome behavior issues. She was drawn to the pit bull type dogs who came into the shelter because they always seemed to be cute and fun. The behavior staff recommended Ginger since Stacy could provide the quiet, stable home Ginger needed. Prior to taking Ginger home, Stacy was informed of Ginger’s circumstances and sternly advised, “Do not lose this dog.”

Not much is known about Ginger’s time at Vick’s Bad Newz kennels. She shows no scars or signs of being forced to breed. Her body condition at the time was scrawny and underweight, but there was no outside indication as to where she had been housed. Was she in the kennels where the more prized dogs were kept or chained outside to a tire captive in a field and exposed to the elements? This we will never know. What we do know is Ginger was terrified. She didn’t “pancake” like some of the other dogs who flattened their bodies to the ground hoping not to be seen. According to Stacy, “Ginger was skittish, flighty, shut down, terrified and scared to death.” She would duck and hide, while always keeping eye contact with the person she was frightened of.

When asked how Ginger overcame her fear, Stacy’s simple answer was, “Time”. Stacy told ISF, “I was a bit naïve going into the situation, thinking I’d give Ginger a week or two and she would come out of her shell”. This was not the case. Before Stacy brought Ginger home, she prepared her home with items Ginger would need, including a dog bed. The first time Ginger stepped her paw onto the bed, it sunk down just a bit and it frightened her. Terrified, Ginger refused to set paw on it again. Stacy ended up giving the bed away. Stacy allowed Ginger her space. She put a crate, which is often used as a safety zone for animals in Ginger’s situation, near her bed to provide Ginger a place to go. Together they worked closely with the SPCA behavior staff. High-value treats such as cheese became a big part of Ginger's training. Stacy remembers spending a lot of time with immense amounts of cheese in her pockets which she would give to Ginger to gain her trust. They signed up for a six-week training course where Ginger spent every session trying to hide under chairs. Thankfully, everyone in the course was very accepting of where Ginger was in her life and strived to make her understand she was in a loving and safe environment. They continued to enroll in more six-week training sessions which helped Ginger became more confident and trusting.

Humans provide all of the essentials for our animals. We love them, protect them, feed them and train them. Sometimes, however, it is the comradery of another dog who can naturally provide the biggest breakthroughs. Eight months after Ginger went to live, and was eventually adopted by Stacy, they moved in with a roommate who also had a dog. This dog demonstrated to Ginger how to be a dog. Though not overly playful, roaming the backyard together was a new experience for Ginger and quite an accomplishment.

When asked what success looks like, Stacy told ISF she, “wanted Ginger to be just a dog living her life, blending in like any other dog.” Ginger doesn’t need to stand out due to her breed or because she was part of an international news story. The ultimate success for Ginger would be to “sniff trees, have fun traveling, take car rides, go hiking, exercise, explore and be happy”. Today, this is what Ginger does.

Ginger goes to work every day at the SPCA for Monterey County with Stacy. While she will never be the dog to rally other dogs who need help, she has “paid it forward” by helping Angel, one of the SPCA’s three ISF Grant Recipients. Angel is a poodle/maltese who had an injured leg and was fearful of people. Hanging out in Stacy’s office with Ginger, just being dogs and taking a treat together helped Angel realize not all humans need to be feared. Ginger acclimates well to most situations and Stacy has learned what she likes and what she doesn’t like. While she might be able to walk through a crowded area, one on one attention can make her nervous. Like many other dogs, she does not like thunder and lightning or loud beeps. Life with Ginger means moving at her pace. She will never be the dog you can run up to and hug but she will patiently and gently take treats from new friends. Since the launch of her own Facebook page in 2011 she has many new friends and has even been recognized in public. Through Facebook, Ginger has helped raise $21,000 for the animals at the SPCA for Monterey County. Of this accomplishment, Stacy says, “This is just one small way we can give back and help more animals in need!”

Last April, Stacy was invited to the former Michael Vick property where Ginger was seized. Today, the property is owned by “Dogs Deserve Better” and home to the “Good Newz Rehab Center”, a rescue whose mission is: “To provide a better life for abused, neglected and abandoned canines; especially those which are chained or penned without human companionship.” Stacy participated in a tree planting ceremony to honor and remember every dog who suffered under the Bad Newz kennel dog fighting ring and planted a tree in honor of Ginger. According to Stacy’s Facebook Post, "The event allowed families to grieve and celebrate these wonderful dogs with a heartfelt ceremony and the planting of trees in tribute to the dogs.”

Since the Michael Vick case, Stacy feels both local and national groups are more aware of what to look for in both rural and urban areas to recognize potential dog fighting rings. Animals held as evidence now are able to have more human interaction and exercise. Thanks to the experienced experts involved in rescuing and evaluating the Michael Vick dogs, saved animals are now seen as the shy, scared victims they are rather than aggressive fighters in a terrible situation. The dog fighting conversation has changed which, in turn, is changing laws. The public is now more aware and willing to adopt dogs from these cases.

With so many animals today needing a second chance at life, adoption along with Spay and Neutering is the solution. Each rescue animal has a past and we can be their future. The Vick dogs have inspired the world with their ability to overcome their abusive past. Ginger, for the last ten years, has lived a quiet, happy life with Stacy. Living in the moment and enjoying her adventures, Stacy says, “I’m just a woman with a dog.”

                                    

                                                                                                                    

 

                                                       

                                 

                                    

ISF thanks Stacy Dubuc for taking the time to speak with us and for rescuing Ginger!

 

Written by Veronica Hampton

Edited by Bob Stone

Sources:

Animal Legal Defense Fund: Animal Fighting Case Study: Michael Vick

Pit Bulletin Legal News Network: Just Dogs: The Vick Dogs Seven Years After Their Liberation

 

Pictures credit for all photos in this story go to Stacy Dubuc

1) Ginger

2) Dog fighting shed on Michael Vick property with house in the background

3) Ginger loves car rides

4 & 5) Ginger at the beach

6) Ginger with ISF Grantee Angel

7) Stacy planting a tree in honor of Ginger at Good Newz kennels. 51 dogwood trees were planted in honor of the pit bulls who survived and those who were unable to be rescued in time.

8) Ginger today

9) Ginger and Stacy

*  Note, the non-pit bull type dogs seized from the Vick property all survived and found homes.