I don’t know where I was born, nor when. Maybe someone knows, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter: that is the past. I don’t dwell on the past.
My early years were spent in a clearing surrounded by trees. It sounds pretty when you put it like that. But it wasn’t. A heavy chain connected my collar to an axle buried in the hard ground, limiting me to a small patch of bare earth. There were other dogs in my clearing, all with a chain, axle, and bare patch of ground of their own. They are my family, but we were not allowed to interact or play; the heavy chains kept us rooted to our spot.
Every now and again a man would come and take me off my chain. He would take me to a dark building that smelled of blood and fear. There were men there, and other dogs. Sometimes a dog from my clearing. But we were not allowed to play. No, those men wanted us to fight.
I have scars from those fights: scars on my body, scars on my soul. I don’t know how often I went to that dark place, nor how many dogs I had to fight. Maybe someone knows, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter: that is the past. I don’t dwell on the past.
On April 25, 2007, my world changed forever, thanks in part to a police dog named Troy. Nine days earlier, Troy alerted the officers with him that there were drugs in a parked car. A search of the car yielded three ounces of marijuana. The owner of the car, Davon Boddie, was arrested and charged with possession with intent to sell. He listed his address as 1915 Moonlight Road, a house owned by his cousin, NFL star Michael Vick.
A search of the property at Moonlight Road revealed a dog fighting operation known as Bad Newz Kennels, owned and operated by Michael Vick, Quanis Phillips, and Tony Taylor. Most of you know this part of the story. It was national news.
This is where I left my chain, axle, and bare patch of ground, where I left behind hunger and abuse. This is when I started down the long, and sometimes scary, road to a new life.
A lot happened in the next eight months. I was taken to the City of Suffolk Animal Control building, along with 4 others, where we would spend the following months. We were no longer on chains in the hot sun. We had food and water. But we were still isolated. Most of the time, we waited. Alone. I did not like being alone.
Then came the people who cared for us. I do not know all of their names, but I know some: Tim, Donna, Rebecca, Nicole, John, Jeff… They cared about us more than I knew. They cared so much that I was given a name. In October 2007, Tim chose my name — he said that I seemed like an accomplished fighter, but also, a genuinely nice guy, much like the boxer Oscar De La Hoya.
My name is Oscar.
The days passed. Weeks turned into months. We waited. Then, on December 6, 2007, the next phase of my life began. A judge said that all the people who cared about us were right: we were not innately vicious, aggressive, mean dogs without value. We deserved a chance at more. A chance to live off the chain and away from the dark place that smelled of fear. A chance at life. A chance to be loved.
Late one night in early January 2008, I arrived in Kanab, Utah, along with 21 of the dogs I call my family. We were told that nothing bad would ever happen to us again, that we would be loved and cherished, and that we could stay as long as we needed at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. We were collectively given the name Vicktory Dogs.
I didn’t really know what it meant to be loved.
In the eight months between being taken to Suffolk and then going to Best Friends, I changed. I’d once been confident and sure, but I lost that. All the change was overwhelming. People brought change, and that scared me. I grew wary of people. I became withdrawn. Instead of facing what scared me, I’d just detach from the world, check out and go into my happy place.
I found comfort in my forever girlfriend, Squeaker. She also survived Bad News Kennels and came to Best Friends. Squeaker was much more confident around people than I, so I let her take the lead and I hung back. We shacked up. We played together. We got into a scuffle or two, usually over stuffies. I discovered the joy of disemboweling them.
A special lady named Annick, who works at Best Friends, fell in love with Squeaker and me. She started spending lots of time with us, and gained my trust. She took us on golf cart rides, and hikes, and all sorts of adventures. She took us to get hamburgers at the drive through. She knew that in order for me and Squeaker to ever go to homes of our own, we had to pass the Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) test, so she enlisted (Uncle) Kevin to help her work with us every day at lunch.
Eventually, Squeaker and I moved away from DogTown and over to Parrot Garden to be the first office dogs in the land of very noisy birds. I did not like moving: the place was unfamiliar, full of new people and shrieking birds. Squeaker had to have ACL surgery, so she went to stay at the clinic. I was alone again to face my fears. I’d find the smallest space between the desk and the wall, squeezed my way in, closed my eyes, and checked out. Other times, I would stare at the door, wanting it to open so I could go anywhere but where I was.
I didn’t really know it at first, but I was still surrounded by people who cared about me. Virginia, from Wild Friends, would sneak me meatballs in the morning, trying to cheer me up. Annick would come by to see me. And, of course, Uncle Kevin was there along with Aunt Jacque, whose office I was living in. I made Aunt Jacque cry the first time I came out of hiding to nudge her hand for a little attention.
Slowly, very slowly, I started to trust my new caregivers. I no longer had Squeaker to hide behind, so I had to face my fears on my own.
Kevin, Jacque, Annick and the amazing trainer Pat all kept working with me, building my confidence, with the goal of passing the CGC in mind. Little did any of us know that my Mom was searching for me…
On April 10, 2012, my Mom sent in an adoption application to Best Friends. On the application she wrote: I’m interested in adopting a Pit Bull. Many of my friends have Pits, and they are just the greatest dogs. I want an adult dog who is good with other dogs and people. One that can go for walks, hikes, fun-time at the dog park. I’m specifically drawn to Oscar.
On April 13, 2012, after a few calls and follow up emails, she was told, “Looks like all is a possible ‘go’ for Oscar with you ” She would have to complete some additional court-mandated requirements, including a background check and a home inspection. But the biggest hurdle was mine. In order to have a home of my own, I would have to pass the CGC.
And I did! On April 27, 2012, I passed the CGC. I got lots of praise and treats. What I didn’t know was that this meant more change. I don’t like change.
The lady that would be my Mom came to meet me on May 29, 2012. She took me for a walk with Uncle Kevin and sat in the office with me and Aunt Jacque. We went for a car ride. I love car rides; nothing bad has ever happened to me in a car. It was a long drive. Then we stopped.
I did not know where we were or why. I did not know where Kevin, Jacque, Annick or Squeaker were. I did not understand that this was my home, that I was safe, that I was staying here. I was scared.
Mom let me find a safe spot and brought my bed over too it. I squeezed myself into a corner and checked out. I did this for days. For weeks.
Mom was worried about me. She wanted to comfort me, but I did not want to be comforted. I would not eat if she was in the room. I did not want treats, not even the really good kinds. I stared out the door, wanting to be anywhere but there.
Slowly, very slowly, I began to trust Mom. It took two months for me to trust her enough to come over to her seeking a butt scratch. I became comfortable in my home. I killed stuffies, ate treats, and discovered the joy of the couch. Mom took me for car rides and out on adventures in the desert. Over time, I started exploring the rest of the house. I eventually discovered Mom’s walk-in closet and quickly adopted it as my closet.
Then, an amazing thing happened. I had a visitor: Mel. He too had survived Bad Newz Kennels and became a Vicktory Dog. He had been adopted not long after arriving at Best Friends. We quickly became pals, hanging out whenever he was in town. He even stayed over at my house for a week and hung out in the closet with me.
I made other dog friends, too: Brody and Chopper were great pals to go walking with. Brody would come over to the house and play while our moms were in the other room. I’ve always been more comfortable with dogs than with people. I think this surprises some people, given my past, but what you have to remember that I was never the one who wanted to fight: those people wanted us fight each other, it wasn’t our choice.
I think that became even clearer when in March 2013 I got together with 5 other survivors and their families. Halle, Handsome Dan, Cherry Garcia, Little Red, Mel and I were brought back together in Utah for the first ever Vicktory Dog Reunion. We all stayed in one lodge and got to hang out; our people tried to reintroduce us slowly, but we were having none of that! Cherry promptly went and laid atop Mel, and they stayed that way for hours. Little and Dan wasted no time getting reacquainted; they lived together at Best Friends. The last thing any of us wanted to do was fight each other.
Since the Reunion, I have helped Mom raise awareness of both the good and bad things happening in terms of dog fighting and breed discrimination via my very own Facebook page. Together, we have found a voice to educate and promote change. Granted, I let Mom do most of the work, but I have lent my paw to many fundraisers, most of them aimed at raising funds for dogs that came from situations similar to mine.
Mom and I recently left Las Vegas and moved to Northern Colorado. While the State of Colorado does not allow for breed discrimination, there several are municipalities (including the city and county of Denver) who claim home rule and have breed bans in place. We are getting to know the local organizations whose aims are similar to ours, helping abuse victims and ending BSL, and are becoming actively involved in our new home state.
The Vicktory Dog Reunion clearly showed that all who advocated for us so strongly were right. Six years after our rescue, our bodies healed, our souls comforted…we are just dogs. We are not inherently vicious, aggressive, or mean.
I have scars on my body, scars on my soul — I will never be fully healed from the abuse I suffered, but given the choice, I choose to spend my life holding down the couch, taking car rides, destroying stuffies, and hanging out with my dogs friends.
I was a Victim, but that is the past. I don’t dwell on the past.
I am Victorious.
I am Oscar.