What happened to Michael Vick's dogs... (cont.)
One dog was so scared that even the confines of her kennel offered her no comfort. Shelter workers used a blanket to construct a little tent inside her cage that she could duck under. Remembering that dog, McMillan says, "Jasmine broke my heart."
Jonny Justice likes to lie in a splash of sunlight that stretches across the floor of the living room in the San Francisco split-level of Cris Cohen. Head lolling back, eyes closed, legs sticking up in the air, he lets the rays warm his pink belly. Comfy as this is, Jonny doesn't have long to linger. He's on a tight schedule. He's up every day at 6 a.m., out for a 45-minute walk, making sure to avoid the garbage trucks, which freak him out. After that it's back home for a handful of food, some grooming, a quick scratch-down and then into his dog bed with a few toys and food puzzles. At lunchtime he's back out for a quick trip to the yard, some play time and a little lounging in the sun, followed by a return to the kennel until around 4:30. Then it's another long walk -- an hour this time -- dinner, a game of fetch in the yard, quiet time and sleep.
After the ASPCA-led evaluations, the dogs were put into one of four categories: euthanize; sanctuary 2 (needs lifetime care given by trained professionals, with little chance for adoption); sanctuary 1 (needs a controlled environment, with a greater possibility of adoption); and foster (must live with experienced dog owners for a minimum of six months, and after further evaluation adoption is likely). Rebecca Huss, a professor at the Valparaiso (Ind.) University School of Law and an animal-law expert, was placed in charge of the dispersal.
Jonny was a foster dog that was taken in by Cohen, a longtime BAD RAP volunteer who owns another pit bull, Lily, and had cared for seven previous fosters. "When he first came, I could see he was dealing with some serious stress," Cohen says of Jonny. "Everything scared him: running water, flushing toilets, rattling pots. He was like Scooby-Doo seeing a ghost -- he'd jump straight in the air and take off. We dealt with that by putting him on a solid routine. Everything the same, every day. Dogs thrive on that. If they know what to expect, they can relax."
"You ease their fears by building confidence through simple everyday tasks," says McMillan. "We have to show them that the world is not out to harm them. It's a peaceful, trustworthy place."
After about two months, Jonny began to chill out, and Cohen started working on his manners. "His original name was Jonny Rotten," Cohen says, "because he was such a little monster. He'd never lived in a house before. He didn't know his name. He had no clue what stairs were or how to go up them. He'd tie you up in the leash every time you took him out. He'd just flat out run into stuff." Jonny responded to weekly obedience training and to Cohen's personal training, and in a few months his name was changed from Rotten to Justice.
During a walk in Golden Gate Park one day, Jonny was mobbed by a group of kids. Cohen wasn't sure how Jonny would react to all those little hands thrust at him, but the dog loved it. He played with the children, and Cohen realized Jonny had an affinity for them. He enrolled Jonny in training for the program Paws for Tales, in which kids who get nervous reading aloud in class practice their skills by reading to a canine audience of one. Jonny was certified in November, and now once a month he sits patiently listening to children read.
He's not the only one of Vick's former dogs lending a hand. Leo, who lives with foster mother Marthina McClay in Los Gatos, Calif., is a certified therapy dog who spends two to three hours a week visiting cancer patients and troubled teens. Two other dogs are also therapy dogs, and two more are in training. A total of six have earned Canine Good Citizen certificates, issued by the American Kennel Club to dogs who pass a series of 10 tests, including walking through a crowd and reacting to unexpected sights and sounds. "It's great to show people how much these dogs have to offer," says Cohen.
Jasmine runs in the yard of the small suburban Baltimore house, jumping on Sweet Pea, another pit bull, and nipping at the back of her neck. Sweet Pea spins and leaps into Jasmine, and the two tumble together for a minute, then pop up and continue their romp. When they roll around it's difficult to tell one from the other, because they are the exact same color. Sweet Pea is a few years older and a little bigger, and she has markings that Jasmine does not: a series of scars on her snout and head indicative of combat. Still, Sweet Pea loves to be around other dogs. She and Jasmine have a special connection and have brought each other a bit of peace. The people who know them best think that Sweet Pea is probably Jasmine's mother. That's why their families try to arrange play dates for them twice a month.