TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Ever since NFL star Michael Vick was arrested and charged with dogfighting in 2007, debate has raged over how serious his crimes were, and whether he should have been allowed to return to football when he was released from prison. Far less attention has been paid to the 51 pit bulls seized from Vick's Virginia fighting compound, which he'd named Bad Newz Kennels.
It turns out there was an extraordinarily successful effort to rehabilitate the dogs. Many found new lives as pets, and others live peacefully with other dogs in animal sanctuaries.
In a few minutes, we'll meet Hector, a pit bull rescued from Vick's compound who's become a certified therapy dog, and his owner and dog trainer Andrew Yori.
But first, we'll hear from Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, a psychologist and ASPCA animal behavior specialist who evaluated and worked with the Vick dogs. Also with us is Jim Gorant, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, who chronicled the pit bull story in a book called "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption." Gorant and Zawistowski spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Well, Jim Gorant, Stephen Zawistowski, welcome to FRESH AIR. Jim, about a third of this book deals with the Vick case itself. In brief, remind us of the basic facts. What did Vick do?
Mr. JIM GORANT (Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated; Author, "The Lost Dogs"): Well, the basic facts - is that he participated in and funded a dogfighting ring on his property in Southern Virginia. And at the time that the authorities arrived, they found 66 total dogs - 51 pit bulls, some with fresh injuries, some with clear evidence of having been dogfighting - and a lot of training equipment, a - actual pit, and some bloodstained walls and things of that nature, and clear evidence of a dogfighting ring.
DAVIES: And as the case developed, it emerged that Vick, once he'd become a wealthy, professional athlete, had bought this rural, secluded property, built a nice house on it, built the pens, built the dogfighting pit, and then maintained it and ran the operation for - what, about four years or so, right?
Mr. GORANT: It was at least that long, yeah. They started, I believe, in 2001 or in 2002, and they were found out in 2007.
DAVIES: Right. And so it was actually a suspicion of drugs that led authorities to the property eventually, but there they discovered the dogfighting apparatus.
Mr. GORANT: It was cousin of Michael Vick's, Davon Bodey(ph), who was picked up on drug charges and that. He listed this address as his home address, and that gave them the cause to get a warrant and go in and go for a drug search, and then they found the dogs when they were there on the drug search.
DAVIES: Right, and without dwelling too much on this, my recollection of the case is that Vick initially denied any involvement, and then as more and more people involved cooperated with authorities, he admitted his guilt but had a negotiated plea arrangement in which he never said under oath what he personally had done, whether he had personally killed dogs. What does the available evidence suggest about his personal actions?
Mr. GORANT: My recollection is that yes, he denied - even the day he was arraigned, you know - he came out of the courtroom the day he was arraigned and denied that he was involved, and said he looked forward to clearing his name. And only after several of his co-defendants agreed to plead guilty and give evidence against him did he finally accept a plea agreement.
DAVIES: This is the most famous dogfighting bust, I suppose, in history, but certainly not the first. And Jim Gorant, what was typically the expectation among law-enforcement folks and animal activists when a dogfighting ring was busted? Was it expected that the dogs would be rescued and rehabilitated, typically?
Mr. GORANT: No, my understanding is that this is not the first time it's ever happened, but it was pretty rare, and usually the reasoning went that, you know, there were a lot of good dogs out there in shelters waiting to be adopted, and these dogs obviously had a questionable background. So why spend a lot of time and effort and potentially money attempting to rehabilitate these questionable dogs when there were so many other good dogs out there already.
And there were some people involved in this case who, based on a huge public outcry, at least asked the question, you know, what else is possible?
DAVIES: Steve Zawistowski, what's been the experience with dogs that are in this situation?
Dr. STEPHEN ZAWISTOWSKI (Psychologist, ASPCA Animal Behavior Specialist): Well, I've been working in the field for over 20 years now, and I can tell you that when I first started, when we did dog busts at the ASPCA, typically the dogs were euthanized.
Part of it was because our ability and knowledge of dog behavior hadn't really developed to a point where we really understood the opportunities and the trajectory of a rehabilitation program. And at the same time, as Jim has already indicated, shelters are full.
I mean, there are little dogs there waiting for homes right now. Are you going to fill that cage up with a dog who may or may not be able to find a home? And this case is one that really brought an enormous amount of attention. And what was really special about the case was the amount of money that Michael Vick was requirement to put aside to provide for restitution. He had to do restitution for the dogs.
DAVIES: And that amount of money was?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Close to a million dollars.
DAVIES: Okay. All right. So a team was assembled to evaluate these dogs. I think at that point, there were 49 surviving pit bulls, right? You, Steve Zawistowski, led a team of folks assembled from around the country to evaluate these dogs and see what might be possible.
Let me just ask you first: What was your expectation going in? How many did you think might be salvaged?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: We were uncertain. Every dogfighting case, every case like this with dogs, is different. Sometimes you find the dogs in better shape than in others.
We thought maybe if we found a handful of dogs, it would be a precedent. The target might have been five or 10 dogs out of this particular group. So that's what we were thinking we might get, and if we got that, we'd be pretty happy. And then the next step was going in and looking at each of those dogs as individuals.
DAVIES: Right. And you developed kind of a battery of tests, if you will. Tell us about that.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Well, we had been working on evaluating and rehabilitating dogs at the ASPCA for something over 20 years. We started working with some of the dogs in the city of New York: pit bulls, Dobermans - Chihuahuas, surprisingly, come in pretty aggressive as well.
And we had started developing a battery of evaluations that would really relate to: Could you touch the dog and handle the dog? Was the dog reactive? How did it respond to people? How did it respond to other dogs? Was the dog safe around food, toys and children? Things like that.
So when we sat down to take a look at this particular case, we needed to really understand what the potential aggression problems were going to be. And we also needed to satisfy the government's concerns about liability. Because one of the real questions related to these cases is if this dog goes out, and we permitted it, and the dog attacks a small child, it's going to get back to us somehow.
So we really needed to be able to demonstrate to the government that the dogs were going to be safe when we made some recommendations for placement. So the basic evaluation looks at: Could the dog be handled? Could you do the basic things you needed to do to a dog to provide for its proper care? Could you touch the body? Could you brush it? Could you clean the ears? Could you manipulate the mouth? Could you pick up their feet, trim their toenails - all of those sorts of basic maintenance requirements.
The next step was: How does the dog react to strange and unusual circumstances? How do they react if a child comes running up screaming, yelling, waving their arms? How does that dog react to another dog?
DAVIES: So let me ask you: How did you do that with these dogs? You didn't have a child run into the room.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: No, we didn't have a child. But we actually have -surprisingly enough, most of us can get pretty silly and strange. And in fact, one of the things that we often find with dogs in these rehabilitation cases, they don't do well with men with beards. Jim describes me in the book; I have a beard and a moustache. I've been called in to shelters very often to come in and look threatening with my beard. And so that's one of the things we'll do with these particular dogs.
We also would give them food, something that's really highly desirable. If you try to take that food away from them, would they growl? Would they attack or something like that? And then the big test was really this question of: Could you bring in another dog?
And we used a combination of both other dogs as well as dummy dogs, or test dogs. And these were when we really weren't certain if it would be safe. In many cases, we were able to actually bring another dog right into the vicinity of the dog we were evaluating, and they had very little reaction whatsoever.
And in fact, in many cases, the dog actually perked up and seemed a little bit happier, would wag its tail.
DAVIES: And one of things, if the dog seemed to do well with everything else, I read in the book, is that you would put your hand on the dog's chest and push it back hard, and see how it reacted.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Well, we would try a variety of different things, and what we were really looking at were how we could grade the dog for different categories of placement.
The best dogs, we were going to recommend for foster care. They can go in with an experienced home, be rehabilitated by being slowly adapted to living in another environment.
I think the striking thing we found when we saw those dogs, several of us have been involved in law enforcement for a long time, and we had seen dogs from hoarding cases, where the dogs, you know, we see these you know, they're on TV shows now where the dogs are kept in these horrible surroundings, very little contact with people, and the dogs are almost non-responsive.
And many of the dogs we saw were what we call pancake dogs. They would just flatten out there. When we brought them out of the kennels and you put them on the ground, it was as if they were laying there - oh my God, there's green stuff under me and blue stuff above me. I don't know what to do; I'm going to shut down.
And it was almost impossible to even evaluate them fully because they were non-reactive to things. Those dogs really need to go somewhere, where it was going to take time - like an onion, and slowly peel away these years of abuse and failure to provide proper care, and see what dog was living underneath all of those layers.
Other dogs we saw, it was amazing. It was as if they must have gotten on the wrong bus and ended up at this Bad Newz Kennels because they were as good as any dog I see in our animal shelters or in people's homes now.
DAVIES: So of these 49 dogs, you were thinking 40 or more are going to have to be put down. They're going to be too aggressive or uncontrollable. But in the end, only one of them had to be put down.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: One dog needed to be euthanized because of severe aggression. And when we look at this, we don't really think of it that you put the dog down, necessarily, because of the aggression. We look at it -that aggression is symptomatic of other underlying conditions.
And this particular dog had likely been bred a number of times, had probably been fought a number of times because really, you're not going to breed a dog unless it's already shown in the fighting pit that there's some value in breeding her. So she'd probably been fought and bred - and so probably been psychologically damaged to a point where it was going to be difficult for her to ever be comfortable being near people.
I think one of the things to recognize: If you can't get a dog out of the kennel, your ability to actually do anything else with her is severely hampered.
DAVIES: So one dog was put down. There was another dog that unfortunately, died of injuries that she had sustained while she was at the Michael Vick kennels. And 47 were given to sanctuaries or to trainers, and the book tells us their stories.
What really struck me about it was how few of them really had problems with aggression. They had problems, but they were different kinds of behavioral problems. Jim Gorant, some of them were just clumsy and unsocialized, right? They just didn't know how to be a dog.
Mr. GORANT: That's my understanding, from talking to a lot of the experts about it, is that a lot of them had just sort of never lived in an environment other than being chained up in the woods. And a lot of the ones - my understanding, also - that had sort of made it through, or were still remaining when officials arrived at the site, were younger dogs who maybe hadn't experienced quite as much, hadn't been fought quite a bit yet, maybe tested a little bit but not really hard-core training and fighting.
So they were - in a way, they were still - they were spared of that part of it. They still had the neglect of just not being socialized - having, you know, communication with people and living in houses, and things of that nature but...
DAVIES: They'd bump into walls, couldn't climb stairs.
Mr. GORANT: Yeah, a lot of that stuff, and you know, the things we take for granted. You know, walking down the street, and a car goes by, or a flushing toilet or whatever would just, you know, set them off because they had just never experienced those things before.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Jim Gorant. He's a senior editor at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption." Also with us is Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. He's a psychologist and animal behavior specialist with the ASPCA, who worked on the case. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the pit bulls that were rescued from Michael Vick's dogfighting kennels in 2007. Our guests are Jim Gorant. He is a senior editor at Sports Illustrated and an author - the author of a book about the case called "The Lost Dogs." Also with us, Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. He is a psychologist and animal behavior specialist with the ASPCA.
Well, Stephen Zawistowski, there was more at stake here, really, than the fate of these 47 dogs. What were the larger issues?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: I think one of the things we all had in mind when we agreed to participate on the team and do this was that this could potentially set a precedent for the rest of the country, and for dogfighting cases, going forward.
So we felt an enormous amount of pressure on us because of that. It was one of the handful of times that the nation was focused on a dogfighting case. The resources that were available were as good as we think we were ever going to get so that if we failed, the question would be: Was another chance ever going to come? And so we really wanted to make our best effort, and it's one of the reasons why I think this idea that, boy, if we could only pick out at least just the 10 best dogs, that would be a really great step forward for us.
And what we have seen going forward from this particular case is that this has now really become a standard practice in many dogfighting cases. They look to bring in a team of behaviorists. They look to have the dogs evaluated.
I will say that many of these cases, they haven't saved, you know, 95 percent of the dogs in the case. It's been a third of the dogs in the case. It's been a quarter of the dogs in the case. But that's still much better than not making the effort at all.
DAVIES: It's also really about pit bulls, isn't it, and people's perception of them as, you know, as aggressive and dangerous animals?
Mr. GORANT: That's right. As odd as it may seem, Michael Vick may be the best thing that ever happened to the pit bull. You know, he gave the forum to discuss this and make it possible to get the message out there that these dogs are not what they've been made out to be in the headlines, that they really are just sort of dogs. And, you know, you could find the sweetest, most loving pit bulls in the world, and you could find other dogs that, you know, are as mean as you want.
DAVIES: But Stephen Zawistowski, I assume that all of you had a fear that if one of these dogs goes out and really harms somebody, then it's going to reaffirm everyone's impressions of pit bulls.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: It was a fear that we had, but the people who are on this team have all worked with dogs for decades. You know, some of us are what they call doggie psychologists. You know, you do these behavior consults for people.
There's families out there who have dogs who are potentially aggressive. They're biting members of the family. They're biting the neighbors or something. We work with those dogs. We have a history of sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't.
So I think we at least did understand that the possibility of failure was there. One of the reasons why we thought it was important to then set up the program with Rebecca Huss, who was a special master named by the federal government for this particular case, was to ensure that the rescue groups and the rehabilitation centers that became involved were able to actually track these dogs and really put in a good effort.
One of the things we did help professor Huss do was really evaluate which places were competent to do this. There were some very strange, strange proposals - came in to the federal government.
I remember one - there was a fellow who wanted to buy a mountain with the million dollars in Montana, and live with the dogs on the mountain in sort of one of these "Born Free" kinds of things. Other folks were just - going to just take the dogs and live with them in their condominium somewhere in Maryland.
You know, we went through a process - it's still, I think, online as public information, the form that people needed to fill out to apply for these dogs. And part of it was really the recognition that there was a dowry that was going to come along with these dogs. They were going to come with $15,000 or $20,000 to provide for their lifetime care.
So we really wanted to ensure that the groups who got involved were going to be competent and capable of moving through, and following through, with these dogs.
DAVIES: Let's talk about a couple of the specific animals because as I said, what's interesting is that in the main, the problems - at least as you describe in the book, Jim Gorant - is that they weren't aggressive dogs. They were psychologically messed up.
Take one of the dogs that had this pancake phenomena, where they would simply crouch in terror in the presence of a human being. Tell us about one of those dogs, and how they broke through.
Mr. GORANT: You know, one of my favorites is the dog on the cover of "The Lost Dogs," and that's Jasmine, and she was probably one of the more afflicted.
What was so interesting and sort of moving about her is that you could really see it in her, you know. If you spent time with her, you could see her try to do things and try to sort of behave the way you would normally expect a dog to behave, but yet she couldn't quite break through. She was still fighting her past at the same time.
And it was just this very visible effort to get by it but also the inability to do that. And it becomes very visible what these dogs are struggling with and how hard it is for them and, you know, that kind of struggle just comes clear.
DAVIES: And she went into the care of a woman named Catalina Sterling(ph), I believe, right? So just describe their interaction. What would happen when Catalina came into the basement, where Jasmine was?
Mr. GORANT: Well, you know, she set up Jasmine in the basement. She had a nice, bright room down there, which she painted and set up for her, and she had her own crate down there that she lived in.
And 90 percent of the time, the crate remained open, but Jasmine stayed inside. She felt like she, I guess, really needed to control her environment. She didn't feel comfortable outside that area. So she just stayed, you know, door open, door closed, she stayed inside.
DAVIES: All day, all night, the dog stays in its crate.
Mr. GORANT: For the most part, other than when she was taken out for obvious needs. You know, when Catalina came in, she would just sort of sit and stare. She wouldn't eat with anyone in the room. And, you know, there was this slow process they went through to try and work her out of that.
DAVIES: Steve Zawistowski, talk about a dog with a - different kind of problems, these dogs that just seemed completely uncoordinated, unwilling or unable to climb stairs. They didn't know how to behave.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: What's interesting is with those dogs, what you need to do is actually get them to slow down. It's almost the opposite of a dog like Jasmine - who is almost nonresponsive, and you're trying to elicit the response from her.
Some of these other dogs, they're exploding with responses. Every noise is something they need to run to investigate. A person comes into the room, they're going to come over - and not like your dog at home, where they're going to come over and sniff you, and want to say hello. This dog's going to bowl you over. They're going to jump on you.
If you're sitting on the couch, they're going to be right up on top of your lap immediately. So what you're actually trying to do is almost the opposite of the Jasmine thing. It's, you need to calm down a little bit, we need to turn the volume down on your behavior.
So what you try to do is, partly it's distraction; partly it's try to keep the excitement levels down as much as possible and not rewarding them as opposed to, with Jasmine, that you're getting up and walking towards somebody - that the dog is sitting still and calming themselves.
So you'll work a lot on that type of thing, and getting them then to be responsive on a cue. You can use clicker training. You come forward when I give you the click, or I give you a signal, and then you're going to reinforce that for the dog.
DAVIES: And they respond to the click because it's associated with a treat.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Right. This really came out of the early dolphin training where you give a treat, you give a click, and eventually the click becomes what we call a bridge stimulus because it's easy and quick to provide when the dog responds rapidly. Sometimes it's hard to dig that MilkBone or something out of your pocket and give it to him as a reward.
GROSS: FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies will talk more about the Michael Vick dogs in the second half of the show. Jim Gorant is the author of the new book "The Lost Dogs." Dr. Stephen Zawistowski is the psychologist and ASPCA animal behavior specialist who worked with the Vick dogs. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Michael Vick has returned to the NFL after his release from prison, where he did time for dogfighting. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded about the rehabilitation of many of Vick's 51 fighting pit bulls.
Our guests are sportswriter Jim Gorant, author of the new book "The Lost Dogs," and Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, a psychologist and ASPCA animal behavior specialist who evaluated and worked with the Vick dogs. In a few minutes, we'll meet Andrew Yori, a dog trainer who adopted one of Vick's dogs, Hector, through a rescue group. Hector bore some of the worst fighting scars of the Vick dogs but with Yori's help, he eventually became a certified therapy dog. They now live in Amenia, New York, where Yori works for the Animal Farm Foundation.
DAVE DAVIES: Steve Zawistowski, did any of these 47 dogs ever bite anybody or attack anyone?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Not that we know of since they've been placed. There were a couple of dogs we saw at one of the shelters, and they had actually bitten a couple of the people working there. And these dogs, in fact, were dogs that we knew had been fought. And when we did the evaluations, they showed a lot of the signs of a dog who is experienced as a fighting dog. What you would see is, if you brought another dog within their vicinity, they would freeze. They'd focus, and then when the opportunity would present itself, you know, they'd initiate a charge. And these are some of the dogs that we would then take the stimulus dog, the other live dog that they were responding to, and bring in the we'd slip in the dummy dog. And a couple of cases, they damaged those dummy dogs pretty good. And a couple of those dogs actually did bite some of the people who were managing them in the shelter.
DAVIES: And then subsequently, were they rehabilitated?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: There are dogs who are probably going to stay in sanctuary for the balance of their lives. They can do well with an experienced handler who knows how to manage them. And they're really kept out of the vicinity of other dogs, for the most part. But they're happy when they're with people who know what they're doing. And I think that was the real key for us, was will these dogs be able to thrive and have a decent dog life?
The most frightening thing is when you see dogs - we've invested 10, 15,000 years of creating an animal that thrives on companionship with people, and when that dog is unable to actually express this genetic evolutionary heritage, that's really the most heartbreaking thing. But these were dogs that with the right person, they're going to do okay. And they don't have the full life - they're not going to go to the dog park; they're not going to ride in the car and, you know, visit your family or something. But they're doing okay.
DAVIES: You know, I have a lot of affection for pit bulls because as it happens, my daughter has volunteered at the local SPCA and has brought home pit bulls as foster dogs, and they're terrific animals and I love them. And they're smart and energetic and friendly. But I have to say that I know that as we broadcast this, we will get emails from people who feel differently. And I looked back over some news accounts just from the Philadelphia area over the past few years, and there aren't hundreds of cases, but there are a handful of cases of pit bull attacks, which are really, really troubling.
A woman who was having an argument with her daughter in a row house and the dog felt that the owner was threatened, attacked the woman, killed her. There are cases of kids maimed. What do you say to those who say even if most dogs of this breed are fine, those who aren't are really dangerous, and we need specific breed legislation to reduce their presence among us?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: There's two ways of looking at it. One is a simple ideological approach, and that is we should evaluate dogs as individuals. We have had a history in this country of different breeds of dogs being the targeted breed. Not so long ago, Dobermans were considered the devil dog, and they were the dogs that people scared other people with. German shepherd dogs were like as well at one time. Pit bulls just seem to be the dog du jour, I guess, for that particular issue.
The other thing is to recognize that in many of these cases, the dogs have probably shown signs early on, partly because they've been poorly socialized, because they haven't been properly trained. And if you actually know what you're looking for and you fully understand dogs, it's seldom that a dog, out of nowhere, just clicks a switch and becomes a danger.
We've looked at some of these cases. Very often, what you see is the dogs had been a threat to the neighborhood for months. They've been running free. They've been charging at the fence, but nobody's done anything about it. So you can actually prevent these from happening by recognizing it. The other piece is to really look at the communities that have actually had BSL come into place, and they really haven't reduced the number of dog attacks or dog bites.
The simple fact is, if you outlaw the dog, what you often do is actually create a more desirable dog for people who are outlaws. I mean, if you are going to be somebody who wants to live outside of the norms of society, if somebody tells you this is the dog that people who are outlaws have, boy, you're really - you're helping sell the product at that point.
DAVIES: But the data, you think, shows that pit bulls are no more inherently dangerous than other breeds.
Mr. GORANT: My favorite stat is - and this goes back from a Center for Disease Control study, I think from 2001, so it's a little bit old. But according to that study, there's over 1,000 people a day go to emergency room as a result of a dog bite. Now, some of those inevitably are pit bulls, but many of them probably are not. And the point is that a lot of people get bit by dogs in this country every day, and usually it's only reported when it's a pit bull. You know, dog bites man, it's not a story. But pit bull bites man is a story.
DAVIES: So of the 47 dogs, give us a sense where they ended up.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Well, some dogs are still in sanctuary. A number of dogs have become stars. You know, Hector, who's here for the show today, is a therapy dog. He visits kids in schools and everything else. He's, in fact, the first dog I've met since I saw them all in Virginia and, you know, I talked to Hector and I said Hector, you make it all worthwhile, seeing you out here like this. Some of these dogs are living with families. You know, they're living the basic, suburban dog lifestyle. I mean, they could be on the cover of, you know, Dog World magazine, or something like that.
DAVIES: Well, we're now joined by Andrew Yori, who adopted one of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick's compound. He's here with Hector.
Andrew Yori, thanks for coming in.
Mr. ANDREW YORI (Director, Animal Farm Foundation): Thanks for having me.
DAVIES: You've got Hector in your lap here. The audience can't see him; I can. Describe him.
Mr. YORI: Well, Hector is about 50 pounds. He's a fawn color, with a black snout. The most distinct feature on him is often - the scars that run down his chest, and down his legs. One of the things a lot of people don't see is, he is missing a couple teeth. He's got a little notch out of his tongue. But the best thing that you're probably witnessing right now is just how comfortable he is laying back in my arms. He turns into a rag doll. He just melts into the lap, and he loves every second of it.
DAVIES: Tell us about how you heard about Hector and got into this.
Mr. YORI: Actually, I wasn't even a pit bull guy, to be honest, at the start. I had rescued another pit bull, named Wallace, from our local shelter, and we became a national disc-dog champion team. And so...
DAVIES: Disc-dog champion. You mean Frisbee, right?
Mr. YORI: Yes. Yes. And with our accomplishments and our success in that realm, a lot of the pit bull people, so to speak, became aware of us. And we kind of became a little bit of a celebrity in those circles. So I became aware of the issue in that manner. And then obviously, when the Michael Vick case happened, I was following it just because of the work I was doing with Wallace. And so I really thought that it's a unique situation, and if I could pair the work that I'd already been doing with Wallace with one of those dogs, it would be an excellent duo, if you will.
DAVIES: All right. Did you volunteer, or did they find you to adopt one of the Vick dogs?
Mr. YORI: I had a relationship with BADRAP already, just through my work with Wallace.
DAVIES: That's the Bay Area Dog Owners Responsible for Pit Bulls. Do I have that right?
Mr. YORI: Exactly. Exactly.
Mr. GORANT: About pit bulls, I believe.
DAVIES: About - yes. The San Francisco area.
Mr. GORANT: Yes.
Mr. YORI: And I knew that they had taken in a number of the dogs. And so I contacted them, saying that this was my situation; if they happened to have a dog that would fit with my family, then I would consider adopting him. And sure enough, they suggested Hector. I flew out there to meet him, and here he is.
DAVIES: Jim Gorant, did you want to add something here?
Mr. GORANT: I was going to say, some of the research I did, you know, in doing the book was trying to find out the history of all these dogs and where they went. I know Hector originally went to BADRAP. And he was one of the dogs Steve Zawistowski talked about, how they were all classified foster dogs or sanctuary dogs. And my understanding is he was classified as a law dog. They thought he had potential to undergo training to become a law dog and work with police officers.
And I think eventually, they realized he was probably too old. The investment in the training and at that stage in his life, they probably wouldn't get enough of a return, of what it takes to train a law dog. And so he went back to BADRAP, and he went through a couple of other foster homes until Roo(ph) stepped forward. And they were happy to find a great home for him because he was just, you know, one of the real stars from the beginning.
DAVIES: Now, he became a therapy dog. What did that involve?
Mr. YORI: Yes. He is currently a therapy dog. I - when I got him and adopted him, I could tell that he just really loved checking out new things. And I figured with his calm demeanor and able to go into all kinds of different situations - like nursing homes and hospitals, and checking out all the fun things that are in those buildings - it would be a good match. So I started the training to go towards that, and he passed his therapy dog test with flying colors. The evaluator actually commented, no other dog has passed with such excellence of - no matter what kind of dog it was. And he's really taken to the work.
DAVIES: Do you know if other of the Vick rescue dogs are now therapy dogs - or how many might be?
Mr. GORANT: I think there's four that are actually working as therapy dogs. There are, as far as I know, two or three others that are doing similar sort of work, although they're not certified therapy dogs, and they're not doing the sort of hospital work that you need to be certified for. But they're making public appearances. They're going to schools. They're going to sort of public meetings, and sort of spreading the word and helping - just sort of try and re-educate people about pit bull and dogs from fighting rings.
DAVIES: So Andrew, what are you working on with Hector now, these days?
Mr. YORI: We've been doing a lot of humane education in schools and elementary schools. Again, he loves kids, and we think it's really important to reach those children at a young age, to teach them compassion to animals and then also, safety around dogs as well.
He goes in there, we teach the children to ask first whenever they want to pet a dog. If they see a dog running loose, you know, not to run up to the dog or run away from the dog. So we've been doing a lot of humane education. He actually got an award from Brooklyn Law for the humane education work that we've been doing.
DAVIES: Do you ever look at him and wonder what he's been through?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. YORI: Yeah, every day. My wife and I were just having that conversation - I think last night, or the night before. Just trying to picture him in that situation that Jim describes in the book because obviously, if he had - obviously, now that he has a choice, that's not who he is. And so just to try and imagine what he was going through, knowing that is really sad. And you know, I'm just glad he got the opportunity and - to prove who he is, and get the second chance that he deserves.
DAVIES: Well, Andrew Yori, it's great to see Hector. Thanks for bringing him in. Thanks for coming in.
Mr. YORI: Thanks for having us.
DAVIES: And Jim Grant, Stephen Zawistowski, thanks for coming in.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Thank you.
Mr. GORANT: Thank you.
GROSS: FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies spoke with dog trainer Andrew Yori, who brought the former Vick dog Hector to the studio, Jim Gorant, author of the new book "The Lost Dogs," and Stephen Zawistowski, an ASPCA animal behavior specialist who worked with the Vick dogs.
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