There's plenty of controversy over the suitability of pit bulls as pets. Some are temperamentally more suited than others. But few people would think a pit bull that was actually used in the illegal sport of dogfighting could be transformed into a gentle pet. Yet that's what the staff at Best Friends Animal Society did with Michael Vick's grand champion fighting dog, Lucas.
After Vick, the pro football player, was convicted of felony charges stemming from his connection to an illegal dogfighting ring in 2007, the animal welfare group was given custody of 22 dogs from the fighting kennel operation. Some were rehabilitated enough to be adopted by people. Because of the notoriety of Lucas, the court declared that the dog should never be adopted out.
Instead, under the care of the staff of Best Friends at their Utah sanctuary, Lucas, with his scarred muzzle the legacy of his fighting days, thrived and became a social, well-behaved dog. Lucas divided his time among staffers' offices and became something of an "official greeter," according to Gregory Castle, the chief executive of Best Friends, who wrote recently about Lucas on his organization's website. "He would lick hands and faces and want to jump into everyone's lap," wrote Castle.
Suffering from a chronic disease carried by blood parasites that he picked up from his fighting wounds, Lucas was put down last month.
There are many pit bulls that have made great pets. But what was extraordinary was that a pit bull raised to be as vicious as possible to other dogs could eventually be a good-natured and affectionate pet around people. As such, he became something of an ambassador for his breed, changing perceptions, says Castle, about the possibility of raising former fighting dogs as pets.
When I've written before about pit bulls, I have always said that they can be a challenging pet and should be carefully chosen and cared for by people up for that challenge. I would never suggest someone adopt a former fighting dog -- and, indeed, I would have guessed few could be turned into pets. But the people who run Best Friends have the resources and expertise to deal with difficult animals.
The success of Lucas is a credit to the people who run Best Friends and the sanctuary, and it's also a credit to the nature of this specific dog. It doesn't say that all pit bulls improperly used as fighters or watchdogs can be rehabilitated into family pets.
But it does offer evidence that all pit bulls should not be summarily dismissed as hopeless animals or unfit pets.