Vick Dog Leo Finds New Life and Love as Therapy Dog
Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News for this great news!
One of Vick's pit bulls now helping children and seniors in South Bay
By Linda Goldston
Article Launched: 01/30/2008
He faced a life of fighting, a cruel death by hanging or drowning if he couldn't make it in the pit.
Now he brings smiles to children, tears of joy to seniors.
Leo, one of 50 pit bulls confiscated from former NFL star Michael Vick's dog fighting kennel, has a new leash on life, thanks to a South Bay rescue group.
He also has a new job: He's been transformed into a therapy dog. Instead of risking his life in a dog fight, he will help fight the fear and loneliness of children and seniors in hospitals and convalescent homes.
"He'll put his paws on the bed and give them the soft warm 'love me' eyes," said Marthina McClay, a dog trainer and founder of Our Pack, Inc., who has worked with Leo since Dec. 16. "That's why he's such a good therapy dog. He's very polite."
When Leo arrived in the Bay Area, he had scars behind his ears and showed signs that handlers at Vick's Bad Newz Kennels in Virginia were starting to condition the pit bull terrier for fights, McClay said.
"He was starting to fight or had done some fighting but it hadn't gone on long enough that he was beyond repair," she said. "Now he's fine and loves to play with other dogs."
Leo shares toy bones with McClay's female pit bull, Hailey, and gives a wide berth to her Chihuahua. He greets visitors with a wagging tail and piercing brown eyes. But there is no jumping up on anyone. This dog sits down and watches you to see what comes next.
"He's a fabulous dog," McClay said. "A real sweetheart."
After authorities seized dozens of dogs from Vick's property in Virginia, the animals were kept in shelters while investigators put together their case. A court-appointed attorney for the dogs decided which rescue groups could take them. Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls or BAD RAP, an Oakland-based pit bull rescue group, helped with the evaluations and drove 13 of the dogs to the Bay Area.
Pack got one of the dogs, Leo, and BAD RAP placed the rest in foster homes.
Vick, former star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, is serving 23 months in prison after pleading guilty to dog fighting conspiracy.
Dogs bought for fighting went through a testing process; if they didn't perform well, they were drowned, electrocuted or hanged at Bad Newz Kennel.
Even though he has minor scarring from fights, Leo likely would have faced one of those violent deaths, McClay said.
"He just wants to play," McClay said as Leo snored on her couch.