Once more Michael Vick is in the news for his Pit Bulls. This time Michael Vick's Pit Bulls are up for adoption. Are former fighting Pit Bulls ready for adoption into families? Would you want one of Michael Vick's fighting Pit Bulls in your neighborhood?
His back resting comfortably against her chest, Hector nestles his massive canine head into Leslie Nuccio's shoulder, high-fiving pit bull paws against human hands.
The big dog - 52 pounds - is social, people-focused, happy now, it seems, wearing a rhinestone collar in his new home in sunny California.
But as Hector sits up, deep scars stand out on his chest, and his eyes are imploring.
"I wish he could let us know what happened to him," says Nuccio, the big tan dog's foster mother.
Hector ought to be dead, she knows - killed in one of his staged fights, or executed for not being "game" enough, not winning, or euthanized by those who see pit bulls seized in busts as "kennel trash," unsuited to any kind of normal life.
Instead, Hector is learning how to be a pet.
After the hell of a fighting ring, he has reached a heaven of sorts: saved by a series of unlikely breaks, transported thousands of miles, along with other dogs rescued with him, by devoted strangers, and now nurtured by Nuccio, her roommate, Danielle White, and their three other dogs.
The animals barrel around the house, with 4-year-old Hector leading the puppy-like antics - stealth underwear grabs from the laundry basket, sprints across the living room, food heists from the coffee table - until it's "love time" and he decelerates and engulfs the women in a hug.
Nuccio wishes he could let her know all that happened.
But what she does know is this: Hector has come such a long way since he was trapped in the horrors of Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels.
Authorities descending last year on 1915 Moonlight Road in Surry County, Va., found where Vick, the former NFL quarterback, and others staged pit bull fights in covered sheds, tested the animals' fighting prowess and destroyed and disposed of dogs that weren't good fighters.
Vick is serving a 23-month federal sentence after admitting that he bankrolled the dogfighting operation and helped kill six to eight dogs. Three co-defendants Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor also pleaded guilty and were sentenced, and the four now face state animal cruelty charges. Oscar Allen, who sold a champion pit bull to Vick's dogfighting operation, was sentenced Friday on a federal dogfighting charge.
Officers who carried out the raid found dogs, some injured and scarred, chained to buried car axles. Forensic experts discovered remains of dogs that had been shot with a .22 caliber pistol, electrocuted, drowned, hanged or slammed to the ground for lacking a desire to fight.
A bewildered Hector and more than 50 other American Pit Bull Terriers or pit bull mixes were gathered up. So were "parting sticks" used to open fighting dogs' mouths, treadmills to condition them, and a "rape stand" used to restrain female dogs that did not submit willingly to breeding.
The dogs, held as evidence in the criminal prosecutions, were taken to a half dozen city and county pounds and shelters in Virginia.
Hector was bunked in the Hanover pound in a cage below a dog named Uba who was smaller and more clearly showing anxiety.
Uba flattened on all fours when Tim Racer, an evaluator on a team assembled by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, arrived at his cage.
"Are you going to kill me now?" was the message another evaluator, Donna Reynolds, read in Uba's eyes.
The black-and-white dog tried to wriggle away once out of the cage, but he came around after a while. He wagged his tail when the team showed him a 4-foot doll, to test his response to children. He spun around and got into a play position when they brought out a dog.
"This is the big secret. Most of them were dog-tolerant to dog-social. It was completely opposite of what we were led to believe," Reynolds said.
How much to trust the capacity of fighting dogs to have a new life as pets or working dogs in law enforcement or therapy settings is an issue that has divided animal advocates; some believe most such animals should be put down as a precaution, while others say they must be evaluated individually. One dog seized at Bad Newz was euthanized as too aggressive, but the others, four dozen plus in all, have had different fates.
Nearly half have been sent to a Utah sanctuary, Best Friends Animal Society, where handlers will work with them. None showed human aggression and many have potential for adoption someday. Others, evaluated as being immediate candidates for foster care and eventual adoption, went to several other groups.
Among the latter was Hector.