In 2010, Sports Illustrated writer Jim Gorant took on the important task of capturing the stories of the dogs rescued from NFL football player Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring. He collected these tales of overcoming dark abuse in his book Lost Dogs. Now, close to ten years after the shocking bust, Gorant has revisited the canine refugees to see how they have adapted to their well-deserved freedom. The second chapter of these touching stories can be read in his new book Found Dogs, which is currently available as an e-book and in paperback.
Gorant has shared just a sample of these inspiring canine comeback stories with PEOPLE. Click on to read more.
Sasha Best started off by fostering this puppy-eyed prince from Bad Rap Dogs. After watching how Ernie romped with her pit bull mix Hannah, tried to climb on everyone’s lap and respectfully doted on her two cats, Best was smitten and knew she needed Ernie in her life forever. Nine years later, Best has had to say goodbye to Hannah and one of her cats, but Ernie and the other feline still hold down the fort. Even in his older ager, Ernie still loves long hikes on the weekend and rolling over to get his belly rubbed.
“He’s the same dog he was when we got him,” says Best. “Sweet and sensitive, a big wonderful goofball.”
Hector bounced around between Virginia, Washington and Minnesota before finally finding a forever home with Roo and Clara Yori and their pit bull Wallace in California. Shortly after finding his family, Hector became a certified therapy dog. For seven years he enjoyed putting smiles on the faces of children stuck in the hospital. In 2014, Hector passed away, losing an aggressive cancer battle. The Yoris made sure to keep Hector comfortable and happy during his medical fight, often treating him to his favorite snack: blueberry doughnuts.
“Every time I’m in the store and I see blueberry doughnuts,” Roo says, “I think of him.”
Hector’s memory lives on in the hearts of not just the Yoris, but many animal lovers. This picture, which signifies Hector’s seven years of freedom, has helped to raise money for rescue facilities helping homeless dogs across the country.
This peaceful pit bull lives with Kathleen Pierce, who fought to adopt her after the dog was caught up in legal red tape after leaving the government shelter.
Today, she enjoys calmly reigning over Pierce’s pack of animals, which includes another pit bull, two Chihuahuas and several cats.
Jhumpa used to work as a therapy dog and visit schools to raise awareness about animal welfare, but now she is spending her retirement napping, playing with buddies, sneaking treats and doing yoga.
“She’s become just a dog to me, which is what I always dreamed of. But seeing the gray in her muzzle, it has reminded me of how incredible the journey has been and how important her voice has been,” Pierce says.
Jonny cannot be knocked down. In his years of freedom, he has endured the loss of a doggy sibling and several surgeries with grace and strength. And with those downs, there’s also been amazing ups. In 2012, he won Gund’s online vote for Most Beautiful Dog and had a stuffed animal made in his image. In 2014, he won ASPCA’s Dog of the Year.
Since 2015, he has been focused on giving back, volunteering in the children’s section of a San Francisco library, where he listens to eager kids read him books.
After spending several years under the care of Best Friends Animal Society, Little Red was adopted out to one of the group’s volunteers, Susan Weidel, who had spent years donating to the dog’s care.
Under Weidel’s wing, Little Red has thrived. When the former bait dog arrived at her new home, she instantly got along with Weidel’s five other dogs, including a three-legged Pomeranian. Over time, Little Red began to adapt to her new life of freedom and support. She got to experience running in a giant field every day without a care in the world.
As she aged, she also slowed down. And then, in Spring 2017, she passed away peacefully in her sleep at 14 years old.
This darling refugee ended up at SPCA of Monterey with two other Vick dogs, Ginger and Stella. Amanda Mouisset, a behaviorist at the SPCA, adopted Stella and Red.
Red adapted fast to freedom, proving to be a “stoic and mature” gentleman that was a perfect match for Mouisset’s two daughters. It took some time and careful work for him to adjust to being around other dogs, but eventually he made friends with Mouisset’s other canines and was often brought to the SPCA to help dogs get acclimated to new canines.
In 2009, Red was diagnosed with cancer, which returned after chemo. The pit bull passed away in comfort surrounded by loved ones.
Stella is the other Vick refugee that Mouisset adopted from SPCA of Monterey.
Where Red was calm and subdued, Stella is energetic and active.
“She’s a pistol,” Mouisset says. “Lots of personality.”
Stella lacks some confidence when approaching new situations, people and dogs, but once she gets to know you, she is a true softie.
Her favorite thing, even as she ages, is to go on long hikes with Mouisset, which often end with her coming home and excitedly climbing into bed.