December 31, 2009 11:02 PM

She was one of hundreds of dogs rescued by authorities this past summer in an eight-state raid of dogfighters, the largest of its kind in U.S. history. But there was something striking about Fay the pit bull, who was found chained to a wooden box in Missouri: The 5-year-old dog was left with no lips and required serious medical attention.

Still, “she just loved people and that’s just amazing to me after everything that’s been done to her,” Gale Frey, the woman who took the pit bull under her care, told as she fought back tears following the dog’s death Dec. 28. “I call her my toothy girl. She just loved everyone that would pet her, come near her. We had her at a local fund-raiser here and she just had the time of her life. Her tail never stopped wagging.”

Fay came to Frey through the St. Louis area rescue group Mutts-n-Stuff, which she had founded with her husband Dave Melot, after the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society of Missouri saved the dog. Fay then underwent the surgeries she needed to repair her facial damage – and because of her amazing journey and easy temperament, the disfigured pit bull became the face of a recent HSUS 2010 Animal Survivor’s campaign.

Even on the day in July when she was rescued, dirty and chained to a box, Fay was as sweet-natured as ever. “Her teeth were showing and it dawned on them that her lips were gone, they cut her lips off,” she says. But “her tail was wagging and eyes were smiling. She was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you came to save me. Thank you. It’s about time you got here.’ “

And save her they did. When Frey first laid eyes on the dog at a secret holding location in July, where the rescued animals were being held as court evidence, she knew that Fay was special.

“She would just melt into your body when you would hold her,” Frey recalls. “I knew I wanted to take her home to make a difference because she was a victim of dogfighting. And what the dog men did to her was just so cruel. I felt like we had to speak out. And I felt that she was the ‘spokesdog’ to do that.”

The HSUS thought so, too, and funded $5,000 of Fay’s surgeries. The dog’s third and last surgery was successful, but afterward, as she was waking up, she suddenly went into cardiac arrest. A necropsy revealed it was caused by internal adhesions. “In her previous life, she probably took some blows to the gut, ” Frey says. “The scar tissue started twisting her intestines.”

Thankfully, Fay suffered no pain. “I was there, I wasn’t more than two feet from her [when she died],” she says. “She was waking up and her new face … and then she was gone. I guess it was her time.”

The Humane Society of Missouri also shared condolences. “We are proud to have been able to rescue her and are grateful for every wet toothy kiss she shared with us since her rescue,” they said in a statement on their Web site. “We love her and we will miss her greatly!”

The HSUS took the moment to remember all dogs trapped in fighting lives. “Her circumstance is a reminder to all of us about how cruel and barbaric dog-fighting truly is,” President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told in a statement. “I’ll think of Fay whenever I speak with a lawmaker about enacting stronger animal fighting laws or talk with at-risk young people about the horrors of dog-fighting, and I hope others are moved by her story, too.”

Though her life was filled with much physical pain, which Frey says the dog never showed (“Her love for wanting to be held and kissed overpowered any pain she had”), Fay’s quiet suffering will not be in vain. Frey is moving forward with a project she was planning to launch with Fay, called Phoenix House. It will serve as a halfway home for dogfighting survivors, where the rescued animals can be introduced to the normal comforts and activities of daily life in a house.

“When Fay came here, Fay never saw a television before. And the first time the washing machine went off, it scared the living daylights out of her. She ran and hid inside her crate and wouldn’t come of her crate for two days,” she recalls. “So the Phoenix House is a way for us to acclimate the dogs to indoor living and to kind of give them a head start on their new life.”

For Fay, her second chance only lasted five months, but now cremated, she’ll remain in a safe place: Her ashes will be placed in special box made by Frey’s vet. “She’ll be coming back home again,” Frey says.

To donate to the Phoenix House project, click here.

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