Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: Wallace (disc dog, lovable shelter pit bull), Part One of Two

Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls – One Flying Disc at a Time, by Jim Gorant (Gotham Books, 256 pages, 2012, $26)

Nothing left to prove. . . .

Jim Gorant is the author of one of the best books in recent years – The Lost Dogs* - about the Michael Vick case and its aftermath, full of hope and success for the dogs. So, DogEvals jumped at the chance to read anything else by Gorant, but somehow, the magic isn’t there in Wallace. Both Wallace and The Lost Dogs are nonfiction: both, about pit bulls. But the magic isn’t there in Wallace. The story is outstanding but it took me a long time to get through the book (perhaps the book is too long?).

Wallace did, however, start the world (and DogEvals) on a pit bull reading frenzy, a total love affair. 

Pit bull types (PBTs) have always been tied for our second most favorite dogs along with rottweilers (first come golden retrievers and labs), but, somehow the magic isn’t there in Wallace. I didn’t feel as if I was in the story, not part of the book, but outside looking in – it just wasn’t happening to me, not pulling me in. Gorant was telling us about how we should feel rather than telling the story so well that we could only feel what he wanted us to feel - too many adjectives and not enough verbs, or perhaps too much detail – one competition after another, for years, until they all ran together for me, as did the different aspects of the sport of discs for dogs and the intricate, creative jumps and throws. I just couldn’t picture them.

The Lesson

On the other hand, there are many excellent quotables (p. 166, 203, 210, e.g.) about the injustices of breed-specific legislation (BSL), the lesson Gorant wants us to take home. How a dog that nobody wanted became a champion almost by chance in the beginning and then by a lot of determination, love and hard work.

The Book

Wallace the book starts off with a couple of fellows sailing when a storm blows up. After two pages, we never meet these fellows again. Gorant jumps to a puppy and his littermates, then the book jumps to a guy and a girl in college and we follow them for a few years. How all these disparate threads fit together is truly a work of art.

Who is Wallace? The Disc Dog champion and the dog nobody wanted. The PBT (actually an American Pit Bull Terrier, an APBT) who showed the world that a dog 25 pounds heavier, slower and less agile than the canine body made for disc (like a border collie’s) could overcome it all with practice and determination and love.

*Roo also adopted one of Michael Vick’s dogs, Hector, 
who became a therapy dog. To learn more about Hector, see Jim Gorant’s book, The Lost Dogs.

Next: More about Wallace the Disc Dog Champion and former shelter dog

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review: The Lost Dogs (the Michael Vick dogs), Part Two of Two

­The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption, by Jim Gorant ($26, 2010, 304 pages, Gotham Books)

(Continued from yesterday) “Rescue, Reclamation, Redemption”

The Dogs

The endearing cover photo on both the book and the Sports Illustrated issue is that of one survivor of the Michael Vick Bad Newz Kennel, now with his forever family in Maryland.


Thanks are due to animal law expert Rebecca Huss, a law professor in Indiana, selected to serve as guardian-special master overseeing the disposition of the 40-some dogs who survived. Taking her job seriously, she spent time observing and interacting with the dogs, in several shelters, in order to represent their best future interests. 

Thanks also to forensic veterinarian Dr. Melinda Merck, the ASPCA’s Dr. Randy Lockwood and Dr. Stephen Zawistowski and countless others who were willing to try to save these supposedly vicious fighting dogs (most of whom turned out not to be not at all vicious but rather shy).

Second Chances

Former fighting dogs were given a second chance (while Vick went to prison): they would be spayed or neutered, microchipped, fostered all over the country, then adopted to lucky, deserving families or Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah.

But Not for Vick 

Vick’s plea bargain, admitting guilt to federal charges, included a fund of nearly a million dollars for the future care of the surviving dogs. At sentencing, Vick’s judge told him, “You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you.” (p.163) Most of his dogs had underperformed in the ring, perhaps because he was fairly new to breeding and training fighting dogs which may have contributed to their subsequent successful careers as pet dogs.

But, . . .

What didn’t I like about The Lost Dogs? Perhaps it could have been titled Lost and Found Dogs. 

I also prefer more citations and fewer typos. And finally, some of the sections were almost too appalling for reading – perhaps a caveat prior to those parts, stating that the next two pages or three paragraphs may be too graphic for some readers: this could allow them to skip over the most offensive of details, yet leaving the flavor in, etched in memory.

DogEvals liked The Lost Dogs!

What did DogEvals like about The Lost Dogs? We found this book to be multi-faceted and exceptionally well-written – a fast read, almost like a novel or mystery. About crime, investigations, law enforcement, and trials. About dog shelters and the people who love and work with dogs. 

But mostly about hope. Parts of the book were written almost from the dog’s point of view. With amazing endings of former fighters passing their Canine Good Citizen tests and some even becoming therapy dogs!

This is a book that I will keep, and keep referring to. 

Changing History

This case also marks the first time that dogs rescued from a large-scale dog fighting ring have been thoroughly evaluated and adopted out and will set a precedent for the future. The lost dogs are lost no more.

Read more about it: For more information about adopting a pit bull, see or (San Francisco), or (Baltimore), organizations that also played a major role in the story.

And to find out what happened to each of the rescued dogs, turn to the back of the book where many happy endings are described!

Next: Wallace and Saving Audie and more about the Vick Dogs. Don’t forget to watch The Champions!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: The Lost Dogs (the Michael Vick dogs), Part One of Two

­The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption, by Jim Gorant ($26, 2010, 304 pages, Gotham Books)

“Rescue, Reclamation, Redemption”

Where were you in 2007?

What did you think when you heard the news of April 25, 2007, that approximately 50 fighting dogs were confiscated from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Dog Kennel in Virginia?

Vick was a role model, a professional football player, but, perhaps no more - since it was reported that “. . . he participated in the training, fighting and killing of dogs with his own two hands.” p. 67

Were you shocked and skeptical that anyone could engage in such a vile act against Man’s Best Friend?

Or did you simply not believe that a modern-day athletic star could be accused of such atrocities – perhaps he was just guilty of gambling?

Or did you say, “No big deal, they are just dogs”?

The Report 

Author Jim Gorant, who also wrote an 18-month account of the case in the December 29, 2008, cover story of Sports Illustratedspent the following year and a half ferreting out ‘the rest of the story’ - the background of dog fighting, how Vick got into the ‘sport,’ how the case finally sorted itself out, and what happened to the dogs afterward.

The result was The Lost Dogs, a very readable book.

First and foremost, Gorant tells the stories of the dogs themselves and what it is like to have to live as fighting dogs, generally against their nature, often giving up their lives for their owner’s pride and up to $30,000 in bets. “They’re on a collision course with each other in a battle that can only end with teeth and blood and pain.” (p. 18)

Winners and Losers

It was the best of times: it was the worst of times. A horrendous situation that brought out the best in some people (law enforcement officers, veterinarians and behaviorists, lawyers, shelter personnel, dog loving volunteers and the ASPCA) and the worst in others. . . .

The real losers seemed to be some of the dogs themselves. But were they really - in the end?

The Where

Surry County in southeastern Virginia is quiet country with only two practicing attorneys (population: 7,000). A natural place to hide an illegal operation in the countryside – a ‘kennel’ that took advantage of Man’s Best Friend, where dogs were chained up to trees outside – dogs who were meant to jump, play, run, chase, watch, chew, and cuddle. Active dogs meant for active lives, full of energy and power. Dogs who were chained to trees outside, instead.

Now you know who, when and where. 

Read more about it tomorrow:  the what and why, if why can ever be ascertained.

Yesterday: The Champions (DVD)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

DVD review: The Champions (the Vick dogs)

Today begins several postings about The Vick - as in Michael Vick. But mostly about his dogs. First, a new movie, then The Lost Dogs, Wallace, Saving Audie and a final wrap-up.

The Champions* (DVD produced and directed by Darcy Dennett, 2016, 90 minutes, $24.95)

Champions All, Vicktory Dogs, too

There will always be a new book or DVD out about Michael Vick’s dogs and there should be. We must never forget.

This new 90-minute feel-good movie, The Champions, is all about the dogs, as it should be - and the lives they led once the Vick nightmare was over: Jonny and Little (Red) and Cherry and Sally and Mel and Handsome Dan and Slater (and Georgia) - who ended up in San Francisco and Florida and Wyoming and New England and Utah (Best Friends) who became agility dogs and therapy dogs and just plain wonderful family dogs. Follow their post-Vick lives in this documentary.

The scenery depicted all over America is striking. The music is soothing; the stories, comforting and wishful. The documentary is Jim Gorant’s The Lost Dogs come to life, unforgettably.

Second Chances, Redemption and Hope: Prejudice, Resilience and Relationships

At first, against the power of PETA and the HSUS, history-makers including the ASPCA, one lawyer (Rebecca Huss) and some good-hearted shelter and rescue people (including groups like Bad Rap), for the first time ever, managed to turn the tide of history and save some former fighting dogs for a better life.

In many ways, the Vicktory Dogs are just good family dogs. Remember the Sports Illustrated story by Jim Gorant?

Never Forget

Once you view The Champions, you will never forget!

We must never forget.

Read more about it here: View the trailer, download the documentary, locate a screening, download the movie poster. Don’t forget.

Next: reviews of The Lost Dogs (Jim Gorant), Wallace, and Saving Audie (for children)

*now available on Netflix