Nearly 13 years ago, Cherry was one of the 51 Pit Bulls rescued from a life of horror at Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels in Virginia.
Prior to 2007, most dogs rescued from fighting operations were euthanized. Even Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States at the time, said the rescued Vick dogs would never be suitable as pets and thus should all be destroyed.
But dog experts at animal welfare organizations including the Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS), Richmond Animal League and BAD RAP knew better. They took in the Vick survivors, rehabilitated them and found them loving forever homes in which these “unadoptable” survivors thrived, earning them the name “Vicktory Dogs.” Many of them became beloved therapy dogs. One of the survivors, Jonny Justice, was awarded the prestigious ASPCA Dog of the Year award in 2014.
Cherry, just a puppy in 2007, was taken in by BFAS. “Cherry arrived at Best Friends looking like he wanted to stick his head in a hole and never come out,” according to Julie Castle, CEO of BFAS, in The Best Friends Blog. “The word ‘withdrawn’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. He was living in his own world, trapped in a nightmare replaying over and over inside his head.”
Thanks to the tender, loving care he received at BFAS, Cherry eventually came out of his shell. He turned out to be a big ol’ snugglebug, wanting to cuddle with people, other dogs — and even cats.
“It was so wonderful to see Cherry become the squooshy-faced lap dog he’d always wanted to be — wonderful because it happened for him and wonderful that he’d come so far from his sad past of abuse,” Castle wrote.
Cherry was adopted by Paul and Melissa Fiaccone. He enjoyed a long, loving life in his forever home. He became a Pit Bull ambassador, helping people realize that it’s possible for dogs to be rehabilitated after experiencing such horrible trauma.
Tragically, many of the dogs at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels never got a second chance like Cherry and his fellow Vicktory Dogs. According to the federal indictment, Vick himself killed poorly performing dogs by hanging them or repeatedly slamming them to the ground. When three dogs survived being hanged, Vick helped hold their heads underwater until they drowned.
Vick went to prison for 18 months in 2007 and was then awarded the second chance he’d deprived of all those dogs he killed. He was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles and quickly resumed his NFL career. Most recently the NFL has given him the honor of being a “legends captain” for the 2020 Pro Bowl. Over 1.4 million people have signed online petitions urging the NFL to choose a more worthy “legend.”
If anyone deserves legend status, it’s Cherry and the Vicktory Dogs. Sadly, Cherry recently had a mass growing on his spleen and had become lethargic. According to his dog dad, Paul Fiaccone, “the message was clear from him. He was tired, he was ready. Melissa and I held his paws and hugged him tightly as he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was extremely peaceful and we are honored to have been with him at his time of need.”
Paul wrote that during their years together, Cherry taught him a very important lesson: to live. “Life will always throw you curveballs, but live it and live it well,” he wrote. “Cherry gave life all he had and he wrung every ounce out of his time here. He just loved life and loved sharing his love with his family, friends and whomever he met.
“Today we mourn the loss of Cherry, but tomorrow we live. We live for Cherry.”