There is a big void in Best Friends’ world today. We had to say goodbye to Lucas last night. His declining health over the last year finally overtook him. It’s a very sad day here at the Sanctuary where Lucas was such a prominent and positive personality.
Lucas, for anyone new to the Vick dog/Best Friends story, had at one time been Michael Vick’s grand champion fighting dog. Because of the perceived street value based on his notoriety and underworld status, the federal judge who adjudicated the case and authorized the placement of the Vick dogs with rescues, ruled that Lucas be released to Best Friends with the condition that he never be adopted. Rather, he would have to remain a lifetime care dog at Best Friends.
He was one of the 22 dogs deemed “most challenging” sprung from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels fighting operation in April of 2007 – dogs that the judge would only release to Best Friends. They came to the Sanctuary in January of 2008 following Vick’s trial and the appointment by the court of a guardian/special master to recommend appropriate placement of dogs seized in the initial raid.
It was our privilege to take them and to have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that the canine victims of fighting operations – even the most damaged of them – could be rehabilitated. The Vicktory dogs, as we called them, have fulfilled our greatest hopes for them. You can read more about them here. Their example was persuasive in changing the prevailing policy for dogs rescued by law enforcement from the scene of fight ring busts.
Before Lucas and the rest of the Vicktory dogs came to Best Friends, the policy on dogs taken from fighting rings was that they be killed. That’s it. That was the policy – rescue them from the bad guys and then kill them. Other than Best Friends’ opposition, that policy was endorsed by the nation’s largest animal welfare organizations. After the Vicktory dogs, those policies and organizational positions changed in favor of every dog being treated and evaluated as an individual.
Ironically, of all the Vicktory dogs, the one who could never be adopted per court order was the most social and well-behaved of them all around people. And that is how Lucas will be remembered around the staff offices where he spent his days. It was a blessing in every way to be around him and to witness his wonderful effect on everyone he met. He changed hearts and minds when it came to people’s views of pit bulls and, in particular, former fighters.
Lucas was bigger than the abuse he had suffered and bigger than his abusers. In fact, they never really touched the real Lucas.
My outer office was on the schedule of staff offices he visited regularly. He would spend a few days at a time on a rotation basis in the care of my assistant and was an official greeter. And he got a little treat from most everyone who came by. He made everyone feel special just by being himself – brutally scarred face and all. He would lick hands and faces and want to jump into everyone’s lap. Lucas loved his ambassadorial role and had the next best life to a permanent home with a loving family.
Just as Lucas embodied an indomitable and gentle spirit, he also embodied the tragedy and abuse that the worst of humanity imposes upon the best of our animal friends. It was never possible to escape the sad reality that behind his heavily scarred muzzle and intimidating reputation of a grand champion fighting dog was a sweet, affectionate, regular dog who wanted nothing more than to be around people – to love and to be loved.
Lucas should have been someone’s pet and been raised in a loving home. His life, however, was stolen by a gang of thugs who thrived on inflicting pain on helpless animals. Yet, he bore not a hint of malice toward people. In fact, he makes the case that it is the characteristic loyalty and desire of dogs to please their people that is manipulated and used against them to get them to fight, which most certainly doubles the crime and abuse of dog fighting.
We estimate that Lucas was about 13 years old when his quality of life deteriorated to the point where his primary caregivers and his veterinarians made the difficult decision to end his suffering. Lucas suffered from a type of Babesia common among fighting dogs; he and many of his fellow Vicktory dogs arrived with the disease, carried by a blood parasite spread through bite wounds.
Babesia is a horrible disease that can be treated, but not cured. He suffered periodic flare-ups that would sap his strength through anemia. That in addition to age-related complications and, just a really hard life, were his undoing. In his final days, a steady stream of caregivers and Best Friends staff visited to bid him farewell. There were many tears and fond recollections.
Lucas was indeed a champion, but his greatest victories were outside the ring. He won our hearts and taught the world about the integrity and depth of character that is a dog.
We will miss you, Lucas … till we meet again.
RYOT NOTE: Even though Lucas is gone, his story will continue to be an inspiration to all. It’s hard to imagine a dog who has overcome more than him. If you’d like to support Best Friends Animal Society, the amazing organization that rescued and reunited the “Vicktory dogs,” click on the gray box to the right. If you’d like to honor Lucas’s memory, contribute to the fund BFAS has set up in his name.