Handsome Dan and Cherry are both good dogs. They have loving families who dote on them, including children and other pets, and legions of fans on social media who follow their every move. When they’re not attending to the stresses of being celebrity dogs, they spend their days lounging on the couch. These gentle dogs are lucky — they’re lucky to be alive at all.
Handsome Dan and Cherry were born in rural Virginia at Bad Newz Kennels, where Michael Vick tortured and killed countless dogs at his dog-fighting compound. They were two of the dogs seized in 2007 when Vick’s property was raided by federal law enforcement agents. (Vick subsequently served a modest prison sentence.)
At the time, the chances of either Handsome Dan or Cherry making it to where they are today were slim. The thinking then, even among some in the animal welfare world, was that these dogs had experienced too much and were beyond saving, which almost always meant humane euthanasia.
Thankfully, the attention that Vick’s case garnered also helped change the way the public thought about the dogs involved in these cases. Instead of being viewed as “kennel trash,” we began to realize that they, like all dogs, are individuals and should be treated as such.
Handsome Dan, Cherry, and the other Vicktory dogs (the name given to the 22 dogs brought to the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary in Kanab, Utah) were rescued and went on to live wonderful lives, some as therapy dogs, some as lazy couch potatoes, but most as loving and beloved family pets. Their story was captured in the award-winning documentary “The Champions,” which helped propel them to their anointed celebrity status.
Amazingly, this wasn’t even the luckiest part of their story. If Vick had run Bad Newz in Massachusetts, the dogs would have automatically been killed. That’s because the state has an archaic law on the books, dating from 1869, mandating that courts order the canine victims of dog-fighting activities be killed, regardless of temperament or personality.
The idea that dogs are “rescued” from fighting situations and then re-victimized at the hands of the state is shocking. Massachusetts is one of only 10 states to have this type of outdated law. In recent years, Rhode Island, Florida, Delaware, and California repealed similar provisions. Massachusetts should follow suit.
Legislation on Beacon Hill would update the law to give these dogs the second chance at life they deserve. This is just one of a number of provisions found in the legislation that will protect dogs. Dubbed PAWS II, this comprehensive bill is making its way through the legislative process — the Senate recently unanimously passed it and it now awaits a vote in the House.
The original PAWS law was passed in 2014 in response to the horrific Puppy Doe case. That law created a task force to examine the Commonwealth’s animal welfare, protection, and cruelty laws. The task force consisted of representatives from various stakeholder groups, including the attorney general, the state police, animal control, and local animal welfare organizations. They worked for nearly two years to produce a report that serves as the basis for PAWS II.
Massachusetts has a well-deserved reputation as being a leader in animal welfare, but gaps like the dog-fighting statute still exist. It’s time for us to pass PAWS II and give dog-fighting victims the same second chance at life that Handsome Dan and Cherry got — the chance to become a family pet that every dog deserves.Lee Greenwood lives in Boston and is a legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society.