“The Lost Dogs:Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption”

By Jim Gorant. Gotham Books. $26.

Buckle your seatbelt and get ready for a tumultuous, emotional ride through this powerful narrative of America’s most celebrated dog-fighting case.

Gorant, a Sports Illustrated senior editor, details the grisly worst side of man then contrasts that with the best in a chronological mix master of politics and animal welfare that attracted a nation’s attention for months, chiefly because of Michael Vick’s celebrity.

Gorant is at his best when ferreting out details of what goes on behind the scenes at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels and the committed rehabilitation process by individuals and animal-welfare organizations nationwide.

He concludes, ”You cannot accurately say that all dogs saved from a fight bust are vicious and unstable or that all pit bulls are biting machines waiting for their chance to attack. It may be easier and less expensive to think that way, but it’s not true.

” . . . The most important legacy of the Vick dogs may be the idea that all dogs must be evaluated individually. Not as Vick dogs, or fighting dogs or pit bulls, but as Jasmine and Alf and Zippy (names given three of the rescued dogs).”

The documentary is organized in three parts – Rescue, Reclamation and Redemption, with a wrap-up chapter of Where Are They Now?

In Rescue, Gorant paints a sharply-etched portrait of dogs being chained in the field at the kennels, their beaten-down psyche, battered physical condition and in some cases outright neglect.  Their pathway to the fighting pit is shaped by strength, determination and speed. Those deemed unworthy fighters meet a cruel death either by electrocution or being struck on the head with a blunt object.

One experienced officer, according to Gorant, estimates that 80 percent of the dogs, even those raised to fight, “won’t even scratch. That is, they won’t even cross the line and engage the other dog.”

The Vick case is just a celebrated mini-version of the dog-fighting industry in the U.S, which the Humane Society of the United States estimates has 40,000 fighters. Some fights arranged months in advance, says Gorant, have prizes of $20,000-$30,000. They can be over in 10 minutes, or continue for hours.

Gorant captures Vick’s involvement as the money man for the operation and notes he was drawn to the fights when he was only 12 or 13 years old. 

The case produced the biggest dog-fighting conviction ever, Gorant acknowledges, and, for the first time, dogs were viewed as victims, not weapons.  Equally important, the dogs were dealt with individually rather than collectively, and were given a second chance.

Packed with vivid characters and dramatic incidents, “The Lost Dogs” is a sobering reminder that man’s best friend isn’t always viewed that way. But this deeply affecting portrayal also reflects that fairy-tale endings are within reach when those involved are infused with spirit, confidence and commitment.