Monday, April 2, 2012

Cherry Garcia: A Vicktory Dog

Like so many dog lovers, I have followed the Vicktory dogs since their rescue. I started a series of paintings 2 years ago, focusing on rescued and abused animals, and decided to include several of the dogs that were rescued from the Michael Vick property in 2007. Since starting this series (it is still a work in progress and new additions are frequently added) I have been honored to get in touch with several of the families that have adopted these dogs. While they all were rescued from the same property, each of these dogs has their own story to tell. I was thrilled to chat with Paul and Melissa, proud parents of Cherry Garcia and to be able to share Cherry's story with those that have also been following these pups as they continue to share their stories. The incredible resilience of the Vicktory dogs continues to open minds and offer hope to dogs that have been neglected or abused in their pasts 

Cherry Garcia
  • Age: 5 years old
  • Breed: Pit Bull
  • Favorite Pastime: Cuddling
  • Best Friends: Walter (Cat), Sophie (Cat) & Madison (Pit Bull)
Cherry posing with his custom painting by The Pet Studio.
Tell me a little about Cherry's history from your point of view: 
We don’t know much about Cherry's history.  We know he was 1 of about 53 pit bulls rescued from the property of NFL QB Michael Vick's house.  He is 1 of 22 that was sent to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab UT for rehabilitation.  These 22 dogs were deemed the most traumatized cases that came from the Michael Vick situation.  Cherry was extremely fearful of people.  He would "pancake" to the ground at the site of a person and wouldn't walk.  He had some facial scaring and has a horrible scar on his back.  His fearfulness of people and his lack of confidence made rescuers think he was a bait dog.  A bait dog is essentially a sparring partner for dogs who fought.  Sometimes you hear dogfighters will duct tape the mouth of a bait dog closed so it wouldn’t actually hurt the fighting dog.  Cherry's court ordered name was Virginia Beach #27 and later was named Cherry Garcia.  He was named Cherry because he had a condition called cherry eye.  From what we heard, there were 5 or 6 black dogs that they couldn’t tell apart from each other except for Cherry because he had Cherry eye.  When we adopted him, Best Friends said we could change his name.  He does get mistaken for a girl a lot but the name fits him perfectly. 

What made you decide to get involved and adopt one of the 'Vick Dogs'?

This is a good question.  I had a pit mix named Madison at the time I saw the 'Saving the Michael Vick Dogs' episode of Dog town on National Geographic.  I was a huge supporter of pit bulls and wanted to see what was going on with these dogs.  At the time Melissa and I were just dating and we were actually in the middle of buying a house.  Anyway I was watching the episode and Cherry just grabbed me.  I just wanted to pick him up through the TV and hold him and let him know that everything was going to be okay.  I just really connected with him.  Of course I think everyone who watched the show connected with him.  He has that special way about him.  That night I was in bed and I couldn't stop thinking about him.  One scene really stood out in my mind.  Since Cherry was so shy with humans they thought he would gain confidence from being around other dogs.  They introduced him to Willy Boy, another Vicktory Dog,  He really seemed interested.  Since Cherry has never met dogs before he didn't understand how to communicate properly with them.  Well Cherry elevated his head and started sniffing Willy's ears.  Willy didn't like that and snapped at Cherry.  Though it wasn't a match, you could see being around another dog really helped Cherry.  At the end of the episode it shows Cherry hanging out with Mel (another Vicktory Dog) and playing.  Those scenes really stood out to me because of Madison.  I had Madison since she was a pup.  She is one of the most confident dogs I have ever been around.  Not only is she confident but she has an incredible maternal instinct.  I thought she would be the perfect match for Cherry.  The next day I filled out the application for Cherry.  I told Melissa about it and she wasn't so keen on adopting another dog at the time.  I made her feel better about it by saying "Don’t worry, we don’t have a shot at ever adopting this dog".

What was the adoption process with Cherry? 
The adoption process for Cherry was long but very appropriate.  Best Friends has done an amazing job finding the right families for the Vicktory Dogs.  We stay in contact with 5 of the Vicktory Dog families and all of them are perfect places for these dogs.  Some of the stipulations to adopt Cherry were passing a criminal background check, proof of homeowners insurance that would allow pit bulls, home checks, having a 6 foot high fence, and other things.  The process took about a year to complete.  After those were completed, the final stipulation was going to the sanctuary with Madison to meet Cherry.  We knew going out to Best Friends that Nat Geo wanted to film our visit and I remember the first thing they asked us before we got to meet Cherry.  "Are you nervous about meeting Cherry, you came such a long way, what happens if it doesn’t work out?"  What an ice breaker.  Until that moment I don’t know if we ever thought about it.  That shot never made the air but needless to say everything worked out.  He took to Madison and she slowly introduced him to us.  She was the perfect match for him from day 1.  He loves her and she is the unsung hero of the whole process.  Even today she is his safety net.  He looks to her for guidance and she has been so selfless.  She loves it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cherry and Madison enjoying a sunny day together.
How has Cherry changed your life?

Cherry has changed our lives forever.  He is such an amazing soul.  He has taught me so much.  Patience being one of them.  Working with shy dogs requires an incredible amount of patience.  Cherry makes it easy though and has taught me patience in other parts of my life.  He has also taught me to look forward.  One thing that is amazing to see is how Cherry has gained confidence and overcome fears.  He does this by looking forward and not looking in the rear view mirror.  He doesn't live in the past.  Yes, his past is with him and will be for life but he is where he is today because he is constantly looking to grow.  As humans I think it's easy for us to blame our past for things, to be a victim, and it tends to hold us back.  Cherry lives every day to his fullest and takes every opportunity he can to enjoy it.  He really enjoys life. 

What is Cherry's best quality? 
Cherry's best quality is his personality.  He is a loveable goofball.  I don’t know if there is a day that goes by where he doesn’t make us laugh.  He is so caring to the people that show him love and affection.  We always say he loves to be loved and that is the key to his rehabilitation.  He has the need to be loved and that overcomes his fears.  It make take time but in the end love wins out every time.

What are Cherry's favorite things to do? 
Cherry isn't much for toys but he has slowly learned that they can be fun.  Once in a while he will play with them.  He loves bones though.  He favorite thing to do is to cuddle.  He loves to cuddle.  There isn't a time when Melissa or I sit down that Cherry isn't right behind us finding his spot to settle down.  Whether it be on the couch or in bed, he simply just wants to cuddle with you.  If he isn't cuddling with us, he usually is cuddling with Madison.  Sometimes one of us will be in bed while the other is on the couch and it confuses Cherry.  He truly has an internal conflict because he doesn’t know what to do.  He ends up with one of us and then he usually switches at some point.  He loves to be pet.  He didn’t know how to ask to be pet so he would just start licking your hand until you pet him.  We taught him how to nudge and now our hands are always a nose flip away from his head.  One thing we have learned about Cherry is he is a very smart guy.  He learns things very quickly. 

What kind of comments/questions do you receive most often about Cherry and how do you deal with the publicity that Cherry has brought into your life? 

First, we would like to say thanks to everyone we have talked to or have met.  Everyone has been so positive and wonderful to meet. 

I think one of the things we hear the most is how small he is.  People picture this big fighting dog in their minds but he is only 47lbs and is a tiny little thing.  Most of the questions involve his adoption and history.  People want to know how Cherry came to our family and what the process is to adopt a Vicktory Dog.  They also want to know his past.  I think that is natural.  We have the same question but like any other rescue animal the past history is not always known.

We are fairly private with the publicity.  We don’t disclose our exact location or our last names for Cherry's safety.  As a matter of fact if we are out around our town we call Cherry, Larry. It's easy for Cherry because Larry sounds like Cherry and it keeps him somewhat private.  We haven't had any issues but we have encountered people who have seen Cherry on TV but don’t recognize him in person.  Melissa and I talked to a lady we came across on a walk.  For 30 minutes she told us about a little black pit bull that was rescued from Michael Vick's house that she saw on TV.  It was hard not to breakdown and not laugh but again it's all for Cherry's safety.  It's kind of fun having a dog that is more famous than you.  All jokes aside it is a massive responsibility.  Cherry's background gives us a voice.  Sometimes we hear the reason we adopted Cherry was because he was Michael Vick's dog. 

We adopted Cherry because we fell in love with him and he needed some help.  Since Cherry has a voice we try everything in our power to use that voice to help other dogs in that come out of similar situations because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter where Cherry came from, there are so many animals being abused that need help and that is what we are focused on.  We hope that people learn through Cherry's story.

Stephanie Conrad
The Pet Studio | Owner | Artist

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