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The Road To Recovery For Michael Vick's Dogs
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Ever since NFL star Michael Vick was arrested and charged with
dogfighting in 2007, debate has raged over how serious his crimes were
and whether he should have been allowed to return to football when he
was released from prison. Far less attention has been paid to the 51 pit
bulls seized from Vick's Virginia fighting compound, which he'd named
Bad Newz Kennels.
It turns out there was an extraordinarily successful effort to
rehabilitate the dogs. Many found new lives as pets, and others live
peacefully with other dogs in animal sanctuaries.
In a few minutes, we'll meet Hector, a pit bull rescued from Vick's
compound who's become a certified therapy dog, and his owner and dog
trainer Andrew Yori.
But first, we'll hear from Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, a psychologist and
ASPCA animal behavior specialist who evaluated and worked with the Vick
dogs. Also with us is Jim Gorant, a senior writer for Sports
Illustrated, who chronicled the pit bull story in a book called "The
Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption."
Gorant and Zawistowski spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Well, Jim Gorant, Stephen Zawistowski, welcome to FRESH AIR. Jim, about
a third of this book deals with the Vick case itself. In brief, remind
us of the basic facts. What did Vick do?
Mr. JIM GORANT (Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated; Author, "The Lost
Dogs"): Well, the basic facts is that he participated in and funded a
dogfighting ring on his property in Southern Virginia. And at the time
that the authorities arrived, they found 66 total dogs, 51 pit bulls,
some with fresh injuries, some with clear evidence of having been
dogfighting and a lot of training equipment, a actual pit and some
bloodstained walls and things of that nature and clear evidence of a
DAVIES: And as the case developed, it emerged that Vick, once he'd
become a wealthy professional athlete, had bought this rural, secluded
property, built a nice house on it, built the pens, built the
dogfighting pit and then maintained it and ran the operation for, what,
about four years or so, right?
Mr. GORANT: It was at least that long, yeah. They started, I believe, in
2001 or in 2002, and they were found out in 2007.
DAVIES: Right. And so it was actually a suspicion of drugs that led
authorities to the property eventually, but there they discovered the
Mr. GORANT: It was cousin of Michael Vick's, Davon Bodey(ph), who was
picked up on drug charges and that. He listed this address as his home
address, and that gave them the cause to get a warrant and go in and go
for a drug search, and then they found the dogs when they were there on
the drug search.
DAVIES: Right, and without dwelling too much on this, my recollection of
the case is that Vick initially denied any involvement, and then as more
and more people involved cooperated with authorities, he admitted his
guilt but had a negotiated plea arrangement in which he never said under
oath what he personally had done, whether he had personally killed dogs.
What does the available evidence suggest about his personal actions?
Mr. GORANT: My recollection is that yes, he denied, even the day he was
arraigned, you know, he came out of the courtroom the day he was
arraigned and denied that he was involved and said he looked forward to
clearing his name. And only after several of his co-defendants agreed to
plead guilty and give evidence against him did he finally accept a plea
DAVIES: This is the most famous dogfighting bust, I suppose, in history,
but certainly not the first. And Jim Gorant, what was typically the
expectation among law-enforcement folks and animal activists when a
dogfighting ring was busted? Was it expected that the dogs would be
rescued and rehabilitated, typically?
Mr. GORANT: No, my understanding is that this is not the first time it's
ever happened, but it was pretty rare, and usually the reasoning went
that, you know, there were a lot of good dogs out there in shelters
waiting to be adopted, and these dogs obviously had a questionable
background. So why spend a lot of time and effort and potentially money
attempting to rehabilitate these questionable dogs when there were so
many other good dogs out there already.
And there were some people involved in this case who, based on a huge
public outcry, at least asked the question, you know, what else is
DAVIES: Steve Zawistowski, what's been the experience with dogs that are
in this situation?
Dr. STEPHEN ZAWISTOWSKI (Psychologist, ASPCA Animal Behavior
Specialist): Well, I've been working in the field for over 20 years now,
and I can tell you that when I first started, when we did dog busts at
the ASPCA, typically the dogs were euthanized.
Part of it was because our ability and knowledge of dog behavior hadn't
really developed to a point where we really understood the opportunities
and the trajectory of a rehabilitation program. And at the same time, as
Jim has already indicated, shelters are full.
I mean, there are little dogs there waiting for homes right now. Are you
going to fill that cage up with a dog who may or may not be able to find
a home? And this case is one that really brought in an enormous amount
of attention, and what was really special about the case was the amount
of money that Michael Vick was requirement to put aside to provide for
restitution. He had to do restitution for the dogs.
DAVIES: And that amount of money was?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Close to a million dollars.
DAVIES: Okay. All right. So a team was assembled to evaluate these dogs.
I think at that point there were 49 surviving pit bulls, right? You,
Steve Zawistowski, led a team of folks assembled from around the country
to evaluate these dogs and see what might be possible.
Let me just ask you first: What was your expectation going in? How many
did you think might be salvaged?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: We were uncertain. Every dogfighting case, every case
like this with dogs, is different. Sometimes you find the dogs in better
shape than in others.
We thought maybe if we found a handful of dogs, it would be a precedent.
The target might have been five or 10 dogs out of this particular group.
So that's what we were thinking we might get, and if we got that, we'd
be pretty happy. And then the next step was going in and looking at each
of those dogs as individuals.
DAVIES: Right. And you developed kind of a battery of tests, if you
will. Tell us about that.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Well, he had been working on evaluating the
rehabilitating dogs at the ASPCA for something over 20 years. We started
working with some of the dogs in the city of New York: pit bulls,
Dobermans, Chihuahuas surprisingly come in pretty aggressive, as well.
And we had started developing a battery of evaluations that would really
relate to: Could you touch the dog and handle the dog? Was the dog
reactive? How did it respond to people? How did it respond to other
dogs? Was the dog safe around food, toys and children? Things like that.
So when we sat down to take a look at this particular case, we needed to
really understand what the potential aggression problems were going to
be. And we also needed to satisfy the government's concerns about
liability. Because one of the real questions related to these cases is
if this dog goes out, and we permitted it, and the dog attacks a small
child, it's going to get back to us somehow.
So we really needed to be able to demonstrate to the government that the
dogs were going to be safe when we made some recommendations for
placement. So the basic evaluation looks at: Could the dog be handled?
Could you do the basic things you needed to do to a dog to provide for
its proper care? Could you touch the body? Could you brush it? Could you
clean the ears? Could you manipulate the mouth? Could you pick up their
feet, trim their toenails? All of those sorts of basic maintenance
The next step was: How does the dog react to strange and unusual
circumstances? How do they react if a child comes running up screaming,
yelling, waving their arms? How does that dog react to another dog?
DAVIES: So let me ask you: How did you do that with these dogs? You
didn't have a child run into the room.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: No, we didn't have a child, but we actually have,
surprisingly enough, most of us can get pretty silly and strange. And in
fact, one of the things that we often find with dogs in these
rehabilitation cases, they don't do well with men with beards. Jim
describes me in the book. I have a beard and a moustache. I've been
called in to shelters very often to come in and look threatening with my
beard. And so that's one of the things we'll do with these particular
We also would give them food, something that's really highly desirable.
If you try to take that food away from them, would they growl? Would
they attack or something like that? And then the big test was really
this question of: Could you bring in another dog?
And we used a combination of both other dogs as well as dummy dogs or
test dogs. And these were when we really weren't certain if it would be
safe. In many cases, we were able to bring another dog right into the
vicinity of the dog we were evaluating, and they had very little
And in fact, in many cases, the dog actually perked up and seemed a
little bit happier, would wag its tail.
DAVIES: And one of things, if the dog seemed to do well with everything
else, I read in the book, is that you would put your hand on the dog's
chest and push it back hard and see how it reacted.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Well, we would try a variety of different things, and
what we were really looking at were how we could grade the dog for
different categories of placement.
The best dogs, we were going to recommend for foster care. They can go
in with an experienced home, be rehabilitated by being slowly adapted to
living in another environment.
I think the striking thing we found when we saw those dogs, several of
us have been involved in law enforcement for a long time, and we had
seen dogs from hoarding cases, where the dogs, you know, we see these â
you know, they're on TV shows now â where the dogs are kept in these
horrible surroundings, very little contact with people, and the dogs are
And many of the dogs were what we call pancake dogs. They would just
flatten out. When we brought them out of the kennels, and you put them
on the ground, it was as if they were laying there, oh my God, there's
green stuff under me and blue stuff above me. I don't know what to do.
I'm going to shut down.
And it was almost impossible to even evaluate them fully because they
were non-reactive to things. Those dogs really need to go somewhere
where it was going to take time, like an onion, and slowly peel away
these years of abuse and failure to provide proper care and see what dog
was living underneath all of those layers.
Other dogs we saw, it was amazing. It was as if they must have gotten on
the wrong bus and ended up at this Bad Newz Kennels because they were as
good as any dog I see in our animal shelters or in people's homes now.
DAVIES: So of these 49 dogs, you were thinking 40 or more are going to
have to be put down. They're going to be too aggressive or
uncontrollable. But in the end, only one of them had to be put down.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: One dog needed to be euthanized because of severe
aggression. And when we look at this, we don't really think of it that
you put the dog necessarily because of the aggression. We look at it
that aggression is symptomatic of other underlying conditions.
And this particular dog had likely been bred a number of times, had
probably been fought a number of times because really, you're not going
to breed a dog unless it's already shown in the fighting pit that
there's some value in breeding her. So she'd probably been fought and
bred and so probably been psychologically damaged to a point where it
was going to be difficult for her to ever be comfortable being near
I think one of the things to recognize, if you can't get a dog out of
the kennel, your ability to actually do anything else with her is
DAVIES: So one dog was put down. There was another dog that
unfortunately died of injuries that she had sustained while she was at
the Michael Vick kennels, and 47 were given to sanctuaries or to
trainers, and the book tells us their stories.
What really struck me about it was how few of them really had problems
with aggression. They had problems, but they were different kinds of
behavioral problems. Jim Gorant, some of them were just clumsy and
unsocialized, right? They just didn't know how to be a dog.
Mr. GORANT: That's my understanding from talking to a lot of the experts
about it is that a lot of them had just sort of never lived in an
environment other than being chained up in the woods, and a lot of the
ones, my understanding also, that had sort of made it through or were
still remaining when officials arrived at the site were younger dogs who
maybe hadn't experienced quite as much, hadn't been fought quite a bit
yet, maybe tested a little bit but not really hardcore training and
hey were - in a way, they were still - they were spared of that part of
it. They still had the neglect of just not being socialized, having, you
know, communication with people and living in houses and things of that
DAVIES: They'd bump into walls, couldn't climb stairs.
Mr. GORANT: Yeah, a lot of that stuff, and you know, the things we take
for granted. You know, walking down the street, and a car goes by, or a
flushing toilet or whatever would just, you know, set them off because
they had just never experienced those things before.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Jim Gorant. He's a senior editor at Sports
Illustrated and the author of the book "The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's
Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption." Also with us is Dr.
Stephen Zawistowski. He's a psychologist and animal behavior specialist
with the ASPCA, who worked on the case. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the pit bulls
that were rescued from Michael Vick's dogfighting kennels in 2007. Our
guests are Jim Gorant. He is a senior editor at Sports Illustrated and
an author - the author of a book about the case called "The Lost Dogs."
Also with us, Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. He is a psychologist and animal
behavior specialist with the ASPCA.
Well, Stephen Zawistowski, there was more at stake here, really, than
the fate of these 47 dogs. What were the larger issues?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: I think one of the things we all had in mind when we
agreed to participate on the team and do this was that this could
potentially set a precedent for the rest of the country and for
dogfighting cases going forward.
So we felt an enormous amount of pressure on us because of that. It was
one of the handful of times that the nation was focused on a dogfighting
case. The resources that were available were as good as we think we were
ever going to get so that if we failed, the question would be: Was
another chance ever going to come? And so we really wanted to make our
best effort, and it's one of the reasons why I think this idea that,
boy, if we could only pick out at least just the 10 best dogs, that
would be a really great step forward for us.
And what we have seen going forward from this particular case is that
this has now really become a standard practice in many dogfighting
cases. They look to bring in a team of behaviorists. They look to have
the dogs evaluated.
I will say that many of these cases, they haven't saved, you know, 95
percent of the dogs in the case. It's been a third of the dogs in the
case. It's been a quarter of the dogs in the case. But that's still much
better than not making the effort at all.
DAVIES: It's also really about pit bulls, isn't it, and people's
perception of them as, you know, as aggressive and dangerous animals?
Mr. GORANT: That's right. As odd as it may seem, Michael Vick may be the
best thing that ever happened to the pit bull. You know, he gave the
forum to discuss this and make it possible to get the message out there
that these dogs are not what they've been made out to be in the
headlines, that they really are just sort of dogs. And, you know, you
could find the sweetest, most loving pit bulls in the world, and you
could find other dogs that, you know, are as mean as you want.
DAVIES: But Stephen Zawistowski, I assume that all of you had a fear
that if one of these dogs goes out and really harms somebody, then it's
going to reaffirm everyone's impressions of pit bulls.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: It was a fear that we had, but the people who are on
this team have all worked with dogs for decades. You know, some of us
are what they call doggie psychologists. You know, you do these behavior
consults for people.
There's families out there who have dogs who are potentially aggressive.
They're biting members of the family. They're biting the neighbors or
something. We work with those dogs. We have a history of sometimes it
works out, and sometimes it doesn't.
So I think we at least did understand that the possibility of failure
was there. One of the reasons why we thought it was important to then
set up the program with Rebecca Huss, who was a special master named by
the federal government for this particular case, was to ensure that the
rescue groups and the rehabilitation centers that became involved were
able to actually track these dogs and really put in a good effort.
One of the things we did help Professor Huss do was really evaluate
which places were competent to do this. There were some very strange,
strange proposals came in to the federal government.
I remember one was a fellow who wanted to buy a mountain with the
million dollars in Montana and live with the dogs on the mountain in
sort of one of these "Born Free" kinds of things. Other folks were going
to just take the dogs and live with them in their condominium somewhere
You know, we went through a process, it's still I think online as public
information, the form that people needed to fill out to apply for these
dogs. And part of it was really the recognition that there was a dowry
that was going to come along with these dogs. They were going to come
with $15,000 or $20,000 to provide for their lifetime care.
So we really wanted to ensure that the groups who got involved were
going to be competent and capable of moving through and following
through with these dogs.
DAVIES: Let's talk about a couple of the specific animals because as I
said, what's interesting is that in the main, the problems, at least as
you describe in the book, Jim Gorant, is that they weren't aggressive
dogs. They were psychologically messed up.
Take one of the dogs that had this pancake phenomena, where they would
simply crouch in terror in the presence of a human being. Tell us about
one of those dogs and how they broke through.
Mr. GORANT: You know, one of my favorites is the dog on the cover of
"The Lost Dogs," and that's Jasmine, and she was probably one of the
What was so interesting and sort of moving about her is that you could
really see it in her, you know, if you spent time with her, you could
see her try to do things and try to sort of behave the way you would
normally expect a dog to behave, but yet she couldn't quite break
through. She was still fighting her past at the same time.
And it was just this very visible effort to get by it but also the
inability to do that. And it becomes very visible what these dogs are
struggling with and how hard it is for them, and, you know, that kind of
struggle just comes clear.
DAVIES: And she went into the care of a woman named Catalina
Sterling(ph) I believe, right? So just describe their interaction. What
would happen when Catalina came into the basement where Jasmine was?
Mr. GORANT: Well, you know, she set up Jasmine in the basement. She had
a nice bright room down there, which she painted and set up for her, and
she had her own crate down there that she lived in.
And 90 percent of the time, the crate remained open, but Jasmine stayed
inside. She felt like she, I guess, really needed to control her
environment. She didn't feel comfortable outside that area. So she just
stayed, you know, door open, door closed, she stayed inside.
DAVIES: All day, all night, the dog stays in its crate.
Mr. GORANT: For the most part, other than when she was taken out for
obvious needs. You know, when Catalina came in, she would just sort of
sit and stare. She wouldn't eat with anyone in the room. And, you know,
there was this slow process they went through to try and work her out of
DAVIES: Steve Zawistowski, talk about a dog with the different kind of
problems, these dogs that just seemed completely uncoordinated,
unwilling or unable to climb stairs. They didn't know how to behave.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: What's interesting is with those dogs, what you need to
do is actually get them to slow down. It's almost the opposite of a dog
like Jasmine, who is almost nonresponsive, and you're trying to elicit
the response from her.
Some of these other dogs, they're exploding with responses. Every noise
is something they need to run to investigate. A person comes into the
room. They're going to come over and not like your dog at home where
they're going to come over and sniff you and want to say hello. This
dog's going to bowl you over. They're going to jump on you.
If you're sitting on the couch, they're going to be right up on top of
your lap immediately. So what you're actually trying to do is almost the
opposite of the Jasmine thing. It's, you need to calm down a little bit,
we need to turn the volume down on your behavior.
So what you try to do is partly it's distraction, partly it's try to
keep the excitement levels down as much as possible and not rewarding
them as opposed to, with Jasmine, that you're getting up and walking
towards somebody that the dog is sitting still and calming themselves.
So you'll work a lot on that type of thing and getting them then to be
responsive on a cue. You can use clicker training. You come forward when
I give you the click, or I give you a signal, and then you're going to
reinforce that for the dog.
DAVIES: And they respond to the click because it's associated with a
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Right. This really came out of the early dolphin
training where you give a treat, you give a click, and eventually the
click becomes what we call a bridge stimulus because it's easy and quick
to provide when the dog responds rapidly. Sometimes it's hard to dig
that MilkBone or something out of your pocket and give it to him as a
GROSS: FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies will talk more about the
Michael Vick dogs in the second half of the show. Jim Gorant is the
author of the new book "The Lost Dogs." Dr. Stephen Zawistowski is the
psychologist and ASPCA animal behavior specialist who worked with the
Vick dogs. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Michael Vick has returned to the NFL after his release from prison,
where he did time for dog fighting. Let's get back to the interview
FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded about the rehabilitation of
many of Vick's 51 fighting pit bulls.
Our guests are sportswriter Jim Gorant, author of the new book "The Lost
Dogs," and Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, a psychologist and ASPCA animal
behavior specialist who evaluated and worked with the Vick dogs. In a
few minutes, we'll meet Andrew Yori, a dog trainer who adopted one of
Vick's dogs, Hector, through a rescue group. Hector bore some of the
worst fighting scars of the Vick dogs, but with Yori's help, he
eventually became a certified therapy dog. They now live in Amenia, New
York, where Yori works for the Animal Farm Foundation.
DAVE DAVIES: Steve Zawistowski, did any of these 47 dogs ever bite
anybody or attack anyone?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Not that we know of since they've been placed. There
were a couple of dogs we saw at one of the shelters, and they had
actually bitten a couple of the people working there. And these dogs, in
fact, were dogs that we knew had been fought, and when we did the
evaluations, they showed a lot of the signs of a dog who is experienced
as a fighting dog. What you would see is if you brought another dog
within their vicinity, they would freeze. They'd focus, and then when
the opportunity would present itself, you know, they'd initiate a
charge. And these are some of the dogs that would then take the stimulus
dog, the other live dog that they were responding to, and bring in the â
we'd slip in the dummy dog. And a couple of cases they damaged those
dummy dogs pretty good. And a couple of those dogs actually did bite
some of the people who were managing them in the shelter.
DAVIES: And then, subsequently, were they rehabilitated?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: There are dogs who are probably going to stay in
sanctuary for the balance of their lives. They can do well with an
experienced handler who knows how to manage them, and they're really
kept out of the vicinity of other dogs, for the most part. But they're
happy when they're with people who know what they're doing. And I think
that was the real key for us, was: Will these dogs be able to thrive and
have a decent dog life?
The most frightening thing is when you see dogs - we've invested 10-
15,000 years of creating an animal that thrives on companionship with
people, and when that dog is unable to actually express this genetic
evolutionary heritage, that's really the most heartbreaking thing. But
these were dogs that, with the right person, they're going to do okay.
And they don't have the full life. They're not going to go to the dog
park. They're not going to ride in the car and, you know, visit your
family or something, but they're doing okay.
DAVIES: You know, I have a lot of affection for pit bulls, because as it
happens, my daughter has volunteered at the local SPCA and has brought
home pit bulls as foster dogs, and they're terrific animals and I love
them and they're smart and energetic and friendly. But I have to say
that I know that as we broadcast this, we will get emails from people
who feel differently. And I looked back over some news accounts just
from the Philadelphia area over the past few years, and there aren't
hundreds of cases, but there are a handful of cases of pit bull attacks,
which are really, really troubling.
A woman who was having an argument with her daughter in a row house and
the dog felt that the owner was threatened, attacked a woman, killed
her. There are cases of kids maimed. What do you say to those who say
even if most dogs of this breed are fine, those who aren't are really
dangerous, and we need specific breed legislation to reduce their
presence among us?
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: There's two ways of looking at it. One is a simple
ideological approach, and that is we should evaluate dogs as
individuals. We have had a history in this country of different breeds
of dogs being the targeted breed. Not so long ago, Dobermans were
considered the devil dog, and they were the dogs that people scared
other people with. German Shepherd dogs were like as well at one time.
Pit bulls just seem to be the dog du jour, I guess, for that particular
The other thing is to recognize that, in many of these cases, the dogs
have probably shown signs early on, partly because they've been poorly
socialized, because they haven't been properly trained. And if you
actually know what you're looking for and you fully understand dogs,
it's seldom that a dog, out of nowhere, just clicks a switch and becomes
We've looked at some of these cases. Very often, what you see is the
dogs had been a threat to the neighborhood for months. They've been
running free. They've been charging at the fence, but nobody's done
anything about it. So you can actually prevent these from happening by
recognizing it. The other piece is to really look at the communities
that have actually had BSL come into place, and they really haven't
reduced the number of dog attacks or dog bites.
The simple fact is, if you outlaw the dog, what you often do is actually
create a more desirable dog for people who are outlaws. I mean, if you
are going to be somebody who wants to live outside of the norms of
society, if somebody tells you this is the dog that people who our
outlaws have, boy, you're really - you're helping sell the product at
DAVIES: But the data you think shows that pit bulls are no more
inherently dangerous than other breeds.
Mr. GORANT: My favorite stat is - and this goes back from a Center for
Disease Control study I think from 2001, so it's a little bit old. But
according to that study, there's over 1,000 people a day go to emergency
room as a result of a dog bite. Now, some of those inevitably are pit
bulls, but many of them probably are not. And the point is that a lot of
people get bit by dogs in this country every day, and usually it's only
reported when it's a pit bull. You know, dog bites man, it's not a
story. But pit bull bites man is a story.
DAVIES: So of the 47 dogs, give us a sense where they ended up.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Well, some dogs are still in sanctuary. A number of
dogs have become stars. You know, Hector, who's here for the show today,
is a therapy dog. He visits kids in schools and everything else. He's,
in fact, the first dog I've met since I saw them all in Virginia, and,
you know, I talked to Hector and I said Hector, you make it all
worthwhile seeing you out here like this. Some of these dogs are living
with families. You know, they're living the basic, suburban dog
lifestyle. I mean, they could be on the cover of, you know, Dog World
magazine or something like that.
DAVIES: Well, we're now joined by Andrew Yori, who adopted one of the
dogs rescued from Michael Vick's compound. He's here with Hector.
Andrew Yori, thanks for coming in.
Mr. ANDREW YORI (Director, Animal Farm Foundation): Thanks for having
DAVIES: You've got Hector in your lap here. The audience can't see him.
I can. Describe him.
Mr. YORI: Well, Hector is about 50 pounds. He's a fawn color, with a
black snout. The most distinct feature on him is often the scars that
run down on his chest and down on his legs. One of the things a lot of
people don't see is he is missing a couple teeth. He's got a little
notch out of his tongue. But the best thing that you probably witnessing
right now is just how comfortable he is laying back in my arms. He turns
into a rag doll. He just melts into the lap, and he loves every second
DAVIES: Tell us about how you heard about Hector and got into this?
Mr. YORI: Actually, I wasn't even a pit bull guy, to be honest, at the
start. I had rescued another pit bull named Wallace from our local
shelter, and we became a national disc-dog champion team. And so...
DAVIES: Disc-dog champion. You mean Frisbee, right?
Mr. YORI: Yes. Yes. And with our accomplishments and with our success in
that realm, a lot of the pit bull people, so to speak, became aware of
us and we kind of became a little bit of a celebrity in those circles.
So I became aware of the issue in that manner. And then obviously, when
the Michael Vick case happened, I was following it just because of the
work I was doing with Wallace. And so I really thought that it's a
unique situation, and if I could pair the work that I'd already been
doing with Wallace with one of those dogs, it would be an excellent duo,
if you will.
DAVIES: All right. Did you volunteer, or did they find you to adopt one
of the Vick dogs?
Mr. YORI: I had a relationship with BADRAP already, just through my work
DAVIES: That's the Bay Area Dog Owners Responsible for Pit Bulls. Do I
have that right?
Mr. YORI: Exactly. Exactly.
Mr. GORANT: About pit bulls, I believe.
DAVIES: About - yes. The San Francisco area.
Mr. GORANT: Yes.
Mr. YORI: And I knew that they had taken in a number of the dogs. And so
I contacted them, saying that this was my situation: If they happened to
have a dog that would fit with my family, then I would consider adopting
him. And sure enough, they suggested Hector. I flew out there to meet
him, and here he is.
DAVIES: Jim Gorant, did you want to add something here?
Mr. GORANT: I was going to say some of the research I did, you know, in
doing the book was trying to find out the history of all these dogs and
where they went. I know Hector originally went to BADRAP. And he was one
of the dogs Steve Zawistowski talked about, how they were all classified
foster dogs or sanctuary dogs. And my understanding is he was classified
as a law dog. We thought he had potential to undergo training to become
a law dog and work with police officers.
And I think eventually they realized he was probably too old, the
investment in the training and at that stage in his life they probably
wouldn't get enough of a return of what it takes to train a law dog. And
so he went back to BADRAP and he went through a couple of other foster
homes until Roo stepped forward, and they were happy to find a great
home for him, because he was just, you know, one of the real stars from
DAVIES: Now, he became a therapy dog. What did that involve?
Mr. YORI: Yes. He is currently a therapy dog. I - when I got him and
adopted him, I could tell that he just really loved checking out new
things. And I figured with his calm demeanor and able to go into all
kinds of different situations - like nursing homes and hospitals and
checking out all the fun things that are in those buildings - it would
be a good match. So I started the training to go towards that, and he
passed his therapy dog tests with flying colors. The evaluator actually
commented, no other dog has passed with such excellence of no matter
what kind of dog it was, and he's really taken to the work.
DAVIES: Do you know of other of the Vick rescue dogs are now therapy
dogs, or how many might be?
Mr. GORANT: I think there's four that are actually working as therapy
dogs. There are, as far as I know, two or three others that are doing
similar sort of work, although they're not certified therapy dogs, and
they're not doing the sort of hospital that you need to be certified
for. But they're making public appearances. They're going to schools.
They're going to sort of public meetings and sort of spreading the word
and helping - just sort of try and re-educating people about pit bull
and dogs from fighting rings.
DAVIES: So Andrew, what are you working on with Hector now, these days?
Mr. YORI: We've been doing a lot of humane education in schools and
elementary schools. Again, he loves kids, and we think it's really
important to reach those children at a young age to teach them
compassion to animals, and then also, safety around dogs, as well.
He goes in there, we teach the children to ask first whenever they want
to pet a dog. If they see a dog running loose, you know, not to run up
to the dog or run away from the dog. So we've been doing a lot of humane
education. He actually got an award from Brooklyn Law for the humane
education work that we've been doing.
DAVIES: Do you ever look at him and wonder what he's been through?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. YORI: Yeah, every day. My wife and I were just having that
conversation, I think, last night or the night before. Just trying to
picture him in that situation that Jim describes in the book, because
obviously, if he had - obviously, now that he has a choice, that's not
who he is. And so just to try and imagine what he was going through,
knowing that is really sad. And, you know, I'm just glad he got the
opportunity and - to prove who he is, and get the second chance that he
DAVIES: Well, Andrew Yori, it's great to see Hector. Thanks for bringing
him in. Thanks for coming in.
Mr. YORI: Thanks for having us.
DAVIES: And Jim Grant, Stephen Zawistowski, thanks for coming in.
Dr. ZAWISTOWSKI: Thank you.
Mr. GORANT: Thank you.
GROSS: FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies spoke with dog trainer Andrew
Yori, who brought the former Vick dog Hector to the studio, Jim Gorant,
author of the new book, "The Lost Dogs," and Stephen Zawistowski, an
ASPCA animal behavior specialist who worked with the Vick Dogs.
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Robert Plant's new solo album.
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Robert Plant: A Stark New Album, A 'Band Of Joy'
TERRY GROSS, host:
Robert Plant has a new solo album called "Band of Joy." It's also the
name of a group he was in before Led Zeppelin. Rock critic Ken Tucker
says if the album title correctly suggests an interest in looking back
and trying out older musicals styles, there's nothing nostalgic or musty
about the results.
(Soundbite of song, "Angel Dance")
Mr. ROBERT PLANT (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing): Good night. Sleep
tight. Big bright sun has gone away. You know, it's gone away. Good-
KEN TUCKER: "Band of Joy" commences with that song, "Angel Dance," a
piece of music that could have surfaced from the primordial ooze of
blues, its guitar riff is that elemental. It's a cover of a Los Lobos
song, but Plant makes the song his own with his instantly recognizable
high-tenor yowl. His co-producer, the wonderful guitarist Buddy Miller,
is the one laying down the oily muck on "Angel Dance." Elsewhere, other
collaborators are crucial, as well.
(Soundbite of song, "House of Cards")
Mr. PLANT: (Singing) Oh, the rain is falling and the wild wind rise.
It'll shake your windows and it will rattle your doors. Oh, blow down
this house of cards. Blow down this house of cards. And they're washing
TUCKER: That song, a version of Richard Thompson's "House of Cards," is
rearranged to sound like stomping blues and features harmony vocals by
Patty Griffin, who sings on a number of songs here. A few years ago,
Plant's collaboration with Alison Krauss, "Raising Sand," was one of
those big, mass-audience, award-winning, left-field late-career hits in
the tradition of Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time" and Tina Turner's
This time around, Plant is still inviting Krauss, as well as Griffin, to
keep in touch with his feminine side, but it's really his mind-meld with
Buddy Miller that matters most. Plant and Miller gathered a group of
songs that have little in common except arrangements that frame
unhappiness and heartache as permanent states of affairs.
(Soundbite of song, "You Can't Buy My Love")
Mr. PLANT: (Singing) You could give me money, diamonds and pearls but
you can't buy my love for no money in the world. You can't buy my love.
No you can't buy my love for no money in the world. You can't buy my
love. Now you so good. Baby I'm so bad. 'Cause you done lost the best
thing you ever had. Oh, you can't buy my love.
TUCKER: No, that's not some quirky Led Zeppelin take on The Beatlesâ
"Can't Buy Me Love" - it's a cover of a 1963 Barbara Lynn soul song that
Plant says he found on the CD that usually accompanies the annual music
issue of The Oxford American magazine. Proof, as if you need it, that
reading dead-tree publications can only help you in ways you cannot
predict. For real soul, however, that song is exceeded by "Falling in
Love Again," with Buddy Miller and Darrell Scott providing uncanny
Southern gospel harmonies.
(Soundbite of song, "Falling in Love Again")
Mr. PLANT: (Singing) I'm falling in love again. I'm falling in love
again. It might break my break, it might even tear it apart but I'm
falling in love again, oh. I'm thinking about one but you, every day.
I'm thinking of about no one but you every day. I think of you all the
time, oh darling, please be mine. And I'm falling in love again.
TUCKER: "Band of Joy" has its moments of fussiness - turns out we really
don't need another version of the turn-of-the-century folk song "Cindy
I'll Marry You Some Day" or a rendition of "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come
Down" so self-righteous, it makes you nostalgic for Jimmy Page's
fondness for the occult mysticism of Aleister Crowley. On the other
hand, Plant and Miller improve upon Townes Van Zandt's hardboiled
romanticism in covering "Harm's Swift Way."
(Soundbite of song, "Harm's Swift Way")
Mr. PLANT: (Singing) There is a home out of harm's swift way. I set
myself to find. I swore to my love I would bring her there. Then I left
my love behind. The desert was long, the mountain side. The road ran
steep and winding. The promises so easily made, unbearably yet binding.
Oh me, oh my, whoâs gonna count my time? Oh me, oh my, whoâs gonna count
TUCKER: In fact, that phrase, harm's swift way, is a compressed
summation of this entire album: a collection of songs that might, for a
few moments, convince you that courting danger and disappointment can be
a heroic adventure. It's an unlikely proposition, but who can deny the
heroic power of Robert Plant's voice when placed in these stark,
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed Robert Plant's new solo album, "Band of Joy."
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
This Fall, Shows You Know Are The Only Must-See TV
TERRY GROSS, host:
Today is the official start of the broadcast network's new TV season.
And for the first time in many years, all the major networks are
unveiling most of their new and returning shows in a single event-packed
Our TV critic David Bianculli is impressed by the effort, but not by the
DAVID BIANCULLI: One of the current TV executives was just quoted as
saying that this week was the first time all the broadcast networks were
going head to head during premiere week in such an aggressive fashion.
He can say that because he's young. I'm not, so I remember when the
networks did this sort of thing every fall. But it is the first time in
a long time that every network has come out swinging at the same time,
hoping to build momentum and get attention.
But this year, more than in any year I can remember, the new shows are
positively underwhelming. Every fall season, the question I'm asked most
often is, which new series do I have to watch? And most years, there's
at least one easy answer: "Glee" and "Modern Family," "Lost" and
"Desperate Housewives," "30 Rock." Even âBuffy the Vampire Slayer,â
though few people believed me at the time.
This year, the easy answer is "Boardwalk Empire," which just premiered
last night on HBO. But if you restrict the question to broadcast
television - to ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW - I have a different
answer. Grab a pen and some paper if you want because here comes my
complete list of the new TV shows that you have to watch this fall.
That's it. Nothing. And I'm not just being cranky. As a TV critic, I've
evaluated the new fall season output for 35 years now, and never before
- not once - have the broadcast networks come up completely empty.
How does this happen when they need viewers more than ever and when the
risky creativity of such shows as "Glee" and "Modern Family" were amply
rewarded last year with audiences and Emmys? I don't have a clue. But
clearly, based on this year's fall roster, neither do the broadcast
The best I can do, in an effort to be supportive, is point to a handful
of shows which might improve significantly after the pilot episode, and
which feature actors and producers whose past work led me to expect a
lot more in the first place.
So in that spirit of half-hearted recommendation, let's start with
"Running Wilde," a new Fox series premiering Tuesday. It comes from
Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of "Arrested Development," so that ought to be
enough. But it isn't.
Even though this series, about a wealthy playboy and a passionate
environmentalist, stars Will Arnett and Keri Russell, there are few
laughs and fewer sparks. This exchange from the pilot may well be the
high point, which proves my point.
(Soundbite of Fox series, "Running Wilde")
Ms. KERI RUSSELL (Actor): (as Emmy Kadubic) I want you...
Mr. WILL ARNETT (Actor): (as Steve Wilde) Oh, I want you.
Ms. RUSSELL: (as Emmy Kadubic) No. Oh, no, no, no, no. That's actually
not what I was going to...
Mr. ARNETT: (as Steve Wilde) Oh, SW, SW, look what's coming in - coming
Unidentified Actor: (as character) Sorry. I was (unintelligible).
Ms. RUSSELL: (as Emmy Kadubic) Well, the other hinge felt pretty good.
What the hell.
Mr. ARNETT: (as Steve Wilde) Oh, wait. Okay. Let's start over.
Ms. RUSSELL: (as Emmy Kadubic) I can't do this.
Mr. ARNETT: (as Steve Wilde) All right. Well, jump forward.
Ms. RUSSELL: (as Emmy Kadubic) No, I'm living with a wonderful man.
Mr. ARNETT: (as Steve Wilde) Ah ha.
Ms. RUSSELL: (as Emmy Kadubic) In the Amazon. We are working with a
tribe that is very poor and their village sits on a giant oil deposit
that your father wants. You have to tell him not to drill there.
Mr. ARNETT: (as Steve Wilde) Oh, not to drill. Well, that's going to be
a problem, Emmy.
BIANCULLI: Series creator Hurwitz says he's making a lot of changes
after the first episode, and he's certainly earned some slack, so I'll
stick around to see if things improve.
The same goes for the producer of a previous Keri Russell series, J.J.
Abrams, who made her a star with "Felicity." Since then, on TV, Abrams
has given us both "Alias" and "Lost," so there was every reason to
believe his new effort, a spy series called "Undercovers," would be a
major romp. It isn't - at least not at first. "Undercovers" premiers
Wednesday. But as spy series go, it's not even as lively as USA's
"Covert Affairs," much less anything matching the wit and style of
"Alias." But Abrams has entertained me in the past, so I'll try, try
However, that's not my reaction to "The Event," the drama series that
NBC is trying to build up as the next "Lost," with echoes of
"FlashForward" and "24" and "Fringe" and every other complicated
conspiracy-theory drama on TV lately. The star is Jason Ritter, who is
immensely likable - but this series isn't. In the pilot, the whole
convoluted mess is an effort to build up a cliffhanger exciting enough
for us to want to return for the second week. But for me, once was
plenty. Will the plane crash? What is the event? I don't care. NBC
coming up with an interesting new show - now that would be an event.
NBC's "The Event," in any other year, might qualify as the bottom of the
barrel, but in 2010, that barrel already is filled with "The Defenders"
and "Bleep My Dad Says" on CBS, and "Outlaw" on NBC, and "Detroit 187"
But there is good news: Ignoring all these shows leaves more time to
watch new episodes of the returning series that deserve to be seen.
Tonight, that means "House" and "Chuck." Tomorrow, it's "Glee."
Wednesday, "Modern Family." Thursday, "30 Rock," "Fringe" and, on its
new day, "The Big Bang Theory." And the weekend ends Sunday with new
installments of "The Simpsons," "Desperate Housewives" and "60 Minutes."
This year, don't bother playing with the new toys. Just stick with the
GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website
TVWorthWatching.com and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University
in New Jersey.
I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.