The Champions

Distributed By: FilmRise

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                I think the pit bull terrier breed gets a bad rap.  I lived in an apartment next door to where my landlord's mother kept her pit bull and never worried about this dog.  Named Skippy, this white pit bull wagged his tail vigorously from the first day he met me and we were best of friends for the rest of his life.  I understand people's fear of dogs bred for fighting, but the entire breed was not bred to fight and some that unscrupulously were bred for this can be meant for so much more.  That's why I took a special interest in The Champions, a documentary about the dogs rescued from Michael Vick's dog fighting compound.

                Directed by Darcy Dennett, The Champions takes us back to 2007, when former Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick was arrested after it was discovered that he had owned and operated a dog-fighting compound where he helped train pit bulls to fight in an illegal dog-fighting ring for over five years.  The atrocities enacted upon the dogs at this compound were many and the penalty rather small when one considers what the over fifty dogs found on this compound had to go through each day of their lives. 

                When the dogs were rescued, it was the opinion of many (shame on you PETA and HSUS) that they were too dangerous for adoption and that they would all have to be euthanized.  But there were some that believed these dogs deserved a second chance.  Enter California-based BADRAP and Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society who both saw the dogs as victims who would represent a special challenge, but could be made adoptable.  BADRAP, a pit bull advocacy and rescue organization took ten dogs into their foster network.  Best Friends Animal Society was in a unique position of being able to rescue twenty-two of the dogs as they were better capable of keeping these dogs in a healthy and happy environment should they turn out to be non-adoptable.

                As I watched this documentary I felt a kinship to the people who put themselves out there and rescued animals that others had given up on.  For years I had watched television series on Animal Planet in which pit bulls were recovered from deplorable circumstances only to learn that those dogs had been euthanized due to the laws against the breed in areas like Detroit and Miami.  Perfectly sweet dogs, more afraid of humans than humans are of them, were put down without even a thought of fostering or adopting out simply because of their breed and the laws of the area that discriminated against pit bulls.  I would always feel such anger when I would discover this outcome, harking back to my days with Skippy and what a sweet and loving dog he was.

                The documentary follows the lives of five of the rescued dogs, but we do learn the fate of others in the group and I loved hearing about their happy endings.  Whether adopted out into loving families and becoming great companions or therapy dogs as in the case of Jonny Justice, or whether they continued on at Best Friends Animal Society, the dogs rescued from Michael Vick's compound found a home that they could be happy in - a loving home that promised safety and security for the rest of their days.

                The Champions also reminds us that pit bulls didn't always have the stigma of being a dangerous fighting dog.  In fact, throughout history, pit bulls were most often considered a family pet, often used to advertise products and often seen interacting happily with children.  I loved that this documentary disproved many a myth about pit bulls, including the idea that they are no good/unpredictable with children and that they are not capable of being housed with cats.  I especially loved watching how Cherry interacted with his family's new additions.  Watching how sweetly Cherry interacted with the family's new son and adopted kitten was adorable.

                I ask every animal lover to check out The Champions.  It will re-enforce your faith in humanity and teach you a thing or two about a breed that has been long discriminated against as being dangerous.  I challenge you to watch this documentary without grinning at Jonny's silliness, aww-ing at Cherry's cleaning of "his" kitten and dabbing your eyes with tissues as the individuals who found it in their heart to adopt or foster these animals gushed teary-eyed about these dogs.  What a terrific documentary - an uplifting look at how a second chance can make a difference in an animal or the human who interacts with that animal's life.


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