- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

His back resting comfortably against her chest, Hector nestles his massive canine head into Leslie Nuccio’s shoulder, high-fiving pit-bull paws against human hands.

The big dog — 52 pounds — is social, people-focused and happy now, it seems, wearing a rhinestone collar in his new home in sunny California.

But as Hector sits up, deep scars stand out on his chest, and his eyes are imploring.

“I wish he could let us know what happened to him,” said Miss Nuccio, the big tan dog’s foster mother.

Hector ought to be dead, she knows — killed in one of his staged fights, or executed for not being “game” enough, not winning, or euthanized by those who see pit bulls seized in busts as “kennel trash,” unsuited to any kind of normal life.

Instead, Hector is learning how to be a pet.

After the hell of a fighting ring, he has reached a heaven of sorts: Saved by a series of unlikely breaks; transported thousands of miles along with other dogs rescued by devoted strangers, and now nurtured by Miss Nuccio; her roommate, Danielle White; and their three other dogs.

The animals barrel around the house, with 4-year-old Hector leading the puppylike antics — stealth underwear grabs from the laundry basket, sprints across the living room, food heists from the coffee table — until it’s “love time,” when he decelerates and engulfs the women in a hug.

Hector has come such a long way since he was trapped in the horrors of Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

Authorities who descended last year on 1915 Moonlight Road in Surry County, Va., found where Vick, the former NFL quarterback, and others staged pit-bull fights in covered sheds, tested the animals’ fighting prowess and destroyed and disposed of dogs that weren’t good fighters.

Vick is serving a 23-month federal sentence after admitting he bankrolled the dogfighting operation and helped kill six to eight dogs. Three co-defendants also pleaded guilty and were sentenced, and the four now face state animal-cruelty charges.

Officers who carried out the raid found dogs, some injured and scarred, chained to buried car axles. Forensic specialists discovered remains of dogs that had been shot with a .22 caliber pistol, electrocuted, drowned, hanged or slammed to the ground for lacking a desire to fight.

A bewildered Hector and more than 50 other American pit-bull terriers or pit-bull mixes were gathered.

The dogs, held as evidence in the criminal prosecutions, were taken to a half-dozen city and county pounds and shelters in Virginia.

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