- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

RICHMOND | Like many dogs introduced to new environments, Gracie was a bit hesitant when she arrived at Sharon Cornett’s home in Chesterfield County.

From the sights, sounds and smells in the kitchen to the layouts of the various rooms, Gracie needed some time to find a comfort zone.

“She was a little bit shy,” Miss Cornett said. “But she quickly discovered that sitting on the sofa was her most favorite activity.”

These days, Gracie clearly is comfortable with her home. She seems to relish her role as the official laid-back greeter when strangers visit, and if they spend some time being nice to her, it’s only a matter of minutes before she snuggles up in their lap.

From Gracie’s pleasant demeanor to her hot-pink collar, there is no indication of her difficult past, one rooted in three words that make many dog lovers cringe:

Bad Newz Kennels.

Gracie was one of 51 dogs seized in April 2007 from the Surry County dogfighting operation owned and bankrolled by Michael Vick.

In the months that followed, Vick plummeted from grace, losing his job as a star NFL quarterback and being sentenced to federal prison.

The Bad Newz dogs, meantime, awaited their fate while housed in various shelters. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was among the groups calling for all of the dogs to be written off as lost causes and euthanized.

But a judge instead ordered the dogs to be evaluated for rehabilitation potential and to be placed accordingly with various animal care groups. Vick was directed to pay $928,000 to a trust fund set up to care for the animals.

Now, as Vick prepares for his July 20 release from federal custody, most of his former dogs already have accomplished what he seeks: a successful comeback.

Forty-seven of the dogs were saved.

Gracie - part of a group of four dogs allocated to the Richmond Animal League, of which Miss Cornett is a board member - is the only one of the Bad Newz dogs living in the Richmond area.

From all indications, Gracie was one of the lucky ones. She bears no scars that would indicate she was involved in fighting and, unlike some of the Vick dogs, her teeth neither have been filed down nor pulled.

Gracie, it seems, was used exclusively as a breeder and kept in a chain-link kennel away from the violent part of the Bad Newz operation.

Showing no signs of aggression and every indication that she was nothing more than a couch potato-in-waiting, Gracie was among the dogs judged ready to be placed in foster care for adoption.

Miss Cornett, who took in Gracie in December 2007 from the Virginia Beach animal shelter, quickly noticed how well the 38-pound pit bull did in the house and how easily she got along with Miss Cornett’s two other dogs and several cats. It became obvious, Miss Cornett said, that Gracie already was home.

So Miss Cornett made it official. After a court-mandated waiting period, she adopted Gracie permanently.

“Probably one of the easiest dogs I’ve ever brought home,” she said, softly scratching Gracie’s head. “Right, Goo Goo Dog?”

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