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I was wrong. I freely admit this.

Years ago when the case broke about Michael Vick and the dog fighting ring he was running on his Virginia property and they talked about re-homing and rehabilitating the dogs, honestly, there was a tiny part in the back of my mind that thought, “Man, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

Can a dog that had been through all of that really turn out to be a family pet?

Last week, Better Days Animal League brought “The Champions” to Chambersburg – a documentary about the dogs that were taken from that compound and what happened to them.

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place by the time the credits rolled.

I can honestly say I didn’t really know what to expect as the lights dimmed and the theater grew quiet. I figured we would need tissues, but I don’t think I was prepared for the true lesson that came through.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah and BADRAP, a pitbull rescue from California, took more than 50 pitbulls from the compound after the police raid in 2007. These poor dogs, many of them scarred from their lives of fighting, were so frightened and looked just so ... sad.

It took a long while for them to trust anyone – previously in their lives, a human walking up to them would often mean pain, so even with soft voices and pleasing tones from the volunteers and rescuers, they didn’t believe.

Not yet.

It was amazing to watch the patience and love that the rescue workers had for these dogs. Day in and day out, they would try. They would get closer – literally by inches – but those inches were miles to these hurt animals. The rescue workers knew, they just knew, that if the pups could get over the hurt, get beyond the fear, they would come around.

And they did.

I don’t think the word inspiring is really strong enough to describe what happened. As an audience member, you could see the changes in these dogs. You could see their eyes become less haunted. You could see them look forward to greeting the volunteer or caregiver each day.

You could see the trust being rebuilt.

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Can you imagine the strength it would take? I know humans who couldn’t do that, and here were these scarred, almost forgotten dogs, being capable of a power far greater than some members of the species that had domesticated them.

One of my favorite ideas from the documentary came from the quote (and I’m not getting this exactly right, but the gist is there) that said animals are much more forgiving of our species than we ever are of theirs or probably our own for that matter.

It’s so true and never is it clearer than in this case.

When the dogs were first rescued, they were known as “The Vick dogs,” but that was a moniker that soon left when they proved they were so much more.

Because, eventually, no one mentioned Vick anymore – he had lost his influence and power. The dogs were free and they were moving on, and no one wanted to remember anything about him.

Some of the dogs were adopted into families with children and even cats. One is even a therapy dog, and he helps children recovering from major illnesses. Many of them have other dogs as siblings.

And they looked ... just, happy.

The sentiment from the adoptive families focused a lot on meant to be. Many of them don’t know what they’re lives would have been like without these dogs and the lessons of resilience and love they had learned from them.

I know I’ve been changed from witnessing it.

Thanks so much to Abbi Crowe from Better Days for all her hard work to bring “The Champions” to us. It’s a night I know I won’t soon forget.

I’m a firm believer in admitting when I’m wrong and I have never been more wrong than that momentary doubt I had about these dogs. Their journey was one not many of us would have been able to face, but they did and they bounced back and they were able to finally, finally find their place in this world where they will never, ever be hurt again.

They are a shining testament to strength, character and good triumphing over evil.

“The Champions” is a stunning tribute to something we should all hold tight to in this world – the true, overwhelming beauty of love.

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Jennifer Vanderau is the director of communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter and can be reached at cvascomm@cvas-pets.org. For more information, call the shelter at 717-263-5791 or visit the website www.cvas-pets.org.

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