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Gracie, dog rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting ring, dies

She was just a funny-looking little bow-legged black pit bull, but her legacy will be huge.

Gracie, who died Monday in her home in Midlothian, Virginia, was one of the 51 dogs seized in the 2007 raid on NFL star Michael Vick’s Bad Newz dogfighting kennel in Surry County, Virginia.

These dogs helped spark a revolution in how society deals with not just pit bulls, but any animal who has had a rough start in life. Before the “Vicktory dogs,” euthanasia was the only option, no questions asked, for canine combatants. It was considered too dangerous to even try to overcome the past. Now, rescuers make an effort to evaluate and rehabilitate dogs, no matter where they came from.

“Her legacy is to show that the public has absolutely nothing to fear,” Sharon Cornett told a CBS News affiliate in 2014. The Vick dogs flew in the face of the stereotypes and made good on the outside world. A few became therapy dogs, showing remarkable sensitivity in helping people overcome emotional and physical wounds. One is a star in the fast-paced sport of agility.

Others, like Gracie, eased into a happy life, as if it had always been this way. Cornett, a member of the board for the Richmond Animal League (RAL), opened her heart and home to the once-abused dog, and she became a wonderful companion.

In the dog’s honor, RAL started Gracie’s Guardians, an initiative to improve the lives and public image of pit bulls. There is also a Facebook page, where the sad news was announced on Monday. “Fly free little angel. We'll keep working in your spirit to help other dogs in need.”

As namesake, it was Gracie’s job to go out into the public and win hearts, an easy feat for the dog with the funny, bow-legged walk and sweet, easy-going demeanor. But her most important work may have been as mentor to dogs, like Michelle, with similar backgrounds.

Michelle was a terrified Beagle who had come to RAL after being taken from an abusive owner. Cornett thought Gracie could help, so she brought the Beagle home.

Gracie, the RAL wrote on its web site, taught by example that “that sleeping on the couch all day is fabulous, that letting go of the past is the only way to go, and that there is something good waiting for everyone.”

Last fall, another Vicktory dog, Hector, succumbed to cancer at the age of nine. Like Gracie, his life after Bad Newz gave him love and happiness, and, perhaps the biggest triumph of all, the chance to live to a ripe, old age.

Image courtesy of the Richmond Animal League.