Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to go down to Good Newz Rehab Center with a group of volunteers from BARCS. Good Newz Rehab Center is the former property of Michael Vick (known back then as Bad Newz Kennels) – this is the place where he kept, bred, and fought his pit bulls. As we drove down the empty rural country roads to get to the property, it became abundantly clear that this particular property had a purpose. This was not the type of area where a big time NFL star came to vacation. This was a private, sheltered patch of land smack dab in the middle of nowhere – bordered only by a small church directly across the street and a few neighbors along the way. It was quite sickening to realize just how calculated this location was. It was perfect for someone who wanted to do something illegal and get away with it.
As a side note, I did very minimal editing on these photos since I wanted them to reflect exactly what I saw with my own eyes during the trip. These are the first images I took upon arrival at the property, early Saturday morning. The beautiful fall light just made the scene all the more breath-taking, but seeing those black buildings made my heart jump right up in my throat. I stood outside the car and just watched, listened… I couldn’t believe I was actually there.
When we first arrived, we met the rest of our group inside the house and we got to meet all of the current residents of GNRC. In all, there were probably around 15 dogs on the property. They are divided into two packs (since they all don’t necessarily get along with each other) and they all come from very different places. The group that is running Good Newz Rehab Center is a group called Dogs Deserve Better, a group that primarily rescues dogs from being chained or penned outside. There was Cowboy – a HUGE black + white pit bull mix who looked more like a “cow” than a “cowboy”. He was so friendly and I wanted to take him home with me. There was Anthony – a skinny hound mix with soulful eyes and a wonderfully spunky personality on the leash. There was Storm – a gorgeous Siberian Husky who has since been adopted (woohoo!) and Shawnie – a gorgeous, shy black lab mix with beautiful brown eyes. There was Jada – a beautiful black + white pibble. Oh how I fell in love with Jada. She was a newbie at GNK, picked up from the side of the road about 10 days prior. She had either been thrown from or hit by a car… the scars on her face were still fresh. I wanted to scoop her up and take her back home with me. If I had a house, she would’ve come home with me as a new foster girl. She was super special and I hope she finds a home that appreciates her sweet and gentle nature. There was Spot – a black, white + tan mix with a big black spot over his left eye. He was constantly waiting and watching for his people. Then there was Polly – a very fearful Rottweiler mix who did not like eye contact or being near strangers. I’m shocked that I was able to sneak a photo of her! She was terrified of us the entire trip, but I hope some day she regains her trust in humans. I can only image what happened to her in the past. So sad.
After helping out with the morning chores and walking the dogs, we got the official tour of the property. This was, by far, the most emotional part of the trip for me. There are only 3 buildings remaining on the property (in addition to the house and cinder block kennels) – the fighting shed, the quarantine shed, and the whelping shed. All of them painted black, a haunting reminder of what happened here. We first went into the two-story fighting shed. This was a completely overwhelming experience for me. I recently finished reading The Lost Dogs, so the horrendous events that took place in there were still very fresh and raw in my mind. There were still chains on the wall of the first floor, where dog fighters would wash each others’ dogs before the fight. There were concrete water + food bowls still in the shed along with some other items left behind. Then I saw the staircase. The infamous pull-down stair case where these poor dogs were carried up to the fighting ring. The stairs were worn, hints of claw marks etched in the wood. It took my breath away as I climbed those stairs… the same stairs used by such horrible people.
Upstairs, the room was empty. There was a standing fan, a few pieces of carpet, some folding chairs and an old set of coveralls draped over the back. The plywood floors were dirty and bare where the fighting ring once stood. Pieces of the floor had been cut out and removed, probably to hide any DNA evidence of the dog fights. It was very intense up there and I could almost hear the screams of poor dogs who didn’t make it out of there alive.
The next building we went into was the quarantine shed – described as the “Auschwitz” of the property. A truly vivid description that made my stomach churn. There were still syringes + needles in the shed, which consisted of a straight-shot hallway with 3-4 “kennels” on each side. The shed was extremely dark and rudimentary. An overall depressing and sad place to visit.Outside the fighting shed and the quarantine shed sat a row of cinder block kennels. Apparently, these kennels were rarely used – most of the dogs on Vick’s property were tied up to trees and various items on the property. Where there is now an open field, that all used to be densely wooded. The trees next to the sheds were used for a variety of grotesque things such as hanging dogs and bashing their heads against them. It was just so painful to think about that actually happening. Who does that?!?!The last building we went into was the whelping shed, where moms and puppies were kept. This shed was long with blacked out windows and only a few kennels. There was a piece of plywood with the initials “BNK” written on it in yellow chalk or crayon. That was pretty haunting seeing that lettering etched onto the wood, as if it were written just yesterday.I’ll be honest. The images below definitely freak me out! I took these in the whelping shed and when I got home and uploaded them to my computer, I swear it looks like there is a dog curled up in the fetal position in this kennel. This shed was empty – none of the GNRC dogs come into these buildings, as they are only unlocked for tours. I don’t know what my camera caught, but it sure is eerie to me. You could really feel the spirits on the property, but I never though I could capture that feeling on camera.The hardest thing for me to reconcile was the sheer beauty of the place and knowing the atrocities that happened here. The setting was breathtaking… beautiful open fields, sparkling tall grass, the vibrant fall colors and beautiful sun just made the place so painfully beautiful, I couldn’t help but cry as I stood and took it all in. I felt kind of guilty, thinking about the beauty of the place. It was very hard emotionally for me to deal with.
At the end of the day, we were able to tear down a large section of fence that needed to be moved and we were able to complete a large section of fence along the left side of the property. It was hard work and we were lucky enough to have some really dedicated, talented, and strong people along the help out. At the end of the day, we were sunburned and tired, but we felt so fulfilled having helped DDB rebuild a part of this fence so that eventually the dogs will be free to run the entire property!Some of the last images that I took of the day were of Sloan, one of the resident dogs at GNRC. He was just basking outside in the beauty of the land and striking a pose next to the fence we worked so hard to build. There is an irony to those images of Sloan – a dog so blissfully happy and completely unaware of what happened here not so long ago. I hope that DDB really turns this place into something special because these dogs really deserve it. They deserve justice.