Life After Dogfighting: Ginny’s Journey Home
It was described as a “dreary, rainy” day in the Bronx when the New York City Police Department (NYPD), assisted by the ASPCA, executed a search warrant on a local property where there had been reports of suspected dogfighting. On that rainy day in May 2017, Katherine Good, Foster and Placement Manager for ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement (HLE), waited with the rest of her team as they prepared to enter the home and remove any suffering animals. Though conditions weren’t ideal, the atmosphere that day proved to be quite fitting for the scene that would soon unfold.
Inside the home, Katherine discovered a few dogs being housed in separate rooms, locked inside dirty crates. But it was what was discovered outside that truly stuck out in Katherine’s mind. As she and her team moved into the rundown backyard space, they noticed something rather odd.
“Down there, there was one dog who was by herself, tethered on a thick rope to a barrel,” Katherine says. “And it was raining, so it kind of emphasized that this poor dog was in the rain by herself, and then there were seven more dogs inside of plywood boxes.”
The boxes were small, and they were all latched shut. As the team began to open the boxes, it was also discovered that many of the dogs were held down by chains in the enclosures. It was those boxes, and that one dog outside in the rain, that stood out most to Katherine that day.
“Having worked with dogfighting victims before, I always picture the heavy chains, the barrels and the separation,” Katherine says. “But those boxes are something I’ve never seen before, and I never fathomed that people would house their dogs that way.”
Removing the dogs one at a time, Katherine noted that the dog who was outside alone was excited to see them, and tells us that the dog, now known as Ginny, was “tap dancing” and approaching the responders for attention despite her surroundings and the heavy chain and padlock that was around her collar.
At intake, Ginny had a padlocked chain around her neck.
A Chance to Begin Again
With Ginny’s chain broken, she could now begin healing.
Following their rescue from that deplorable situation, the 11 dogs, including Ginny, were all taken to the ASPCA Animal Recovery Center (ARC), where they were given individual treatment and time to heal. After a few weeks, Ginny was able to move to the ASPCA Adoption Center, where she was made available for adoption.
Ginny right after her rescue.
But despite being ready to move on to a loving home, Ginny was still incredibly fearful, and since her experiences in a domestic setting were limited, new things were extremely overwhelming for her.
It was clear that to fully move on from her past, Ginny would not only need a lot of support, but she would also need pet parents who truly understood her.
Luckily for Ginny, those adopters weren’t far off.
Falling in Love with Ginny
By June 2017, Claire S. and Nick V. had been discussing adding a dog to their small family for some time. Though Nick had grown up with a dog, Claire was new to the experience, and the couple went into the process without many preconceived notions of what they were looking for.
That day, the couple arrived at the Adoption Center with the famous last words of “we’re just going to look.” As they toured the facility and viewed our available dogs, they stopped at Ginny’s enclosure. While the other dogs in the Adoption Center that day were excited, jumping and barking to say hello, Ginny stayed seated quietly in her enclosure.
“I bent down, and they had the little hole where I could just boop her on the snoot, and I don’t know what it was about her, but I just started crying,” Claire says. “It was instantaneous.”
“We didn’t know what type of dog we were going to adopt,” Nick tells us. “But I think when we met Ginny that day, we knew she was the one. When Claire looked back up at me, she had tears in her eyes, so I think it was Ginny choosing us. The decision was really made for us; there was no way we were going to leave that day without bringing Ginny home with us.”
A few hours later, Ginny was in the car with Nick and Claire, heading not only to her new home, but to a new future, away from the traumas of her past. Before taking her home, Claire and Nick were told that Ginny’s adjustment could be tough and that she suffered from anxiety and was fearful of just about everything. But that didn’t deter Nick or Claire one bit. In fact, it made their feelings that much stronger.
“I have anxiety, so we were kind of kindred spirits in that regard,” Nick says. “Notwithstanding her having four legs and me having two, I think we kind of see our outside surroundings through a similar prism. I think there was quite a bit of empathy I felt for a vulnerable animal who wasn’t able to help herself, and then also understanding how she might feel in terms of that anxiety and being nervous in new surroundings. I thought it was a perfect match in that regard.”
A New Normal
After bringing Ginny home, the couple began to understand just how severe Ginny’s fears were and how limiting her previous life had been. In their fifth floor walk-up apartment, Nick and Claire learned that even seemingly simple things were new and scary to the sweet dog.
Nick tells us that on those first few nights, he didn’t get much sleep. “I was hyper-aware of the surroundings, making sure she felt comfortable and safe,” he says.
“She didn’t know how to do anything,” Claire tells us. “She didn’t know how to go up and down the stairs, which seems like a really simple thing. We’d have to put a piece of cheese on every single step just to get her to go up and down. When we did take her outside, the tiniest noise would make her freeze, her tail would go between her legs and she would start shaking—we couldn’t even get her around the block. But she can’t help it, so we’d just pick her up and take her home. And people would laugh because she’s not like one of those little dogs you can fit in a bag. But I was so protective of her.”
Nick adds that Ginny’s adjustment was “definitely a labor of love,” and that although Ginny was two years old, developmentally she was still like a puppy. “It was a lot of carrying her up and down the stairs, a lot of bear hugs, and just a lot of very calm, relaxing energy,” he says. “It was definitely baby steps.”
But the couple’s immense patience and compassion for Ginny began to pay off. Little by little, they began to see her coming out of her shell, and once Claire got Ginny a “thunder jacket,” Ginny’s true personality really began to shine, becoming what Claire calls “a ball of joy.” It was at that point that Ginny knew she was finally home.
A Life Worth Living
From dark beginnings in the Bronx, Ginny’s life has certainly changed for the better. And for Nick and Claire, watching her grow, learn and become such a loving, trusting pet has been an emotional and rewarding experience. Nick tells us that for him, a trip to the beach with Ginny sticks out most in his mind. “Seeing her run through the breakers on the shore was really emotional for me. For a dog having come from the Bronx to be on the beach, in the Atlantic Ocean, it was really cool.”
Nick and Claire take Ginny almost everywhere they go now; she’s been to Boston to watch Claire run in the Boston Marathon, she spends weekends at their lake house in the Poconos, she rides the NYC subway and she even spent some time visiting Nick’s grandmother while she was in an assisted living facility (Claire tells us that the other residents there also adored her company). With her confidence in full bloom, Ginny is always up for an adventure with mom and dad by her side.
Day to day life revolves around Ginny now, and Claire and Nick say that their lives have only gotten better since her arrival. “She’s complemented everything that was good about our lives and our routines, but I think Ginny’s also taught us how to slow down and smell the roses,” Nick says. “There was never a question of whether or not we’d make it through the long run—we were going to.”
The couple got married in October 2018, and it was no question as to who would be their flower girl—Ginny led the way down the aisle in a collar stitched with flowers and a tutu fit for a princess.
Photo courtesy of Longbrook Photography.
“Claire and I hope to have kids one day, and I think the experience of raising Ginny and working with her had made us closer,” Nick says. “I think it’s made us a stronger couple. It’s been trying at times when Ginny may have had a bad day, but I think it’s engrained in me that I found my soulmate and we found our doggo. Starting our married lives, sharing this experience and really having to lean on each other in different ways to take care of Gin has really been self-assuring and reaffirming of the decision not only to marry Claire, but the decision to adopt Gin.”
Photo courtesy of Longbrook Photography.
Now, seeing Ginny sprint up and down the stairs, seeing her running in the park and showering strangers with affection, you’d never suspect that her beginnings were marred with tragedy. Ginny isn’t what her pet parents envisioned when they thought of a dogfighting victim, and she’s probably not what many of us do either.
“I think when we found out that she was involved in what was suspected to be a dogfighting ring we thought: but she’s so sweet, she’s so patient, she’s so loving,” Nick says. He also adds that having Ginny in their lives has opened their minds in a lot of ways. “Seeing Ginny around a newborn baby, it’s beautiful to see it, she’s just so calm and gentle around them. It just helped break down those mental barriers. No matter how traumatic, how violent, how terrible and dark an environment is, I’ve learned that no dog is beyond saving.”
Claire also encourages others to adopt and to be patient with rescue dogs who may have a more complicated past: “If it’s difficult at first, it’s not their fault. Adopting is so rewarding, we look at Ginny every day, and we look at each other like ‘We love this dog! She’s the best!’ You get back what you give ten times.”
Justice at Last
Though Ginny’s story has an immensely happy ending, it doesn’t stop in her home with Claire and Nick. In August 2018, Ginny’s case went to trial and her abuser was charged with conspiracy to possess, train and buy dogs for participation in an animal fighting venture and animal fighting. This case was significant, as it was the first federal dogfighting case in U.S. history to go to trial.
Ginny’s abuser was found guilty on all counts, and justice was effectively served for her and the 10 other dogs she suffered alongside. For people like Katherine Good, Ginny’s case is just another example of why we need to keep fighting.
“This work is an uphill climb, it’s something we need to build on with each and every case we come across,” she says. “So to have a milestone like that and have it turn out in favor of the dogs, is very encouraging and motivating. Each win, each conviction and each opportunity to get justice for those dogs is a step in the right direction to the world we want to live in where this doesn’t happen at all.”
April 8th marked National Dogfighting Awareness Day, and while we will continue to fight for those who need us most, we hope that you can help give more dogs like Ginny a #fightingchance by signing our HEART Act Petition.