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James Sullivan for the Boston Globe:
The breed, of course, is the pit bull — the latest in a long line of dog breeds, from bloodhounds and German shepherds to Dobermans and Rottweilers, to endure periods of demonization. Gorant is the journalist who covered NFL star Michael Vick’s high-profile dogfighting case in a Sports Illustrated cover story.
The fates of dozens of dogs rescued from Vick’s underground operation may change the perception that pit bulls are nothing but “mindless attack machines,’’ writes the author. “The Lost Dogs’’ tracks the undercover agents, prosecutors, animal advocates, and foster families who together mounted a rehabilitation effort that has quietly changed some attitudes about so-called “vicious’’ dogs.
Vick’s conviction, Gorant writes, marked “the first time that dogs in a fight bust were looked at not as weapons, as the equivalent of a gun in a shooting, but as victims.’’ Rescued from the quarterback’s rural Virginia compound (coincidentally, not far from the world headquarters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), some of the dogs were initially aggressive. Many others were scarred psychologically as well as physically, terrified of all sound and motion or resigned to a near-catatonic state.
They’d been through hell. Dogs that would not fight (or proved to be inept in doing so) for Vick and his friends at Bad Newz Kennels were often put to death without mercy. The author reports one incident in which a dog was doused with water, then electrocuted. In another, Vick and an accomplice swung a dog by its front and back limbs “like a jump rope,’’ slamming it against the ground until it expired.
Such gruesome scenes soon give way to glimmers of optimism. Although the team of experts assigned to the case set a modest goal, hoping to integrate five of the 49 dogs rescued into the general public, the number continued to rise as the effort progressed among trainers and caregivers across the country.
Gorant cites some statistics — there are an estimated 40,000 underground dogfighters in the United States, for instance — but “The Lost Dogs’’ turns out to be more a canine Horatio Alger story than a true-crime investigation. Once the dogs are given names — big, goofy Leo (nicknamed the Cowardly Lion); quivering Sweet Jasmine; Tug, who kept a half-dozen plush toys in his bed — they become someone’s best friend.
Even the people involved are described in part by the dogs they keep at home. Assistant US Attorney Mike Gill, “the kind of guy who wore cowboy boots with a suit and guzzled Diet Cokes,’’ keeps pictures of his dogs — Toby, a German shepherd, and Ginger, a beagle — in his office. We first meet retiring special agent Jim Knorr as he tosses a ball to BJ, his border collie-golden retriever mix.
“The truth, in the end, is that each dog, like each person, is an individual,’’ writes Gorant. “If the Vick dogs proved nothing else to the world, this would be a significant advance.’’
As with all dogs (and people), the book has a few imperfections. The author refers to San Francisco’s Sunset district as “Sunset Hill,’’ and he describes a dog’s “grease-paint mustache’’ not once but twice.
But when he recounts the saga of a dog named Jonny Rotten who earns the name Jonny Justice after training to become a child-literacy assistant (he sits in libraries while kids read to him), readers of Gorant’s book will want to jump up and whoop, “Good dog!’’
From Bookweb’s Indie Next List:
“NFL quarterback Michael Vick and his minions set up a major dog-fighting operation, and the details of what the dogs had to endure are all here. It's not a cozy read, but it is gripping and emotionally intense, and the drama is real. Gorant shares not only the story of the dogfights, but also the story of the people who discovered and rescued these animals. Reading about those who risked so much to help animals that much of society shuns was enthralling and inspiring. I loved this book!”
Advance Praise for The Lost Dogs
—Allen St. John, author of The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes at the Super Bowl
“[The Lost Dogs] should be read by dog lovers. I was surprised to learn that three-quarters of the dogs could be completely rehabilitated. They were either traumatized and scared or friendly dogs who had spent too much time in a barren kennel.”
—Temple Grandin, author of
Animals in Translation
“Jim Gorant’s remarkably even-handed The Lost Dogs is a gripping story of redemption that uncovers the other side of the Michael Vick story. A portrait of dogs as individuals, caught up in events that reveal the best and worst of human nature, The Lost Dogs will validate dog lovers and possibly transform cynics as well. In the fate of dogs like Jasmine, Leo, and Hector, we can see ourselves—and the complicated world around us.”
—Ken Foster, author of The Dogs Who Found Me
“Jim Gorant goes beyond the headlines of Michael Vick and Bad Newz Kennels to richly tell the rest of the story: how these amazing dogs, in the wake of such brutality, help bring out the best in the human spirit.”
—Tom Verducci, author of The Yankee Years
“Gorant, a Sports Illustrated senior editor, here expands on a cover story that appeared in the magazine’s December 29, 2008 issue and received the most responses of any story that year. In the intro to his book, which at first look is beautifully written and forthright yet not sensational. Gorant aptly quotes rescuer Donna Reynolds on efforts made for these dogs: “‘Vick showed the worst of us, our bloodlust, but this showed the best.’” The Lost Dogs should make some news; not just for animal lovers but for anyone pondering the human propensity for violence—and goodness.” —Library Journal