• Rita Rose

Dogfighting survivor passes away at 15


Tess Rushton spoiled Layla for many years. (Photo courtesy of Tess Rushton)

On June 21, an elderly American Staffordshire terrier named Layla passed away. She was a special dog, a survivor of abuse in a famous case that angered dog lovers all over America.


In 2007, Layla was rescued from former NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s infamous dogfighting ring in Virginia and became one of 22 “Vicktory Dogs” sent to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. It took five years of special training and loving care to make her ready for adoption.


Tess Rushton, an intern at Best Friends, adopted Layla. Rushton spoiled the dog by cooking organic food to mix into high-quality kibble, and made toys with hidden treats to help stimulate the clever dog’s mind. They took vacations together and volunteered at the Teen Tracks program of the Arizona Animal Welfare League. Each Saturday for many summers, Layla would meet with teenagers learning how to care for and treat animals.


At 15 ½, Layla’s health issues impacted her quality of life, and on June 21, 2019, Rushton and Layla’s “dad,” Peter Conley, made the decision to end her suffering.


“It’s really, really tragic and sad,” Rushton told TODAY. “But she’s out of pain, and wherever her little spirit went, I’m sure it’s better than the way that she felt in that poor, aching body.”


According to the article in TODAY, the legacy of Vicktory Dogs like Layla lives on. Before the Michael Vick dogfighting case, most animal welfare organizations sought to euthanize seized fighting dogs. Best Friends Animal Society lobbied against the summary execution of the dogs rescued from Vick’s kennels, and a federal judge appointed a special “guardian” to help determine the dogs’ fate.


After several months isolated in custody kennels, 22 of the most challenged dogs went to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for rehabilitation. Some went on to be therapy dogs, agility champions and ambassadors.


“Several states, including California, Florida and Wisconsin, changed state laws stipulating that dogs seized from dogfighting rings be immediately labeled “vicious” or “dangerous” — and therefore subject to euthanasia — and the Humane Society of the United States now supports rehabilitating former fighting dogs,” says TODAY.



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