Cherry Garcia is a lover, not a fighter.
He loves snuggling with kittens. He loves cuddling with toddlers. He loves having his belly rubbed by middle school kids. The 11-year-old dog is so docile and affectionate with everyone he meets that it’s baffling to contemplate how his life began.
Back in 2007, Cherry was among the more than 50 dogs removed from Bad Newz Kennels, the notorious dog-fighting operation at the Virginia home of then-NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Cherry’s life kept getting better and better after his rescue — and, as a tribute to his years of transformation and recovery, the aging pit bull just enjoyed his best day yet.
Cherry Garcia got honored in BarkPost’s ongoing video series called Dog's Best Day, which aims to give deserving pooches the best 24 hours of their lives. In Cherry’s case, his dream day involved a cuddle party with tiny kittens, a backyard beach bash with his human family, and a chance to devour a dog-friendly ice cream sundae.
“People don’t understand (that) dogs in fighting rings are no different than any other dog. The proof is in Cherry,” said Paul Fiaccone, who adopted Cherry in 2010. “He wants to be happy. He wants to give back. What he wants to do is love.”
Paul’s wife, Melissa Fiaccone, agreed.
“He has shown the world that even if you come from a background like he did, you can still go on to be a great family dog,” she said in Cherry’s “best day” video.
Nearly half of the dogs rescued from Vick’s dog-fighting ring made their way to Best Friends Animal Society’s sanctuary in Utah, where they were rehabilitated and helped to live out the rest of their lives as normal — and beloved — pets.
“Many people thought that, based on the dogs coming from a fighting background, that they should automatically be euthanized,” Michelle Weaver, Best Friends’ director of animal care, said in Cherry’s BarkPost video. “(We) really felt the dogs deserved to go through the rehabilitation process because they were the victims.”
Weaver noted how much help Cherry needed when he first arrived at the sanctuary.
“When we would try to walk him, he would flatten his body right to the ground and almost crawl because he was so scared,” she said.
These days, Cherry loves to run, romp and play with Eleanor Roosevelt — aka Ellie — a white and tan pit bull adopted by the Fiaccone family earlier this year. He also relishes snuggle and play time with the Fiaccones’ children, Novi and Rosalie, and two cats, Walker and Sophie.
Nothing has slowed Cherry down in his new, happy life — not even a surgery earlier this year to have a back leg amputated because of painful arthritis.
In the years since his adoption, Cherry has become an internet celebrity with nearly 20,000 Facebook followers. He’s also a star of “The Champions,” a documentary about the transformation of the former fighting dogs who came to be known as “Vicktory dogs.”
“If Cherry was a vicious dog, he would not be able to recover,” Paul Fiaccone said. “He just needed somebody there to give him the time that he needed to recover.”
TODAY writer and editor Laura T. Coffey is the author of the bestselling book "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts," which features stories of transformation like Cherry Garcia’s. Connect with Coffey on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and at MyOldDogBook.com.