Richard Hunter has a new member of his household. That's him, quivering in the corner. Shaking uncontrollably. Convulsing. The 4-year-old is scared shitless.
"He lives in fear," Hunter says of his new best friend, Mel. "You would too if you'd been beating and traumatized your whole life."
Michael Vick is out of prison and back in the NFL. But the dogs he tortured - the ones he didn't kill, that is - will never escape his dark shadow.
"Mel's come a long way. We can pet him. He sleeps in bed with us," Hunter says. "But he's scarred for life. He's never barked. Never made a noise. There are times when he's just terrified."
Hunter, who for years hosted a talk show on various Dallas radio stations and these days produces a daily podcast at
www.richardhuntershow.com, was outraged by the gruesome details of Vick's dog-fighting ring. He ranted about how Vick should never be allowed to play in the NFL again.
"Prison or not, I didn't think this guy would play another down," Hunter says. "I never thought the American public would stand for this. In our small way, we wanted to make our statement."
Hunter and his wife, who live in Dallas, have a 13-year-old Terrier named Pumpkin. But after reading the details of Vick's own trial testimony about how the dogs were treated - hooked up to a car battery and electrocuted, teeth yanked out so they couldn't bite handlers during sessions on a rape stand, hanging, drowning, thrown for sport -
the couple decided to adopt one of the battered and beleagured Pit Bulls.
That 18-month journey started when they contacted Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah
Initially told no dog was adoption-ready, nine months later the couple underwent a federal background check. That was followed by a home visit from a case worker, then a visit - via car, on their own dime - to Utah where they lived in a cabin for a week and introduced themselves and Pumpkin to Mel.
Finally approved by the society and the judge who sent Vick to jail, Hunter had Mel hand-delivered by a case worker and a trainer in September. The trainer stayed in a Dallas hotel and visited Mel in his new home every day for a week before leaving.
"Shy is an understatement," Hunter says of Mel. "Remember, he was used as a 'bait' dog."
That means, essentially, that Mel was a canine piñata, beaten daily by Vick and his cronies to kill his fighting spirit. Once "de-fanged" of his will, Mel was thrown into a pit with prized fighting dogs who practiced their aggression on the hapless, defenseless - and, even worse, muzzled - bait dog.
"To consider what he went through, his resiliency is amazing," Hunter says. "For the first couple years of this dog's life every time he saw a human being [he thought] something terrible was about to happen to him."
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Give the assist to Pumpkin. The two dogs hit it off, with the elder sensing the fear in his new introvert friend.
When a stranger enters Hunter's house, Mel freaks out. He grabs his monkey security blanket, slowly backs up into the corner and quivers. In front of him, standing as guard, is Pumpkin. And since Mel can't - or won't - use vocal communication, it's Pumpkin who barks for him, often waking Hunter late at night to find Mel at the back door needing a bathroom break.
"While Vick is pure evil, this dog is so good despite having suffered through such hell that he's truly changed my life," Hunter says. "I can't support a league that allows Vick to play in it.
"At the same time, Mel has enriched our lives beyond our wildest dreams."