Last weekend, the dog world lost one of its brightest stars, but the beacon of hope that she provided will endure long after her death.
Ellen, one of the oldest Pit Bull Terriers to be rescued and successfully rehabilitated after enduring abuse in NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s dog-fighting operation, passed away at her Best Friends Animal Society home in Utah last weekend after struggling with an undisclosed illness. She was 11-years-old at the time of her death.
When police raided Vick’s dog fighting compound in 2007, Ellen and 21 other Pit Bull-type dogs, dubbed “The Vicktory Dogs,” were taken in by the Best Friends Animal Society. Ellen, known lovingly by the nickname “Ellen Belly,” was considered to be one of the greatest successes in the rehabilitation process.
“I’ve never had a dog who was so affectionate,” says one of Ellen’s caretakers, Maddie Haydon. “She bonded with everyone she met.”
For years, Ellen was not able to interact directly with the volunteers and sanctuary visitors who came to see her because of a court order that barred interaction with non-staff individuals.
But according to another of Ellen’s caretakers, Tom Williams, it was clear that Ellen loved attention even from afar, and that visitors were forever-changed after meeting the sweet Pit Bull Terrier. “The impact that it had on our visitors, tours and guests was visible,” Williams says. “You could see those people were touched.”
Ellen was one of seven former Vick dogs to have their “red collar” status lifted last month, meaning that after several years, she could finally have non-staff visitors. Greeting people face-to-face was where Ellen really shined, says Williams. “She was in her glory,” he says of Ellen, who loved to kiss people and have her tummy rubbed.
One volunteer, Betty Grieb, was so enamored with Ellen that Grieb spent three years visiting with Ellen from the other side of a fence. Grieb often read to Ellen during her visits, a practice Ellen enjoyed. Grieb was thrilled to finally get the chance to visit with Ellen up close, and she says that it was a moment that she will always remember. “It was like a dream come true,” Grieb says of her first face-to-face meeting with her buddy Ellen.
When Ellen suddenly started to lose weight and muscle mass, Best Friends veterinarians stepped in to try and treat her mysterious illness. But despite all efforts, her condition worsened.
“Ellen’s health is failing,” Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Patti Patterson announced before the decision to humanely euthanize the ailing Pit Bull Terrier. “Although we do not know the cause of her illness and deterioration, we have exhausted all diagnostic and treatment efforts that we feel could help Ellen.”
According to the Best Friends Animal Society website, Ellen had many visitors in her last few days, and spent what was left of her life doing what she enjoyed most: loving people and being loved by them in return.
Ellen will always be remembered as a kind soul who, against all odds, overcame tragic and cruel abuse, becoming one of her breed’s strongest ambassadors.
“She went a long way toward helping not only the Vick dogs that are here [at Best Friends Animal Society], but Pit Bulls in general,” says Williams. “She helped to dispel the myths about them.”
Volunteer Betty Grieb will always keep Ellen in her heart. “I really loved her,” Grieb says. “She was such a sweet girl, so full of life.”