Jonny Justice, a 45-pound, Staffordshire bull terrier, one of 66 canines rescued from Jets quarterback Michael Vick's notorious Bad Newz Kennels in Smithville, Va., in 2007 (SI, Dec. 29, 2008), has come a long way from the nightmarish conditions he endured as a puppy. After Vick and others were convicted on federal charges of trafficking and sponsoring fighting dogs, Jonny won a Most Beautiful Dog in the Country contest in 2012, had a Gund plush toy created in his likeness and last week was recognized for his work as a therapy dog with a new award: ASPCA Dog of the Year.
Jonny, now about eight years old, lives in San Francisco with Cris Cohen and Jennifer Long, longtime pit bull rescue volunteers, who quickly recognized his way with children and had him certified as a therapy dog within a year of taking him in. Jonny has participated in literacy programs, where children practiced their language skills by reading aloud to him, and now brings joy to terminally ill children and their families with his repertoire of 30 tricks. "Anything is possible," says Cohen.