In 2007, the U.S. was rocked by the revelation that NFL star Michael Vick – along with three associates – had just been convicted of running a cruel, illegal dog fighting ring called Bad Newz Kennels. As details of the torment and abuse that the dogs had endured came to light, legal authorities were faced with the formidable challenge of figuring out how the animals should be cared for in the future.

Luckily, most of the dogs were deemed fit for adoption, and many were lucky enough to find loving forever homes, where the traumas of their past could be healed.

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And now, Kentucky artist Levity Tomkinson has been so moved by the courage of the “Vicktory dogs” that she has embarked upon an ambitious project to create beautiful portraits of all 51 of them.

Speaking of her inspiration for “the Re51lient Project”, Tomkinson wrote, “Out of the 51 dogs (that were rescued), 47 initially made it, and since then some of the 47 have passed. I cannot begin to fathom the daily lives of the 51 dogs who were rescued, and those before that weren’t. I paint for the 51. … I paint for any dog who has been, is, or will be a part of this heinous world. The resiliency of the 51 is my courage, my push, my determination, and my love for this project. This will show the 51. The resilient 51. The re51lient.”

Let’s take a look at some of Tomkinson’s portraits, as well as the inspirational stories behind them.

1. Ray

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Ray’s story had a beautiful ending after he was adopted on Valentine’s Day 2014 by Jacque and Kevin Johnson, who loved him so much that they even moved house after being told that pit bulls were not permitted in their area!

Jacque said that as soon as she laid eyes on him, “I thought ‘this dog is something special.’ Ray’s a bit more challenging (than some of the other Vicktory dogs). He’s got a mischievous glint in his eye. I’ve always been drawn to dogs like that. He’s got spunk, and I really enjoy that.”

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2. Mya

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Tomkinson said that as soon as she began to work on this beautiful girl’s portrait, she “knew Mya’s color would be baby pink. The color’s softness paired well with the shyness that Mya possesses, showing that she has a delicacy and a vulnerability to her. … It tells me that her heart is sweet and kind.”

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Staff at the Best Friends Sanctuary, where many of Michael Vick’s dogs were sent after their rescue, have stated that when Mya first arrived at the sanctuary, she was “afraid of her own shadow,” but has since blossomed into her role as a puppy socialization model, helping younger dogs to settle into their new lives and become comfortable around other animals.

3. Jhumpa Jones

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As her colorful picture suggests, Jhumpa Jones is one excitable, fun-loving girl. Tomkinson said that Jhumpa possesses an “absolutely natural and abounding joy.” She has compared her to “a magical, mystical creature in a Disney movie, the one we all coo and aww at, and can’t help but fall in love with.” Jhumpa’s besotted new mom has even set up a Facebook page for her, enabling this beautiful dog  to share her joy with the world!

4. Oscar

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Oscar’s story has also ended happily, as he now lives with a guardian named Rachel who adores him – and he, too, has his very own Facebook page!

Rachel said, “Oscar has changed my life. … Humans do unimaginably cruel things to dogs. Oscar and the other dogs rescued from Bad Newz Kennels don’t hold that against the rest of us. All you have to do is look at how well the dogs have done in the five years since they were rescued. Look how many have found forever homes.”

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5. Little Red

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Little Red was adopted on March 19, 2012. Her guardian, Susan, said that her favorite thing about Little Red is “her smile. Some people think it looks like a grimace, but I know Little, and it most definitely a huge smile.”

She added that this plucky girl’s all-time favorite activity is “zooming”: running with great excitement through Susan’s six acres of pasture, before returning to take up a “sit position in front me, look(ing) up, and smil(ing) her huge, beautiful smile.”

6. Lucas

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Lucas, who sadly passed away in June 2013, was dearly loved by all the staff at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. He was once known as Michael Vicks’ “grand champion fighting dog,” and because of the notoriety this brought him in the eyes of the federal court, the judge who adjudicated his case ruled that he could never be adopted, but must live out the rest of his life at Best Friends.

However, staff at the sanctuary said that he was “the most social and well-behaved of them all around people. … It was a blessing in every way to be around him and to witness his wonderful effect on everyone he met. He changed hearts and minds when it came to people’s views of pit bulls and, in particular, former fighters. Lucas was bigger than the abuse he had suffered and bigger than his abusers. In fact, they never really touched the real Lucas.”

This heartwarming view of Lucas is true of every single canine who has suffered abuse, abandonment or cruelty. By initiating the Re51lient project, Tomkinson has set out to capture the true essence of each and every dog whom Vick and his associates regarded as nothing more than trash. You can check out the rest of her paintings here.

Image source: Levity Tomkinson / Blogspot

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