Former Michael Vick Pit Bull Enjoying New Life As Therapy Dog

Former Michael Vick Pit Bull Enjoying New Life As Therapy Dog
Kyndell Harkness/Zuma

12/24/2009 AT 03:00 PM EST

Clara Yori was skeptical. Even as the owner of a prize-winning pit bull Frisbee dog, she couldn't fathom what it would be like to care for Hector – one of Michael Vick's former fighting dogs.

But Clara's husband, Andrew "Roo" Yori, had met the 5-year-old pit bull several times at a pit bull rescue foster home in California, and was convinced that Hector was the right dog to help deliver the Minnesota couple's positive message about the often harshly judged breed.

"I was like, 'Really? He's not going to have any negative personality traits come out?'" Clara tells PEOPLEPets.com. "I couldn't wrap my head around that idea that he had fought other dogs. I guess I just had to see for myself. He's great with other dogs. It may not always make sense, but it's the truth."

The Yoris like to give each of their six dogs "something special" to do. Hector wasn't any good as an athlete, like his Frisbee-champ brother Wallace, but his calm, sweet personality was well-suited for work as a licensed therapy dog. His new life contrasts starkly with his past: Hector spends his days visiting nursing homes, hospitals and schools with Clara, who runs a pet-sitting and dog-walking business in Rochester.

Clara says that because of Hector's connection to Michael Vick, people are more sympathetic toward the pit bull. "I always thought that people might back away when I tell them what he is or what he comes from," Clara says. "But it's been the opposite. They see the dogs as victims, and they feel sorry for him."

During a recent visit to the Barack and Michelle Obama Learning Service Elementary School in Saint Paul, Clara told the young students about where Hector came from, and asked what it must have felt like not living at home with a family. Their answer: He must have been sad and lonely and disappointed. She then told them about Hector's new life.

"We explained how content he is being shown compassion, and how much he enjoys living in a house with other dogs," Clara says. "It's about talking to the kids about compassion and empathy – that a dog that was once abused is now happy."

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