They're called the 367 dogs, because that's how many of them were taken in on August 23, 2013 -- the first day of what would turn out to be the country's second largest multi-state dog fighting bust.
Then that number grew. By a lot.
"As the investigation progressed -- more arrests, more information gathered from the suspects in questioning -- more dogs were rescued. There were also a good number of puppies born once the dogs were in our care," the Humane Society's Stephanie Twining told The Huffington Post.
The final tally, according to Twining: 486 rescued dogs pulled from locations across Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas.
Fourteen suspects were arrested. Donnie Anderson, the so-called "godfather" of the bunch -- prosecutors say he electrocuted or hanged dogs who lost fights -- pleaded guilty in July, and was sentenced to eight years in federal prison earlier this month.
And as Anderson serves his time in jail, his victims are finally able to thrive.
Some of the 367 dogs are now family pets. Some are in training to be therapy dogs. Some are still waiting for that special someone to treat them kindly for the rest of their lives. And even those who can't be adopted have been given a special opportunity to blossom.
It's not just the dogs whose lives are getting better, either. It's that way for the people who love them, too.
"These dogs have changed us all in some way, I'd like to think for the better," said Rose Tremblay, who keeps a Facebook page where members of the "367 rescue family" share their photos and updates and keep tabs on the dogs who haven't yet been adopted.
"They have made us stronger, and they have solidified the fight we have inside to never let what they've gone through or who they have since become to be forgotten," Tremblay added. "We celebrate the survivors, remember the victims and honor their bravery and resilience every day. We owe them that much, they've proven it over and over."
Dozens of the dogs' families and caretakers talked to HuffPost about how they came to be part of the 367 family, and what their lives are like now. Each one told a story of love, resilience and well-earned freedom:
was very pregnant at the time of her rescue. When she went into labor, giving birth wasn't easy.
"Ruby just put her head on my lap and really was a trooper. She stayed so calm and just wanted someone to stay with her," said veterinary technician MaryEllen Malysia, a responder at the ASPCA’s emergency shelter where Ruby and many of the other 367 dogs were taken after their rescue.
Malysiak fell so in love with Ruby she adopted her in April when the pup came ready for a permanent home. Now Ruby goes to work with Malysiak every day, and is in training to become a therapy dog.
"She has been an amazing dog," according to Malysiak, whose only worry now is how Ruby will handle her first Illinois winter.
Tara Doyle's husband Nate adopted Bear the dog one day while she was at work, bringing the big doggie home to live with the couple and their two cats.
"They had an instant connection. I'm not really sure what caused us to make the decision to adopt at that particular time, but having Bear in the family has been wonderful for my husband and wonderful for our marriage," she said.
Nate, a former pro wrestler, suffers from bad anxiety and "couldn't really deal with going out into large crowds of people without freaking out," according to Doyle. That's all changed since Bear came into their lives.
There's been some other changes, too. "As far as the cats go, Bear is their BFF. They just don't know it yet," Doyle said. "He loves them so much and tries to snuggle them all the time."
Bliss will live out her life at a place called Camp Justice
in Arizona. It's a brand new sanctuary for dog fighting victims who are friendly with people, but aren't good with other dogs and have been deemed unadoptable.
"Prior to coming to Camp Justice, these dogs have experienced violence and unimaginable cruelty at the hands of the criminals who use them for the inhumane thrill of watching dogs fight to the death or serious injury and for the financial gain of the gambling on the fight," said Jeannine Alexander, a sanctuary founder.
Bliss is Camp Justice's first resident, and is doing great.
"She grins and dances on her back two feet when she's happy. She likes to snuggle under the covers and she cries and whines for joy when her people come back from running errands," Alexander told HuffPost. "These are the things that all of these dog victims of dog fighting deserve to experience whether they are adoptable or not."
Dog trainer Trish Loehr says she fell for "one special guy" when she was volunteering at the ASPCA's temporary shelter for the 367 dogs. His name is Theodore
and you can see him here wearing a pink hat.
"Teo is incredibly outgoing and resilient considering he spent his first eight months on a chain and the next eight in a shelter," said Loehr. "Despite this less than ideal upbringing, he is an amazing, smart, outgoing, friendly and hilarious little dog, and took to living in a house like a fish to water."
"One of the best dogs ever," wrote Shiloh's new mom, Christy Heffner, on the 367 rescue family Facebook page
. "We got him at 12 weeks to 'foster,' knowing we were looking for another dog after one of our rescued Springers died. He obviously found his place."
Heffner told HuffPost that when she and her three kids went to the Humane Society of Calvert County
to adopt their new pup, they didn't realize at first they were getting a 367 survivor.
Now, she's so glad they did. "I think with animals, just as with people, everyone deserves a chance," Heffner said. "Shiloh is no different than any other young dog. At times he's crazy, at times he's destructive, at times he's hyper. But he's always sweet and will cuddle anyone who lets him, including the other dog and the cats. But mostly he loves his people."
In Marcy, Erin Sullivan adopted Donovan
, one of the 367 dogs she'd helped care for in the Humane Society's temporary facility.
"Despite living his entire life on a chain, he was just a really happy dog," said Sullivan of her 12-year-old pup.
He's even happier now, living with Sullivan and her boyfriend in their Orlando home.
"He's an old man dog with a heart of gold," said Sullivan. "Everything about having him is the best part. I have owned a lot of dogs in my life, but I have never known a happier creature than Donnie. He wakes up happy, he's happy to see everyone, he loves to just be and explore his world."
Ashley Phelps is adoption coordinator for Hello Bully
, a Pittsburgh-based rescue group that has taken in a half-dozen of the 367 dogs, including Jensen.
Phelps was Jensen's foster mom, then adopted him for good.
"He and my dog are inseparable," she said. "He has come so far, especially with the help of his canine sister. He now loves to play with balls, isn't afraid of the leaves anymore and plays in them, and is learning to be a regular dog who isn't scared of everything. He is incredible!"
Zander, Homer and Taco
These three guys are living at the Bark Nation
foster facility in Michigan, where they will be socialized, and trained, and loved -- and even given some dog massages
-- until they are ready for homes of their own.
"They have lived a life that no dog deserves to live. It's their turn to find the joy in life, for the rest of their lives," said Bark Nation co-founder Kelly McLaughlin, who added that the trio -- known as #TeamZomo-- can't get enough of romping around as a little pack.
"They draw comfort and courage from each other," she said. "Born to fight each other, and have ended up saving each other."
Lucy is one of four dogs taken in by the Bully Project
, a New York City-based rescue group.
She was one of the last dogs to be "released" -- meaning that the court has said she can now be adopted.
"She is sweetest thing. She is ready to roll and looking for her forever home!" said Project Bully's Jennifer Bristol.
Ogle more photos of this girl's majestic ears -- and find out more about how to adopt her -- here
Michelle Ivkovich was working at the Humane Society of Calvert County, a Maryland shelter, when Bam Bam came in.
Ivkovich decided to take the pup in as a foster, then "I fell in love and adopted her," she said.
"I think I knew she was perfect the first time I saw pictures of her while she was at the shelter," said Arya's new mom, Megan Miller, who loves taking her dog out hiking. "Even though she was surrounded by barking dogs and very shy, she was so eager to please and will do just about anything for love and affection."
Miller and her boyfriend adopted Arya from the Florida rescue group Plenty of Pit Bulls
, and says she's become "much more passionate" about fighting breed-based discrimination.
Deciding to bring Arya home was "one of the best things we have ever done," said Miller. "We love her to pieces."
Kassiana Earp met Roxie -- then known as Annie -- while working with the Humane Society's rescue team.
She was assigned to the so-called oddballs of the 367 dogs -- the non-pits -- when she met this sweet longhaired Dachshund.
"My husband and I were talking about getting another dog, and I couldn't stop thinking about Annie," Earp said.
Roxie is fitting in great with Earp and her husband, their four kids and another dog, Rustie, who is her new best buddy.
"Her typical day now is going to sleep in her very own dog bed in our room on my side of the bed, waking up, going outside, eat, play for a minute with Rustie, then snuggling and sleeping the rest of the day," said Earp. "She will play with Daddy or Rustie, but if I am home, all she does is follow me around and as soon as I sit down she's in my lap and curled up in a tiny ball sleeping."
Handsome Dan Rescue
legs are permanently bowed, and she's battling heartworms.
But she is now living happily in Rhode Island with Heather Gutshall and her family, including Handsome Dan, one of the former Michael Vick dogs.
"She is a wonderful little survivor, wonderful with my children, and every single day is the best day ever for Tillie," said Gutshall. "She is always super happy and loves every person she meets."
Lisa Grant's daughter gave Hope her name.
"She said there's hope for these dogs," said Grant. "I saw her on the local news the day she came to Kansas City. The next morning I set it up to meet my family and the rest is history."
Even Chance Pit Bull Rescue
Garbanzo was sent to St. Louis-based Even Chance Pit Bull Rescue
, once he was ready for his own family.
"He has since been adopted into an awesome home! He lives with mom, dad, human brother, a small Dachshund doggie brother and a black cat Nelly, whom he cuddles with," said Even Chance director Jessi McNamara.
The group's veterinarian thinks Garbanzo may have been bashed in the left side of his head in his previous life. He had a deep, large wound that caused dental issues, "as well as some issues with that eye," said McNamara. "He is healthy now and doing amazing!"
Finn is now one of a family of four dogs and two cats, living in New Jersey, and going to work every day with his new mom, dog trainer Andrea Kilkenny.
Finn "has made lots of friends, both human and canine," said Kilkenny. "We are just amazed at how well he is doing, and his confidence grows daily. He loves meeting new people and is very gentle. We are hoping that he will become a therapy dog in the future."
Humane Society of Calvert County
Cinnabar is one of nearly 20 367 dogs placed with the Humane Society of Calvert County in Maryland. She's friendly, and energetic, and great with other dogs -- but she's also the last one left, who hasn't yet been adopted
"Now, we just wait for Cinnabar to find a home," said HSCC's spokesperson KIrstyn Northrop Cobb. "Maybe with me."
Dog trainer Alison Waszmer says her pup Bixby is "a complicated guy."
"He is the sweetest little guy but very fearful and needy," she told HuffPost.
But that's why he's exactly right for her. "He's a work in progress, but we are getting there," said Waszmer. "Every day there are small improvements. This is why he became part of my family."
Toni Martin wasn't looking to adopt Zazzle the dog. But Zazzle really didn't leave her any choice in the matter.
Martin was working at the ASPCA's temporary shelter when Zazzle declared his interests.
"It became clear he was in love with me, because he never tore his eyes off me," she said. "One day when returning Zazzle to his kennel from the exercise pen, I found myself on the floor with him in my arms, whispering to him that he would sleep in my bed one day and be spoiled rotten. A coworker heard me and when I turned around he was smirking: 'I thought you hated that dog?'"
"I said, 'I'm just being nice. Leave me alone.'" said Martin. "The following month that crazy dog was, indeed, in my bed."
Donna Kinsella met her "special old man" while volunteering at the Humane Society's shelter. She adopted Hank in November from the rescue group Jasmine's House
, which was responsible for finding homes for seven of the 367 dogs.
"I love this photo, because this old geezer, who has been through a hell we can't even imagine, looks just like a baby with his legs all tucked up underneath of him," said Kinsella. "My Hank."
Bodie stole Linda Holman's heart.
Holman was volunteering at the Humane Society's shelter for the 367 dogs, where 5-month-old Bodie "would lie on her side in her kennel and reach her paws through the fencing hoping someone would touch her," said Holman, who vowed to adopt the pup when Bodie was no longer tied up in the legal proceedings of the case.
In August, Bodie was ready to join Holman and her husband in California, where "there are moments when I see her past in her eyes and she looks to me for reassurance," Holman said. "Most times she's goofy and loving and she's brought such joy to our house."
Evan is about 9 years old and has no teeth. Still, he's "a super happy boy," said Mandy Malecek, his foster mom.
"What I want people to know about Evan and all of the 367 dogs is that their past did not and will not break them," Malecek told HuffPost. "Evan is one of the oldest dogs from this group and likely endured pain and suffering the longest. Yet, he is one of the happiest, silliest and most loving dogs you will ever meet. His tail never stops wagging and his butt never stops wiggling."
All he needs now is a permanent home
Plenty of Pit Bulls
This guy was born in the temporary shelter; his mom had been pregnant at the time of his rescue.
Well-socialized and gorgeous, Aladdin's now looking for a home of his own
through Plenty of Pit Bulls
, a Florida-based rescue group that is responsible for 18 of the 367 dogs.
"Overall, he's a happy and sweet-tempered dog with a lot of 'velcro,'" said Plenty of Pit Bulls board member Anna Peterson -- meaning that Aladdin will want to stick close to his human's side.
Plenty of Pit Bulls has two other 367 dogs still available for adoption, as well: Bambi
"They are all wonderful dogs," Peterson said.
Plenty of Pit Bulls
Arabelle spent the first decade of life having puppies born into dog fighting. Now she's been adopted by Sharon Nataline, a board member for Plenty of Pit Bulls
"She had a couple of different kinds of cancer and other health issues," said Plenty of Pit Bulls' Anna Peterson. "Arabelle lives with a bunch of other dogs, including lots of senior Chihuahuas, and is absolutely perfect."
Keep up with these doggies -- as well as the others who are up for adoption -- on the 367 rescue family Facebook page.
And get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an animal story to share!