As 2010 draws to a close we thought it fitting to highlight an animal "comeback" story of the year.

Amid the seemingly endless string of headlines about animal cruelty, there are many stories in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and beyond of dogs, cats, horses and many other animals given second chances at new lives.

Sports Illustrated columnist Don Banks has nominated a Pennsylvanian, Michael Vick, and his return to NFL stardom as the sports world's "redemption story of the year."

"Once a pariah, he's now an MVP candidate who has the Eagles on the cusp of a playoff berth," Banks wrote in a recent column.

You could say the same about the Vick dogs, much-maligned pit bulls - Jonny Justice, Zippy, Sox and the others - who survived Vick's cruel fighting operation. Once pariahs, they may not be leading a pro sports team to victory, but considering what they endured have made all-star worthy comebacks of their own.

Vick himself admitted to a crowd of school children just recently that he would still be fighting dogs if he hadn't been caught. Consider this: that means the dozens of dogs now spending New Year's in happy homes thanks to the courage of a handful of investigators, professional rehabilitators and ordinary families with big hearts - and many more - would still be fighting, forced into breeding, tortured or dead.

Most have gone from a wretched life on a dirt patch at the end of a chain staked with car axle, to charmed lives as beloved pets. They are visiting the elderly and sick children as therapy dogs. They are romping with their canine and feline brothers and sisters and lounging on comfy couches in their family's living room.

The most scarred may never have a family to call their own. Twenty-two "Vicktory" dogs - the most troubled cases - arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah in January 2008, all suffering from psychological trauma of their years of abuse, many suffering from physical injuries and medical problems stemming from their fighting days. (Best Friends co-founder Francis Battista wonders here why President Obama rang up Eagles owner Jeff Lurie to praise him for lending a hand to Vick, but didn't find time to give a shout out to those that gave his dogs a second chance)

Amazingly, five of the Best Friends dogs made enough progress to be adopted. One of them was Cherry. This young pit bull was so terrified and shut down when he arrived that he could not walk on a leash and had to be carried everywhere. He could not connect with people. Now - almost three years later - he's a happy dog in a home and loves his people, going to doggie day care and enjoying life with his dog and cat friends.

Here are excerpts from the journal of Cherry's adoptors Paul and Melissa (and his new pet siblings, Madison, the dog and Walker the cat):

September 2009

Cherry is starting to really settle in. The first day or 2 it was a struggle to get him to do his essential functions (eat, potty, and drink) but now he is very comfortable doing all of that. He is still learning to go through the doggie door but does go through it when we lift the flap. I think he is still nervous going through something where he cant see what is on the other side. WE have taken him on a couple of walks along the river where he has met people and dogs. We don't go as far as we usually do but we get him out there and try to build some confidence. He likes to wade in the water and watch Madison (their girl dog) swim. The past couple of days he has really taken to the yard. He likes to go exploring the yard and he has been doing his yoga. He seems to like the dirt pile in the corner of the yard. We had some family over on Sunday for my father's b-day and he was scared but let people sit with him. He likes the corner of the couch! He was great with everyone and didn't mind the kids. I think his favorite part of each day is the time he gets to spend with Melissa, me, Madison, and Emmy in bed just before we turn the lights out. He did have a few face to face encounters with Emmy the cat and he was great. Didn't even flinch or anything. his new dog bed is on the way.

October 2009

This week marked the 1 month anniversary of Cherry being with us! Time flies when Cherry is having fun. Cherry is still doing very well. He is really opening up with Melissa. Its really fun to watch. She had him up in bed watching TV and he was rolling over on his back to get a belly rub. That was the first have seen this. Also he has been doing the "dog nose under the hand and flip atop of the head" trick. so he has really be asking for attention. The other thing we really noticed is how excited he gets when we come home. He is starting to really let loose and jump around. He often kisses both of us. Me more on the hands and legs but sometimes on the face. He really kisses Melissa. All over the face and frequent. Again its really great to see.

This week Cherry came with me to pick Madison up from daycare. We wanted to see how he would react in that setting. I just brought him in and the owner met him and he got to smell the lobby and walk by the gate where the dogs are playing. We thought it would be good to get him used to that so maybe in the future he will be able to attend daycare. So I am going to continue it and just watch how he reacts. He was nervous this time but did well. He let the owner pet him but he was sitting with his butt on me. He didn't really have a reaction to the dogs but I think he was just so overwhelmed… it will probably take a long time to warm up to the idea of going in and playing but I think it will help him grow.

November 2009

Cherry had a major milestone today and I wanted to hold off until he accomplished it. Attached is a photo from Cherry at daycare!! What a face! I notice last Wednesday that he was doing very well when we picked Madison up. He was so curious of the other dogs and really looking to play so we decided to give him a go for a couple of hours today. Monday's are more laid back a daycare so we figured it was a good day to bring him in. I brought him in around lunch time when they were all out in back in a separate play area. Kim, the owner, let him in the play area by himself for a while to get adjusted. Then she introduced dogs one by one so she didn't overwhelm him. Well as you can see he is the center of attention! No hiding for this guy! She said he did really well. Once in a while he would get scared and he would go sit on Kim. Other than that he was out and about playing. Can you believe it. Thank you so much. He would not be able to be this happy without you guys.

Also this week we saw him play more with Madison. Once night I was out there with them for an hour and the 2 were chasing each other around! Cherry was doing his dance all around Madison and he was much more confident when she chased after him. Instead of cowering, he stood tall and firm. Then he chased her back. That was fun to watch and good to see.

Yesterday I had a lot of my friends over and after doing some treat and retreat, Cherry found himself one of the guys. He was nervous but went over to people when called and sniffed. He wasn't confident by any means but he made the effort. That was a big step for him.

December 2009

This week was again a great week! Cherry has now been with us for 3 months! Its amazing when you look back to when he first came to us and compare it to now. He has such an amazing spirit! This week we were really working on getting Cherry to go out and go potty when he has to. We walk the dogs in the morning and at night but Cherry doesn't always go out by himself when he has to go. He is very good about going if we ask him if he has to go. So when we are at home we will ask him every hour or so if he has to go and if he does he will go out. He is getting so good at it that by the time we get up he is out the doggie door! We also have found that he has to go a couple of times in the middle of the night. Since Cherry likes to wonder the house and play in the middle of the night we have been keeping our door shut which also prevents accidents. Of course this does not stop him from playing in the bedroom at all hours of the night. We are sometimes woken up by him trying to get Madison to play or him with his front paws up on the bed dancing from one side to the other. He will throw in a few barks just to make sure we know he is there just in case we feel like playing. Another thing he likes to do is just a full on belly flop starting from the floor landing on me or Melissa complete with sloppy kisses. He just doesn't get why we would want to sleep away such prime play time! We have him on a potty schedule during the night and it seems to make a huge difference and he is slowly learning that night time is for sleeping! Through this he has mastered his first command, "bed". He can be anywhere in the house and if you tell him bed, he runs right to it and lies down in his bed. He is a good listeners too! He will be all amped up trying to get the cat to play with him and once he hears bed, he stops and goes right to his bed.

January 2010

We have been working with Cherry on "you do not need permission to go out the doggie door". He is really cute because he will wake us up and then wait for us to ask if he needs to go potty. He will then run down the stairs and sit in front of the door until one of us comes down and tells him its ok to go out. He needs us right by door to go out so we have been working on moving further and further away from the door hoping that he will eventually not need us around to go out. We also have taught him to sit before he eats. We trained Madison to sit and have to be released to eat. So far so good with the little guy. He sits and waits for his bowl. Slowly but surely he is learning.

He is still gaining a ton of confidence around the house. I know I probably say this every update but he just opens up more everyday. Every time we come home now he greets us and lets us pet him. He use to just do a fly by or two and go back to his bed or the couch. Now he is coming up and staying and demanding attention. him and Madison jostle for attention. Also this morning he was so funny. he went to daycare with Madison this week and as soon as I ask them if they were ready to go he ran to the day and started his tap dance/head throws. He was so excited to be going to daycare. We haven't seen him like this before. Usually he runs to the couch when he knows he is going somewhere. Then when we got to daycare he was ready to play! Wednesday is the daycare's busiest day and the day with a lot of big dogs. Cherry went right in and started making friends instantly. Of course he ran for Madison's favorite Cooper who is a pit mix. Then he went to another pit. This guy loves his pit bulls!! one other thing that happened at daycare was last week when I went to pick him up. I looked through the window and our boy must have been playing hard because he was passed out at the gate with 3-10lb dogs laying on top of him! I tried to get a picture but he saw me and got up. It was priceless.

September 2010: Cherry's decorating tips:

Attached you can find Cherry's latest decorating tip (candle photo). We don't know what it is with these candles but at least once a month he moves them to a different spot. He never chews on them or plays with them. He simply picks them up off the coffee table and moves them to a new location. The funny thing is they are always standing up straight and never knocked over. Almost as if he places them there on purpose. This is where we found it this morning. Out on the deck! I would of loved to see him trying to get it out the doggie door.

Cherry is doing well. He had a major break through the other day. We always let Madison lick the spoon we mix the dog food with. Cherry has always been deathly afraid of the spoon. Every time we offered it to him he runs away scared. Well the other morning Walker was licking the spoon, Cherry came right over and tried it himself! He was still really nervous but I think he found that it was well worth it because he came back the next day. It amazes us how much he has learned from Madison and it amazes us even more how much he has learned and gained confidence from Walker. He loves his Walker! If Walker does it, then he has to do it.

November 2010:

It still amazes us that Cherry continues to make huge strides in life. We really thought he would make great strides but it would slow after a while but that hasn't happened. He really builds his confidence each and every day. I attached a few pictures of the clown around the house. He is so funny. We found him up in bed once night! He tucked himself in and even put his head on a pillow.

What made me really want to write this update was this past weekend. Cherry has really been playful lately. He has been chasing Madison around and playing with Walker nonstop. Well yesterday, we were out raking the backyard and Cherry would come up to us and starting barking. Cherry rarely barks but he does once in a while when he is feeling frisky. So, I put down the rake and started making playful moves towards him and he was play bowing and running around me so I started to chase him and he went nuts! He would run all over the place, changing directions and having a blast. We had never seen him like this. Usually when we are out there, he will run around for a little bit, hear something and high tail it back into the house. Not today, he just let go and had fun. Then Walker came out and next thing we knew Walker was chasing Cherry around the yard. I wish we had the camera! Picture a 7 lb cat chasing a pit bull around! We were rolling around on the ground laughing. Cherry then chased Walker around. The whole time Cherry had this huge smile on his face. We have come to the conclusion that Walker thinks he is a pit bull. The two of them seemed to have this connection and it brings our so much of Cherry's personality out. He is so carefree when those 2 are together.