By CHERYL WITTENAUER
Associated Press Writer
His back resting comfortably against her chest, Hector nestles his massive canine head into Leslie Nuccio's shoulder, high-fiving pit bull paws against human hands.
The big dog - 52 pounds - is social, people-focused, happy now, it seems, wearing a rhinestone collar in his new home in sunny California.
But as Hector sits up, deep scars stand out on his chest, and his eyes are imploring.
"I wish he could let us know what happened to him," says Nuccio.
Hector ought to be dead, she knows - killed in one of his staged fights, or executed for not being "game" enough, not winning, or euthanized by those who see pit bulls seized in busts as "kennel trash," unsuited to any kind of normal life.
Instead, Hector is learning how to be a pet.
After the hell of a fighting ring, he has reached a heaven of sorts: nurtured by Nuccio, her roommate, Danielle White, and their three other dogs.
The animals barrel around the house, with 4-year-old Hector leading the puppy-like antics - stealth underwear grabs from the laundry basket, sprints across the living room, food heists from the coffee table - until it's "love time" and he decelerates and engulfs the women in a hug.
Nuccio wishes he could let her know all that happened.
But what she does know is this: Hector has come such a long way since he was trapped in Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels.
Authorities descending last year on 1915 Moonlight Road in Surry County, Va., found where Vick, the former NFL quarterback, and others staged pit bull fights in covered sheds, tested the animals' fighting prowess and destroyed and disposed of dogs that weren't good fighters.
Vick is serving a 23-month federal sentence after admitting that he bankrolled the dogfighting operation and helped kill six to eight dogs.
Three co-defendants Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor also pleaded guilty and were sentenced, and the four now face state animal cruelty charges.
Oscar Allen, who sold a champion pit bull to Vick's dogfighting operation, was sentenced Friday on a federal dogfighting charge.
Officers who carried out the raid found dogs, some injured and scarred, chained to buried car axles. Forensic experts discovered remains of dogs that had been shot with a .22 caliber pistol, electrocuted, drowned, hanged or slammed to the ground for lacking a desire to fight.
The Oakland, Calif.-based pit bull rescue and education group Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit bulls, or BAD RAP, won approval to transport dogs to California.
Hector's settling into his new life, getting further and further from his past. Weekly AKC "canine good citizen" classes are correcting his social ineptitude. And he's taking cues on good manners from patient Pandora, a female pit bull mix who's queen of the household's dogs. Once Hector graduates, he'll take classes to become a certified therapy dog, helping at nursing homes and the like.