Former NFL running back Lee Suggs has played for the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins and played college football for Virginia Tech. An NCAA record holder for the most consecutive games with touchdowns (twenty-seven), he also holds Virginia Tech records for the most touchdowns in a season and in a career, and was elected into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
Now a college football coach, Lee has added another passion to his life: giving record-breaking amounts of love to his five rescue animals and supporting rescue groups through fostering and transporting animals. He is also an active proponent of the anti-BSL (breed-specific legislation) and anti-dog fighting movements and marched on Washington for Stand up for Pits. Clearly a big softie for animal causes, Lee says, “I want to help bring awareness to the darkness that many dogs are forced to exist in. I didn’t grow up an animal person, and I am not the typical animal rescuer but somehow this has become part of my life!”
SQUIRREL, age 13
This long-haired, green-eyed beauty was Lee’s first rescue. Adopted from a family member who could no longer keep her, she “is the most dog-like cat I’ve ever met” says Lee. “She loves going on walks, grooming the dogs, and bossing them around!” She even adopted two foster puppies at one point and cared for them like they were her own. “She’s definitely the alpha dog of the house!”
MONTY, age 6
This loveable pit bull had been in the pound for seven months, in danger of being euthanized because of his high-energy personality and his powerful, eighty-pound body. Fortunately, Bully Paws Rescue pulled Monty, and on Lee’s thirty-third birthday, he celebrated by adopting the dog. “Monty loves meeting new people, is rambunctious and silly. He’s always happy—the only thing he doesn’t like are thunderstorms!” Inspired by Monty’s brown and white cow-like markings, Lee named him after a Montbéliarde cow.
BLUEBERRY, age 6
A foster fail, this cane corso was Lee’s first experience with a dog who came from a very challenging past. Dropped off at a pound by a breeder, Blueberry had been starved and abused, and she trusted no one. After Cane Corso Rescue pulled her from the kennel, Lee and his fiancée decided to foster her. Says Lee, “When Blueberry came to us she really was broken. I have never seen a dog in such bad shape. She was scared of the world and worst of all terrified of me, since it was a man who abused her. It took weeks before I could enter a room she was in without her bolting in fear or cowering in a corner. The terror she had in her eyes when she looked at me was gut wrenching because I knew that someone had inflicted incredible trauma to this dog in order to elicit this fear. It took months, but slowly with kindness and patience she came around. Her personality came out and she became the dog she was meant to be. There is nothing more rewarding than watching the transformation of an abused dog who has never known love!” Today, Blueberry is super playful, athletic, extremely loyal, and goes by “BB”.
FALKOR, age 2
When Lee took in five homeless pit bull puppies to foster, one of them stood out. “He was the friendliest and most outgoing—always the first one to come up to people and curl up in their laps. I found myself pushing the other puppies instead of him when potential adopters came to see them,” admits Lee. One day when Lee was napping on the couch, he woke up to find Falkor sleeping on his chest. “That was it! He was MY puppy.” Today the foster fail is sweet and feisty, full of energy, and gets along with everyone. With two brown spots on his back that look like wings, the pit bull pup inspired Lee to name him after a white dog-like dragon from the film “The Neverending Story”.
NEKO, age 2
One day Lee noticed some cats up for adoption, including all-black Neko, at a location a few miles from his house. As time went on, Lee noticed the other rescue cats were getting adopted and new ones would rotate in, but Neko remained. Knowing that black cats have a hard time getting adopted, Lee finally went in the shop and held Neko in his arms. “I thought, I just have to take him!” Lee describes Neko’s personality as totally ninja-like. “He’s always sneaking around and hiding in the background. He’ll jump up beside you, then jump away. He’s always appearing and then disappearing in a flash,” laughs Lee.
To hear Lee talk about his rescues, you can practically feel his heart bursting with love and compassion. “My animals have become such a part of my life and are so important to who I am. The thought of them ending up in someone else’s hands where they would not be a loved member of a family, where they would not be protected and cared for into their senior years…it has opened my eyes to the plight of so many abused and neglected animals.
“There are so many good animals that are sitting in jail-like shelters right now that need good homes—they’re in a situation that’s not their fault. Shelter animals don’t even know you and they’re happy to see you. Imagine if you take them home how much love will go around!”
Fun Fur Facts
Favorite thing to do with your animals?
“I love to go running with them because I love to exercise—as soon as I put my shoes on and get the leash, they know it’s time and they get really excited!”
Funniest thing one of your animals has done?
“Monty likes to dart out the door sometimes. One time we chased after him and saw he went into a neighbor’s house—the sliding back door had been left open. Two minutes later the neighbor comes out with Monty running between his legs—turns out Monty jumped on the guy’s bed and licked him to wake him up. Luckily the guy was cool with it!”
What have you learned from your animals?
“I definitely learned patience from Blueberry. She was my first experience with a dog not liking me. I had to be gentle and make no fast movements. Eventually I’d see signs that she was warming up to me—she’d put her paws on me or put her mouth on my hand and wag her tail. When she started doing that, I knew it was all good. To earn an abused dogs love is such an honor!”
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• story by Julie Ulrich