Dogs used in fighting rings suffer unimaginably at the hands of their human captors. Even when they’re rescued, many still carry the stigma of being dangerous, aggressive, and unsuitable for adoption.

Such was the story of Nico, a deaf Dogo Argentino whom rescuers believe spent the first six years of his life lonely and in constant fear as a fighting dog. When he was brought into the South LA Animal Shelter years ago, he had scars on his face and body, his teeth had been chiseled, and it appeared as if his ears were cropped with kitchen shears. At that point, the depressed and malnourished dog had given up. That’s when one photo changed his life.

While visiting the shelter, Nikki Audet with the local rescue group The Mutt Scouts snapped this photo of Nico and shared it on Facebook. It soon caught the eye of another rescuer, Kelly Gibson, who went to meet him.

Nico was described by the shelter as a dangerous, aggressive dog prone to biting. Still, Gibson decided to pull him to be euthanized with dignity at a local vet’s office.

But as she spent time with the dog, she came to realize that he was a sweet, gentle boy who’d been misunderstood. He deserved a second chance at life, and she was willing to help him get it.

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