Pit bull survivor immortalized in plush

After a tough start victimized as one of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs, pit bull Jonny Justice has bounced back as a therapy dog and kids’ reading advocate.

Now, Jonny’s cuteness and courage has carried him to victory in a contest to have his likeness turned into a stuffed animal by the famous Gund folks.

Thousands of online voters picked the black-and-white San Francisco resident as the winner of Gund’s Top Dog contest, held on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest this summer. An Australian shepherd named Finnegan and a couple of others gave Jonny a run for his money, but couldn’t muster enough support to dethrone the smallish pit bull.

Rescued in 2007 from a life of fighting under NFL quarterback Michael Vick, the charismatic Jonny ended up with Cris Cohen, a volunteer for pit bull rescue and advocacy organization Bad Rap.

Jonny passed the American Kennel Club’s temperament test and was certified as a therapy dog. Cohen and Jonny volunteered for a reading program called Paws for Tales for 18 months, teaching kids not only how to read, but giving them a positive breed example to balance the overall negative bias against pit bulls.

Things were going great until a Burlingame librarian banned pit bulls from her facility in 2010. Though Jonny and Cohen had never appeared in Burlingame, the pair withdrew from the program in protest over the breed-specific ban.

Kids and adults alike will be able to pick up Jonny’s fuzzy likeness sometime in 2013.