Abused Pit Bull dies from illness weeks after freedom

Whether nose-to-nose with a puppy or with a person, Champ's final days as seen in photographs were spent free and full of love with his foster family.

"They told them they loved him and that they would see him again at the Rainbow Bridge," Christiana Dijkman, attorney said.

Word of the 4-year-old Pit Bull's sudden death hit many people hard.

Christiana Dijkman was Champ's attorney on behalf of the Lexus Project, A non-profit dog rescue group out of New York.

"He became progressively more ill in the last 72 hours... And it was a quick downhill slide," she said.

Champ became the face for animal abuse.

It was in November when his Harlingen owner, Jose Gonzales, was charged with animal cruelty after he admitted to punching his pet in the face.

Champ was subsequently quarantined at the Harlingen Humane Society where he faced being possibly euthanized because of the abuse and his breed.

The shelter is looking to change adoption rules with Pit Bulls since his case.

"Thanks to Champ... he kind of opened the doorway for us to be able to put Pit Bulls up for adoption," Frank Quinones, shelter manager said. "It's under review right now... but I think we're getting close."

The Lexus Project was able to free Champ just before the New Year while the courts decided on guardianship.

Just this week, about two week later after his initial freedom, Champ died from complications associated with distemper, according to his attorney.

Veterinarians say distemper is a viral infection that affects a dog's central nervous system.

Records show Champ had been vaccinated against the disease by his owner but it was past due.

The shelter believes distemper, coupled with his heartworm problem, only complicated matters.

Richard Rosenthal, co-founder of the Lexus Project, wants Champ to be remembered as a dog who inspired a movement.

"He was truly loved and he died knowing he was loved... and not in a cage and not being abused and for that we're grateful," he said.

Champ's memory will live on.

A Pit Bull foundation has been started in his name.

Christiana hopes money already earmarked for Champ will help change the negative way people perceive Pit Bulls.

"We'd like to educate the public," she explained. "We'd like to rescue these dogs... we'd like to get them into rescues and get them into great homes which is what they deserve."

Champ will be remembered as a dog that truly lived up to his name both in life and in death. Click here to join Ryan Wolf's Facebook page.