Almost 13 years ago, in late April 2007, federal authorities executed a search warrant on Virginia property owned by football star Michael Vick after learning about a major dog fighting operation the well-known athlete was running. Dozens of dogs were removed
and placed with rescue organizations.
During the past many months, including earlier this week, several of those dogs have passed away. I have followed the journey of many of these incredible canines; in fact, a photo of one who came to live in Wyoming, Little Red, hangs on a wall in my home office.
The American Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) helped recover and analyze forensic evidence from the property, including carcasses and skeletal remains of numerous
dogs, primarily pit bulls. Ironically, April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.
That evidence, among others, led to Vick’s indictment in July of felony dogfighting charges. In late August the football player pled guilty under a plea agreement. Two other men associated with Vick pled guilty in November; each was sentenced
to 18 to 21 months in prison. Vick received a sentence of 23 months plus provided approximately $1 million to a fund for the care and rehabilitation of the 47 pit bulls confiscated.
The dogs were placed
with sanctuaries and rescues groups, including California’s pit bull rescue known as BAD RAP and Best Friends Animal Society in Utah. Many were later adopted
after months of care and trust-building. At a time when
most dogs found in fighting operations were considered
and later euthanized, this explosive, nationally-known
case became the start of finally seeing the animals for what they were (and are): victims. The Vicktory
dogs, as they came to be called
found fighters of the human kind, people who fought to keep them alive and people who fought to show them love and compassion. Although many of the dogs rescued and re-homed have passed away, including Handsome Dan (who had a rescue organization named after him), Cherry (who went from cowering to kisses and recently passed away), Layla (who helped teens understand compassion), and Little Red (
who found a home on the prairies of Wyoming and is pictured
above), their legacy has not passed.
Late last year, the U.S. Congress passed a bi-partisan measure making animal cruelty a felony and
president signed the legislation. Now, not only is dogfighting a felony, but anyone purposefully harming
a dog, cat, horse, or other companion animal can be guilty of a felony, not just a misdemeanor. Because of this case, and many, many others, the United States finally officially recognizes the value of companion animals and the immense harm that’s been inflicted
on them physically and emotionally and seeks to do something to
prevent that – and make an example of those who abuse.
Thanks to the many people who took a chance and took compassion on the dogs that Michael Vick and many others abused, tortured, and even killed, those dogs whose lives were spared
lived their remaining years knowing only kindness and care. And today, more such dogs, those who are rescued
from fighting operations, and other creatures who have only known pain and suffering have a fighting chance to not only survive, but to thrive.
For More Information:
Read a lengthy, inspiring article with photos about the dogs here:
Several books have been written
about the Michael Vick dogs, and an award-winning documentary film created. Learn more about these artistic creations here:
The Champions documentary film: http://www.championsdocumentary.com
The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant
and The Found Dogs by Jim Gorant
Listen to a four-minute audio accounting of the Michael Vick dogs and what has been learned
since at this National Public Radio link: