Letters and emails by the thousands have been pouring into the offices of the National Football League, newspapers and broadcast stations, and the offices of various advertisers, as Michael Vick, the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, faces charges of cruelty against animals and illegal gambling on dogfighting. Vick and three others are accused of staging competitive dogfights, training pit bulls for fighting, and operating dogfighting contests across state lines. If convicted, Vick could face up to six years in prison and fines of up to $350,000.

Dozens of animal rights protesters gathered outside NFL headquarters on Friday, demanding that Vick be suspended. Spokesmen for the League say they intend to watch developments closely, “We are disappointed that one of our players, and therefore the Falcons, is being presented to the public in such a negative way.” One animal rights group has sent letters to Vick’s sponsors, condemning his behavior. One of those advertisers, NIKE, has already cancelled the distribution of a sports shoe bearing Vick’s name. The animal rights group plans a demonstration on Monday at the Falcon’s training camp. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 21, 2007]

Vick owns a 15-acre property in Surry, Virginia where the dogfights, sponsored by a group called Bad Newz Kennels, took place. Vick says he allowed friends to live on the estate and that they staged the fights without his knowledge. But an informer told the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) that Vick is one of the “heavyweights” of the dogfighting world and that he has frequently seen Vick at the dogfights, betting as much as $40,000 on a single contest. The informant, who required anonymity as a condition of the interview, has supplied information on dog fights to law enforcement officials that has led to dozens of felony arrests, said ESPN.

The details of the dogfights are particularly gruesome, with the fights ending only when one dog was killed or gave up due to its injuries. Clifton Brown, writing on July 18 in The New York Times, said documents indicate that losing dogs were often put to death by drowning, strangulation, hanging, gunshot, electrocution, or body slamming them to the ground. Three witnesses in the indictment against Vick said not only was he on the property in Surry, and gambled on the fights, but that they saw him order dogs executed, including one that was doused with water and electrocuted. Conditions on the Vick property were described as “a full-fledged canine horror chamber.” [Washington Post, July 21]

Despite attempts by the American Kennel Club and devoted pit bull owners to deny or gloss over the animal’s selective breeding for combat with other dogs, the breed is in fact used in 99% of all dogfight operations. One website, dog-breeds.com which has a “positive attitude” toward pit bulls, admits the animals have an ingrained instinct to fight another dog. Pit bulls raised together and living peacefully can sometimes get into a deadly fight. Even if a pit bull has been “socialized,” the writers of the website caution never leave a pit bull unsupervised with a child; never leave it unsupervised with another animal; and never own one if you are inexperienced with the breed or dogs in general. That’s what supporters of the breed write! John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States says pit bulls are “bred to want to kill any dog in front of them.”

Another pro-pit bull website says “the soft wide of the breed shows up in their gushing affection for humans.” This statement is accompanied by a photo of a man lounging on a couch with three pit bulls. Gushing affection was not what greeted 82-year old Dorothy Sullivan of Spotsylvania County, Virginia a couple of years ago. 

Sullivan was walking on her property, accompanied by her small dog, when a pack of pit bulls attacked and killed it, and then turned on Sullivan. Her daughter found her mother dead, ripped to shreds, with three snarling dogs described a pit bulls surrounding her. The dogs then chased the daughter, who ran inside her mother’s house and called police. Two of the attacking dogs were shot and a third was captured. The same band of dogs was suspected of killing neighbors’ dogs and cats in prior incidents. One woman, age 73, who lives near the Sullivan house said she no longer goes outside, and when her husband ventures out to check the mail, he carries a gun. Now there’s a form of terrorism that’s not imported from the Middle East.

When police inspected Michael Vick’s property in Virginia, they found several mass graves containing the remains of pit bulls that are believed to have died in the ring or were killed by their owners and handlers because they lacked “the killer instinct.” A truly vicious and promising pit bull can sell for as much as five thousand dollars.

While Michael Vick’s guilt has yet to be proven, there are those who believe he should be suspended until the legal process determines the facts. Said to earn more than $100 million, one wonders why Vick would place his reputation and lucrative career at high risk for a few thousand dollars in illegal gambling winnings. Vick would be wise to beat the NFL to the punch and request a leave of absence until the charges against him are ironed out.

– Chase.Hamil





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