Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dog Lovers Should Thank Michael Vick

The dogs often died fighting for their lives.
If they lost their battle, he killed them.
He killed them brutally--often with his own hands.
He hanged them, drowned them, and at least once, repeatedly smashed a little female who wouldn't fight against the ground until she died.
Fifty-one living dogs were taken from his Virginia property, and nine dead ones exhumed from their shallow grave.
I could hardly bear to read their story.
I struggle to understand what inner demons could drive a man to inflict so much suffering or allow him to enjoy watching it.
I couldn't bear to show the ones who were in really bad shape!

And yet...

The Vick case shone a much-needed light on a cruel "sport" that until then had been largely ignored.
In previous dog-fighting cases, once the dogs had served as evidence, they were routinely put down. As pit bulls, they were already assumed to be a "bad" breed, vicious, a danger to society, and after being used as fighting dogs, beyond rehabilitation.

Vick's dogs were given a chance. The court decided that the dogs should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and that any who were shown not to be aggressive should be allowed to live.

The evaluators were expecting that they might be able to find five salvageable dogs.

All but one passed the test. Despite the horrific trauma of their lives, several were friendly and outgoing. Some were fearful to the point of being almost catatonic, but very few of them showed aggression toward people or other dogs. Only one was so aggressive that they felt she could not be allowed to live. Another had to be euthanized when because her injuries were too severe to be treatable.
Rose had to be euthanized because of her injuries.
The rest went to sanctuaries and foster homes, where they were treated for their mental and physical injuries, with the hope that most might someday find loving homes, as in fact, many of them did.
Some of Vick's dogs at a reunion, Sept 2012
The Vick case also served as a turning point for law enforcement.

Although dog-fighting was illegal, it was mostly ignored. Michael Vick changed all that. As the case developed it became obvious that dog-fighting didn't happen in a vacuum. The people who were running dog-fights were also running drugs and guns and other criminal pursuits. The cops started to realize that a dog-fighting bust could very well lead to a big drug bust. They started to take dog-fighting seriously.

Because of this high-profile case, the Humane Society began to soften its rules toward dogs taken in dogfight busts. The dogs began to be treated and evaluated as individuals. Pit bulls, for almost the first time, were seen as victims, rather than perpetrators of violence.

Several of Vick's dogs won their canine good citizen certifications and went on to become therapy dogs.
Jonny Justice Helps Kids Learn to Read
Kids in Transition, in Camden, New Jersey, is a residential rehab facility for severely troubled youth. In 2010 the boys were visited by a pit bull named Sarge, a survivor of a dog-fight bust in Philadelphia. After meeting the dog, the boys read Jim Gorant's book about the Vick dogs, The Lost Dogs.
Cover of Jim Gorant's Book
Suddenly these boys, who had been in emotional lock-down, were able to begin opening up about the abuse in their own lives. Because they could identify with the dogs, they could empathize with them--the first time for many of them that they had been able to feel any pain other than their own.
Hector, A Vick Survivor, Meets with Kids inTransition, 2011
Because Michael Vick's dogs were saved, many other dogs were and will be saved. Both law enforcement and the public have become far more aware of the cruelty and criminality of dog fighting rings. And maybe, just maybe, these resilient survivors of Vick's abuse, will be able to save some equally abused young boys.

We should all thank Michael Vick.

The Lost Dogs, Jim Gorant, Penguin, N.Y., 2011
To see photos of Michael Vick's rescued  dogs: