I talk about the Vick Dogs occasionally and I realized that some readers may not know their story. So I've decided to write about their background today. The following text is taken from my book Pit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs.
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In 2007, the world learned that NFL star quarterback Michael Vick had been running a dog fighting operation. For almost six years, Vick and his friends had been breeding, training and fighting pit bulls at Bad Newz Kennels on Vick's property. Sheds painted black were found behind Vick's house. One was an infirmary for the dogs wounded in fights. Others had equipment for training and a "rape stand" for breeding. Fights took place in the biggest shed, where police found a blood-stained room, an outline of a pit on the floor and a dog's tooth on the windowsill. Buried in the backyard were the bodies of dogs. At least 12 dogs, ones that did not fight very well, were killed by Vick and his friends. Some were hanged; others were electrocuted. One dog was slammed repeatedly against the ground until it died. When authorities busted Vick, 51 pit bulls were seized from his property.
At that time, it was a common belief that dogs seized from fight busts could not be saved, that they were uncontrollable, violent and untrustworthy. They were referred to as "kennel trash." They were typically held as evidence until their "owners'" trial was over, and then all of them were euthanized. Many called for the same treatment here. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommended euthanizing them and called them "...some of the most aggressively trained pit bulls in the country." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also said they should be put down, stating that "these dogs are ticking time bombs." Statements like these were even being made by people who had never met the dogs. However, there was a public outcry to save them.
A court ordered for the dogs to be evaluated. The ASPCA convened a group of experts, including BAD RAP's founders Donna Reynolds & Tim Racer, to evaluate the dogs. The team examined the dogs individually. Some thought they would only be able to save at most 10 percent of the dogs.They ran each dog through a series of tests and were surprised by what they found. Some were so shy they would "pancake"-flatten and not move off the ground, a few were dog aggressive and almost none were aggressive toward people. Instead of saving just five dogs (10 percent) as originally hoped, 47 of the 51 dogs seized were candidates for rescue: 25 were appropriate for foster homes; and 22 for sanctuary, since they needed further rehabilitation and socialization. Only one dog, who had been fought and bred so much that the dog had had enough of people and life, had to be put down.
These dogs had spent deprived lives caged or chained in the woods. After they were confiscated, they were parceled out to six different Virginia animal control facilities, where they were held as evidence. Here their isolation continued. This confinement, with little socialization or stimulation, was hardest on the young dogs-who during a critical point in their development knew little of the world outside of their small kennels. By the time all of these dogs were released from custody, most had spent more than seven months in isolation.
BAD RAP rented an RV and drove 13 of the dogs that were ready for a foster home back to California. Almost all of the 22 dogs that needed further rehabilitation and socialization went to Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) in Utah, where they came to be called the "Vicktory Dogs." The remaining dogs were dispersed to smaller rescues. The Vick property was bought by animal rights, rescue and advocacy group Dogs Deserve Better, which is turning the kennel into a rehabilitation facility, "Good Newz," for former penned and chained dogs.
It is important to remember that all of these dogs would have been put down if it had not been for the efforts of a few determined individuals who believed in these dogs and stood up for what they knew was right.
As Donna Reynolds said, "Vick showed the worst of us, our bloodlust, but this rescue effort showed the best."
It was not just a dog fighting case, but a hoarding case and a neglect case, as well, since Vick had amassed more dogs than he could fight or sell. Jim Gorant, author of The Lost Dogs, which chronicles the case, said, "For the first time in a legal setting, dogs were viewed not as the implements of a harsh and brutal undertaking, but as the victims of it."
Pit Bulls & Pit Bull Type Dogs contains portraits and stories of 10 of the Vick dogs. Some of these dogs were suitable for a foster home, and others were sent to sanctuary at BFAS for rehabilitation. Just as people react differently to the experiences that have shaped them, dogs react differently, too. Sweeping generalizations do not apply. While no two of these dogs had the exact same experiences at Bad Newz Kennels or in custody, they are dealing with their past in their own way and coping the best way they know how.
What is clear is that these dogs, despite the opinion of many that these dogs should have been put down, are proving every day to us that they deserved a chance: a chance not only to live, but to live in a loving home where they could let their true selves shine. They are proving they are more than capable of making wonderful pets and of giving love.
The Vick case and these dogs have set a precedent. Most dogs seized from dog fighting busts are now individually evaluated in an attempt to save as many of the stable and well-adjusted ones as possible. HSUS now supports individual evaluations of fighting dogs. These dogs are no longer viewed as "bad dogs" but as victims of crimes perpetrated by human hands. Because of their success, the Vick Dogs have given all dogs seized from fight busts a chance at life. They have elevated the public's opinion of pit bulls. They have shown us that all dogs should be treated as individuals. They have shown us what it means to forgive, to trust, to be brave and to love. These are some very special dogs.
Further information about the Vick Dogs can be found
in the book The Lost Dogs
by Jim Gorant.