Professional NFL player and former dogfighter Michael Vick admits that he has a checkered past – but he now professes to be an animal advocate who has “made a lot of progress” for the animals. The Star Tribune reported today that Vick, 35, hopes that people will no longer look to his past actions.
Vick stated today: “There still are some people who feel the same way about what happened. But I think you’ve got to look at the bottom line. You can’t look to the past, because everybody’s different from when they’re 20 to when they’re 35.”
In an article where he was called “humble” and “stoic,” Vick said that he was proud to sport a No. 2 Jersey for the Steelers, but his stoicism emerged when questioned about the animals who suffered and died under his “care.” When asked how he could sleep with himself at night, Vick stated that he slept well, because he’s now an “advocate against animal cruelty.”
I can’t take it back, but the only thing I can do is to try to make up for it the best I can,” Vick stated today. “I know it affected a lot of kids’ lives and saving a lot of animals. So, we’ve made a lot of progress. We changed some laws and do some great things that I’m very proud of. I never thought I’d be doing that.”
But not everyone was taking the soft pitch approach to Vick’s continued career. A scathing article written today by Darin Gantt stated: “The backlash after the Steelers signed Michael Vick was predictable, as a number of fans aren’t willing to let go of a little thing like drowning dogs with your bare hands if they weren’t proficient enough at fighting another animal to its death.”
It’s not known just how many dogs died during Vick’s multi-year dog fighting enterprise. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Vick and three associates operated an enterprise called “Bad Newz Kennels,” which housed and trained more than 50 pit bulls. “Bad Newz” was more than just bad news for these dogs, most of which were forced to fight. Many of them, including those who weren’t “successful” fighters, were killed in unimaginable ways.
From 2001 to 2007, Vick operated Bad Newz Kennels along with three associates: Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor. The quartet purchased dogs and a property for dogfighting and Vick became a registered dog breeder. The men then tested the dogs in fights. Those who did not “perform well” were then shot, electrocuted, or hung.
According to the Federal Indictment: “In or about April 2007, PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK executed approximately 8 dogs that did not perform well in ‘testing’ sessions…by various methods, including hanging, drowning, and slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground.”
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigator provided further details on the dogfighting enterprise, stating that three dogs were “hung by placing a nylon cord over a 2 X 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed.” The men also “drowned approximately three dogs by putting the dogs’ heads in a five gallon bucket of water” and killed one dog by “slamming it to the ground several times before it died, breaking the dog’s back or neck.”
Some are willing to forgive this man who claims that he’s now helping animals – and that he’s a “changed man” from the age of 20 to the age of 35. But can he shrug off his dog-killing past?
During the April 2007 state investigation of Vick’s dogfighting enterprise, he denied everything at first. Vick initially claimed to have never visited the property. The investigation revealed 54 malnourished dogs on the property, most of them pit bulls, and some with injuries and scars. Half of the animals were chained within sight – but just out of reach – of each other, creating a perfect environment for aggressive behavior. Investigators also found a blood-stained area and animal training and breeding equipment.
In July 2007, Vick and his associates were indicted by a federal grand jury. The men were charged with violating federal law 18 U.S.C. 371 Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture. The charge, which was a felony, had a maximum penalty of five years prison. A charge under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) for animal fighting would have carried only a maximum penalty of one year per violation. Michael Vick did serve time – but not for his multiple acts of animal cruelty.
In Oct. 2007, 49 dogs who were seized from the kennels were evaluated by a team of animal behavior experts to ascertain whether the dogs could be adopted by families or if they would need to be euthanized. Of the 49 dogs evaluated, only one received a recommendation for euthanasia because of “extreme aggression.” It was determined that the other dogs could go to foster homes or sanctuaries.
On Dec. 10, 2007, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson sentenced Vick to 23 months in prison and three years’ supervised probation. During his probationary period, Vick was not allowed to buy, sell, or own any dogs. Vick was also fined $5,000 and ordered to pay $928,073 as restitution for the 53 seized dogs.
Today, eight years after this decision, many – including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and numerous football fans – are ready to forgive Vick. But should they?
In Dec. 2010, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Vick “would do a good job as a pet owner.” Today, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stated: “Rest assured that we have done that. Also, rest assured that he has done a lot since some of the things that he has gone through. His track record to this point speaks for itself.”
But in his scathing NBC Sports article, Darin Gantt wrote, “Yeah, those ‘things that he has gone through’ are tough. Picking a dog up over your head and slamming it to the ground repeatedly until it takes its last breath can really take a lot out of a man.”
One Vick supporter took offense to Gantt’s comment, writing, “You’re the kind of ‘reporter’ that would yell fire in a theatre. People aren’t ignoring what he did in the past. But this is America. This country was founded on second chances. If the legal system can give him a second chance, maybe you should stop trying to crucify him for the rest of his life.” If writing like Gantt’s is yelling “fire” in a theater, Seattle Pets Examiner is adding a voice to this collective yell.
Those who can’t forgive Vick point out that countless dogs in his care didn’t get a second chance, but Vick supporters counter this by saying that his public case illuminated the issues of dogfighting, animal fighting, and animal cruelty. While he has “done the time,” as many are quick to point out, it’s just not enough for those who were familiar with the case – and with the dogs who suffered.
Dogs like Hector, who valiantly battled cancer before succumbing to it last year, and like Georgia, who had all 42 teeth pried from her jaws – most likely to ensure that she wouldn’t injure male dogs when she was forced to breed with them. ASPCA CEO and President Matthew Bershadker reminds people that Vick’s case was “not a crime of passion or a case of obliviousness. Michael Vick was fully involved in a six-year pattern of illegal activity that included dogs being savagely electrocuted, drowned, and beaten to death.”
So while many animal advocates can’t forgive – or forget – what Michael Vick did, animal lovers are urged to remember the names of his innocent victims: Hector. Cherry. Georgia. Halle. Handsome Dan. Little Red. Oliver. Squeaker. Mel. Oscar. And so many other dogs – some of which died unknown and unloved, and some of which overcame unspeakable cruelty and triumphed over their tragedy, earning the moniker of the “Vicktory Dogs.”
Interestingly, Vick’s first day with the Steelers happened to occur on “National Dog Day.” Are Michael Vick’s attempts to become an “animal advocate” enough? Can he shrug off his dog-killing past with his current advocacy work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.