July 19, 2007

Michael Vick and 52 Abused Dogs

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals, news at 3:38 pm by nevavegan

Yesterday I got an “urgent” alert from HSUS telling me what I already knew from the news. NFL star Michael Vick has been indicted for his participation in a terrifying dog fighting underworld most of us knew nothing about. Associates have testified that Michael Vick bred dogs for fighting, forced them to fight, ran dog fights, bet on dog fights, and personally killed dogs who lost fights in gruesome ways. He kept the dogs on his property starved to make them meaner and more aggressive in fights.

It’s hard to even find words for this. Someone who can kill dogs in this way, someone who can enjoy and bet on their suffering and agony is one thing: a sociopath. There’s no other way about it. Nobody can have the ability to feel empathy and participate in this kind of blood fest.

The news showed footage of forensic crews combing Vick’s property looking for dead dogs. The living dogs were whisked away, though one presented his battered face on the header of the email from HSUS. The email asked for donations to provide care for the living dogs.

This made me ask if the dogs are somehow in HSUS’s care. HSUS doesn’t run a shelter. Within the rescue community rumors were swirling yesterday. One woman heard that maybe the dogs were at a regular shelter in Virginia pending the outcome of Vick’s charges. Another person thought there were too many dogs for one shelter and surely they’d been split up and sent around the whole region. HSUS and shelter workers however have been tight lipped about the location and condition of the dogs, possibly out of concern for the dogs’ safety as they are sure to be key evidence in the upcoming trial.

What was not said in any of the emails or alerts was the sad truth that many of us who have volunteered or worked at shelters, or been involved in rescue already know. These dogs will be kept alive through Vick’s trial. After that, most if not all of these dogs will be killed. Dogs who have been abused in dog fighting typically fail shelters’ temperament tests, meaning they will likely be determined to be unadoptable. Some shelters will even automatically kill pit bulls (the breed of dog seized from Vick) because they believe the breed itself to be inherently dangerous. Should these dogs manage to pass the temperament tests and escape the lethal injection temporarily, there is the other issue of finding homes. 52 dogs with a history of abuse, who’ve been trained to be aggressive, have a poor chance at finding understanding homes and kind people willing to work with them.

While I’m glad there are laws against dog fighting and I’m glad that Michael Vick will be prosecuted for his astounding cruelty, I worry that on a deeper level we’ve somehow failed to reach the public.

Two stories in the news lately that are so very different share one underlying theme. The ditzy pop star buys an expensive puppy and the NFL star kills and abuses huge numbers of dogs. What do the stories have in common. The basic assumption that dogs are property, not living individuals who suffer and love and feel. In the world where dogs are things, they are accessories or proxies for their human owners.

The pop star who fears she might not really be so cute anymore re-affirms her cuteness with a designer dog. The sports star asserts his aggressive, dangerous, alpha male image by forcing dogs to fight to the death for his amusement, and killing with his own hands those dogs he felt were weak or passive. In this way he sends the message that he’s powerful, purged of anything soft, and that he’s dangerous and callous. It’s time we stopped worshipping dangerous, aggressive, cruel people. But it’s also time we stopped selling dogs as things and then acting surprised when people treat them as things.



  1. mary martin said,

    I remember in Cesar Millan’s book, he wrote that he knew only 2 dogs whom he couldn’t re-wire (I forget the word he used; but it wasn’t “break”). They were euthanized. Though many find his methods unacceptable, it seems that Vick’s dogs might be the ones who could benefit. Maybe it’s a good match, and he could rehabilitate the dogs. He does appear to have a remarkable track record with extremely aggressive dogs. Tamar Gellar doesn’t use those methods, but she’d probably get herself killed with dogs as fearful and abused as Vick’s. I’m going to write Millan and HSUS and PETA (I just got some kind of alert from them. I was a member for years.) This isn’t a “new welfare” vs. abolition issue for me. I’ll talk to anyone who will save the lives of the dogs and find loving homes for them. And if Millan is involved, there will be even more exposure. Hell, Animal Planet could make a whole series out of this, thereby bringing attention to other issues like breed specific legislation!

  2. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Mary, it would be great for the dogs and for animal advocacy in general if Cesar Millan would work with the dogs.

  3. Anonymous said,

    Hi Mary,

    Great comment on wanting Cesar Milan to get involved, I totally agree. But first, before you say that many people are concerned or disagree with Cesar’s methods, I am totally convinced that you or they have not watched more than 4-5 episodes if that. It takes time to understand the psychology and that dogs really do require feeling pack energy. I am a huge advocate of letting dogs sleep on your bed, eat your food, etc, and it’s not that Cesar is not (he’s extremely affectionate and exercises them the way the LOVE It, more than most people can say). He simply understands that they really are more comfortable and at ease when in a pack environment and people get really wishy washy. He says “never use aggression or aggressive energy, yelling, threats, etc…” Calm Assertive energy makes the dog passive submissive. Period. He is not making the dog less of a dog but more of a dog…Please watch more episodes, and watch your friends and neighbors, you will see why and where they have problems with their dogs…

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