Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Michael Vick Fighting Dogs (Video) *From cruelty to rescue to salvation*


Frodo seen here with his foster mom, Kim Ramirez
Frodo was a Michael Vick fighting dog and was shy and scared when rescued

Michael Vick In 2007, a pit bull fighting ring and operation was discovered at a house in Virginia owned by Michael Vick, the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. In December 2007 Vick pleaded guilty to "Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture" and went to Leavenworth federal prison. Pit bulls not only fought at this location, but were killed by electrocution or beating if they did not perform satisfactorily in the fighting ring. More dogs were known to be killed by drowning and hanging in this pit bull fighting network. Jim Gorant, who studied and wrote about pit bull fighting, estimates there are 40,000 people, "dog fighters", involved in the United States.

The Fighting Dogs Normally fighting dogs in a case like this would be considered too dangerous and be euthanized. Both the Humane Society of  the United States and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recommended euthanasia for the Michael Vick pit bulls. Dr. Stephen Zawistowsky, an advisor to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, convinced the prosecutor to allow him to assemble a team to evaluate the dogs. Donna Reynolds and Tim Racer, who operate a pit bull rescue organization called Bad Rap, were on this team. The team went to Virginia in September 2007 to evaluate the approximately 50 dogs and assumed each dog was potentially violent. The dogs were run through a series of interactions: 1) could the dog be touched? 2) did the dog show aggression? 3) how did the dog react to another dog? 4) how did the dog respond to a life-size doll of a child?. Several of the dogs were timid, a few were aggressive towards other dogs, and almost none were aggressive towards people. In fact, most seemed eager for human affection. Ultimately the team decided 47 dogs were candidates for rehabilitation. Of those, 25 were deemed appropriate for foster care, to be adopted, and 22 were appropriate for sanctuary, of which most went to Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah, a no-kill shelter. Only one dog was deemed beyond help and was euthanized.

The Rescue In his book, The Lost Dogs, Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption, Jim Gorant said, "For possibly 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". Money, Michael Vick's, was set aside by the court to care for the dogs. Donna Reynolds and Tim Race of Bad Rap took 13 of the dogs to California and eventually found homes for them. Frodo was shy and scared but is coming out of his shell and progressing. Audie would cower but is now "a fantastic little dog". Jonny Rotten, now Jonny Justice, is a certified therapy dog, works with kids, and "Jonny doesn't have bad days anymore, his bad days are over". The 25 pit bulls deemed appropriate for foster care have not had any behavioral problems subsequently. The 22 pit bulls evaluated as appropriate for sanctuary have mostly done well and some have been adopted. However, 2 of these did escape their pen one night and were involved in killing another dog. Hector, a scarred fighting dog with missing teeth and a notch out of his tongue, was adopted and has "never shown a trace of aggression to anyone or any dog". Once he was given another option, besides fighting, Hector showed who he really was. "All of the Vick's dogs who were given other options have shown who they are".

Postscript Positive changes include the Humane Society of the United States now supporting individual evaluations of fighting dogs and saving those that can be saved. HSUS also teamed up with Michael Vick to educate school children about the cruelty of dog fighting. One northern California library would not allow pit bulls, that is Jonny Justice, in the facility to work with kids. Cris Cohen left the program in protest as Jonny Justice has passed all behavioral tests and has never been a threat.

The Dogs Are (Still) Alright  Most of the time, dogs that are seized from fighting rings are considered far too dangerous to be kept alive and they are euthanized. But in the case of the Michael Vick dogs, tens of thousands of people spoke out and asked that the dogs be given a second chance. Inspired by Jim Gorant’s book “The Lost Dogs,” Need to Know’s William Brangham tells the story, first reported back in January.

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