Posts Tagged ‘fighting dogs’

Michael Vick: Redemption Story?

A question posed on the Washington Post’s website recently asks if Michael Vick “has succeeding in redeeming himself” after having done time in prison for running a dog fighting operation.

Denzel, one of Vick's dogs while he was at the League

Most of the responses lean favorably towards Vick with a benefit-of-the-doubt argument, though at least one commentator considers Vick merely a lucky recipient of America’s amnesia when it comes to bad celebrity behavior.

Those of us in the animal welfare field tend to be a good deal less impressed.  Vick’s admittedly impressive performance on the football field does not do the dogs he fought—and those he brutally killed—much good.  He will have to wait a very long time indeed before most animal protection workers forgive him.

On the other hand, Vick now speaks out against animal fighting, and it could be argued that his case has had a very positive effect over all.  America is now taking the crime of animal fighting more seriously than ever as a result of Vick’s high profile arrest.

And that, I think, is the more interesting question: Has America redeemed itself for the blight of animal fighting?  After all, Vick was never the nation’s only or biggest dog fighter.  He joined a culture that was there before him and existed far beyond the fences of his Bad Newz Kennel.

I think the answer to that is a guarded “yes.”  America is now redeeming itself.  As evidence, I would point to the pit bulls in our own shelter, some of whom are certainly the unwilling veterans of the fighting pit. And I know from my colleagues that fighting dogs are being confiscated and rehabilitated in animal shelters and rescue groups across the county.

That’s redemption.

As for Michael Vick, his real redemption will happen in the solitude of his heart, far from the cameras and the stadium with its cheering crowd.  I can only wish him the best of luck with that and hope that his inner transformation will be real and sincere.

We’re Getting Good at This

“The staff was amazed at how far the dogs had come in just one week. The new charges had shaken off some of their kennel stress and already seemed much happier….Limited as it may have been, this was the first time these dogs were allowed to simply be dogs.”

That’s a quote from The Lost Dogs, Jim Gorant’s new book about the rehabilitation of Michael Vick’s pit bulls.  He’s describing the turnabout that eleven of Vick’s dogs made after they arrived at the League, which he describes as being “on the cutting edge of animal housing.”

The League took care of these dogs for three months in 2007. Though it may seem odd, our basic assignment was to teach dogs to be dogs, as Gorant rightly notes.  In the process, we learned a lot about rehabilitating fighting dogs, and the dogs thrived.

We’ve been putting that knowledge to good use ever since.

On Saturday, the Humane Society of the United States brought us 10 of 200 pit bulls they got from a suspected fighting ring in Ohio.  Like Vick’s Bad Newz Kennel dogs, these dogs came in scarred, both externally and internally.

But as with Vick’s dogs, a few days at our facility, with its supportive environment and patient, compassionate staff, have had an almost magical effect. 


Coolridge, a large yellow male with an odd nervous grin, is scared of everyone. In the past, any contact with people was a precursor to a terrible experience—hence, the nervous grin when anyone approaches.  But now he is learning that he doesn’t have to be afraid.  For instance, the first time you touch his paw, he cringes and freezes in fear.  But the second time you do it, he’s ok with it.  That’s the beginning of trust.

Even Lincoln, a petite all-black female who has been totally shutdown (unresponsive, won’t eat, hides: essentially, a dog who has given up) crawled out of her crate on her belly to say hello to a trainer this morning.  As small as the step was, it was cause for rejoicing.

Slowly and quietly these dogs are beginning to show us all the qualities that make dogs such wonderful beings. And in the process, I like to think that the chance to help them is bringing out the best in us. 

It’s not often that life gives you the opportunity to be a part of such a complete rescue and recovery.  I find that the work goes both ways: we help the dogs become happy and loving companions, and they help us become better people.