In the summer of 2007 Atlanta Falcon’s football star Michael Vick had his Virginia home raided and approximately 50 American pit bulls were seized as evidence of dog fighting, gambling and animal cruelty. The resulting investigation, trial and conviction revealed that Vick and his buddies were not just fighting dogs, they were engaged in the torture of dogs by means of electrocution, strangulation, kicking, and other unimaginable acts of cruelty not necessarily typical of organized dog fighting. The seized dogs were kept for the approximately six months it took to gain their release in various shelters around the Virginia area. Some of these shelters offered the dogs conditions which compared unfavorably with those at the Vick compound. The dogs received no exercise and were kept in small cages.
LawDogsUSA asks to help
Anytime I hear of a “bust” for dog fighting anywhere in the US, I contact the authorities and request permission to inspect the dogs (if there is a sufficient number) for detection dog potential. I do this for two reasons; first, so called “gamebred” dogs often have the kinds of drive and sound, people friendly temperament needed for detection work, and second, I feel taking dog fight bust dogs and turning them into “law enforcement officers” sends a powerful and important message to America’s youth – it is never to late to “go straight”!
As soon as I became aware of the seized Vick dogs, I began asking for an opportunity to test the dogs. I never received a reply from any of the parties I contacted. Due to my funding limitations, I was unable to fly back and “court” the people involved. There began to be rumors of $20,000 “dowries” going with some of the dogs being released. At that point, predictably, things began to go South.
A Very Important Group Of Dogs
Some people questioned why it was more important what happened to the Vick dogs than any other group of abused pit bulls. I happened to feel that it was very important what happened to this group of dogs. The American public had – because of these dogs – been awakened to the role of the pit bull as a victim of human abuse. For many, this was the first glimpse at the horrible conditions which often produce the damaged dogs which have gone on to harm humans. This grouping of dogs was a small enough number for the public to “get their head around” and see as representative of the breed as a whole. How these dogs were “disposed of” would send a huge message to the public about the American pit bull.
Wayne Pacelle, in his usual thoughtless manner, declared the Vick dogs “the most dangerous group of American pit bulls in the United States”, a statement he later retracted when it became obvious that Vick was just a punk with no real knowledge of dog fighting and had not purchased particularly good dogs. In fact, most of the dogs were profoundly shy. While Pacelle has obtained the top spot at the HSUS, it is my belief that his PETA like attitude toward innocent bull breeds is not representative of most folks working at the Humane Society of the United States. His desire to see healthy, friendly, victimized dogs destroyed out of hand is common only among those who advocate the destruction and banning of breeds as a first step toward the complete banning of “pet ownership”. PETA, too, called for total destruction of the dogs without any assessment process.
The ASPCA fought for and earned the right to evaluate the dogs – a huge step forward! They assembled a team of “experts” (though in fact, not one true pit bull expert was involved) to evaluate the dogs. Sadly, this lack of experience became apparent when unsound animals were deemed “adoptable”.
The ASCPA declared the dogs “adoptable” in categories: those which could probably be adopted out to the public after further assessment; those going to “LawDogs”; those they felt needed to be placed in “sanctuary”. I was thrilled about the first two categories, of course, but saddened by the fate of those dogs left to survive pointless, lonely lives in a “no kill” facility situation. A dog needs their “One”, someone to give them an anchor – a life of volunteers (no matter how well meaning) coming and going in and out of their life – walking away from them over and over again – is no life for as fiercely loyal an animal as an American pit bull. A life in a “no kill” facility is exactly the same as living out your life in a boarding kennel. Who would want that for their dog?
Sadly, “Proof” And Others Lose Their Chance
I was never allowed to get my LawDogs representatives in to screen the dogs. I asked to have Cyd Cross from Out of the Pits Rescue go for Lawdogs. She is a “real deal” pit bull expert with 13 years of everyday, hands on work with countless dogs. She has also obtained a LawDogs prospect for us which became K9 Shaka.
I informed the people in charge that LawDogs would “absorb” up to two dogs – regardless of if they could make it as LawDogs or not – as I felt it extremely important that pit bull advocates step up and give these dogs a home. If these dogs had no where to go – or ended up in some no-kill sanctuary – it would be unfortunate at best. The ASPCA had determined the dogs adoptable – so it was important to follow up on that. Out of the Pits also agreed to take a couple dogs. Cyd was herself looking for an animal with which to continue her visitation work.
LawDogs was sent one older male dog. This was a heavily scarred dog with missing canine teeth and a perchance for sniffing pee – most likely a winning dog utilized for stud. We dubbed this sweet boy “Proof” for we felt we could easily “prove” how wrong those who feel seized fighting dogs are dangerous can be. LawDogs staffer Heather Leu had proven this earlier by earning a Canine Good Citizenship degree as well as many weight pull titles on her seized fighting dog “Truth”.
As well, I was told to expect a second dog who was “very active”. Randal Lockwood of the ASPCA (formerly of HSUS) had mentioned this dog as a likely LawDogs candidate.
I am very sad to report that due to the “Special Master” Rebecca Huss getting what I consider very poor advice, the determination was made to only allow those agencies which carried a one million dollar insurance policy (and had for the past three years, making it impossible for anyone to comply at this time) to take the dogs. After a quarter century of working in pit bull rescue I have yet to know of even one legit pit bull rescue which carries this kind of insurance. I have heard of one which does, and they state they had to lie about being an “all breed” rescue to get the insurance. Out of the Pits, an extremely reputable rescue, certainly could not comply as well. Most “hands on” rescues simply would never dream of spending the kind of money needed for a million dollar policy on anything other than direct care of dogs, education, advocacy or spay/neuter.
I am very disappointed American pit bulls deemed “adoptable” by ASPCA “experts” had this million dollar liability insurance requirement slapped on them. In my county, even a dog which has severely mauled someone and been declared “Dangerous” doesn’t carry this kind of requirement! Rebecca Huss has, in effect, achieved the impression that even “adoptable” pit bulls are somehow a huge risk. A sad day for the breed, indeed.
Michael Vick was ordered to set aside almost a million dollars for “care” of these dogs. While I am all for seeing Michael Vick lose his money, in this case I feel adding that amount of money in to the mix was a mistake. When large amounts of money are involved in any manner, too often the wrong kind of people are attracted and dogs are generally the losers. And so they were in this case. Reputable organizations were shut out.
When Proof arrived and it was quickly ascertained he was far too old to become a LawDog, he went to live with a LawDog trainer, Travis Rea, who determined to use his unique style of pure positive “hands off” training to mold this people loving dog into a hospital visitation animal. Proof certainly had the mild, loving temperament needed for that work. In the four short weeks that Travis worked with Proof he was able to earn the Canine Good Citizenship degree on him! Not bad for a dog kept strictly for fighting and called “America’s most dangerous pit bulls” by the head of the HSUS! They were well on their way to proving just what “Proof” could prove – that seized “fighting dogs” are not some huge liability if handled responsibly. Travis, by the way, is 23 years old.
In 25 years with this breed, handling pit bulls in movies, workshops all over the country where my dogs did bitework with hundreds of total strangers from the audience, in placing rescue dogs, in maintaining between 4 and 20 American pit bulls most schutzhund trained, I have never felt the need to have liability insurance on my dogs. If I felt I needed a million dollars of liability to keep a dog determined “adoptable” – well, then I would get into another breed. It is a disgrace to this wonderful breed.
So, sadly, Proof was taken from us. And the other dog has been sent to live and die an ownerless, pointless life at Best Friends “sanctuary”.
Even more sadly, this regrettable disposition of the Vick dogs will have a negative impact on other jurisdictions looking to place seized dogs. With media coverage so intense, the fact that these dogs had discriminative insurance requirements put on them is a huge step backwards for the fight against breed specific legislation. Placing seized fighting dogs is not rocket science; certainly the dogs must be matched up with appropriate owners. However, as the many seized dogs currently living as loving pets in normal homes demonstrate, they do not need to be discriminated against as was the case here.
Discrimination comes at our dogs from its enemies – it certainly does not need to come from its “friends”.
Proof (now renamed Hector) was trained here without the use of force or punishment; he never wore a choke or prong collar. The bond of trust which developed between Travis and his dog will, he feels, suffer irreparable damage due to the force based training the dog will be undergoing at the facility now housing him. Considering how far the dog’s training will be set back, Travis has regretfully made the decision to continue his work with another seized dog at this time. Here is Travis with a dog seized from Saline County, Arkansas dog fight bust, which was signed over by its owner to the Humane Society of Pulaski County; watch for them in multiple dogsport venues! (Note to CA Jack: this is a 9 month old puppy off Baby Dee. This dog is healthy with a good immune system which leads us to believe it is not related to Icon, who is suffering from lupus, an autoimmune disease he has had for sometime. I’m surprised you don’t know your own dogs any better than that.)
A deal was brokered by one organization for those holding the dogs to receive $25 a day plus expenses. As well, each dog came with a $5,000 or $18,000 + “gift” to those who took them.
Even though LawDogsUSA is run entirely on donations (and I’m poor as a church mouse living on my pension) Travis and I discussed the money due us for our expenses incurred for caring for Proof and concluded that we did what we did as willing volunteers for the breed we owe so much. We did not accept a dime for the care we gave this sweet old dog. We would like to challenge the other organizations to donate at least a portion of the thousands they are receiving to local spay/neuter programs.