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Friday, September 24, 2010

One Step Closer to Heaven

I went to a continuing education meeting last week.  One of our speakers was a federal agent who spoke about the Michael Vick dog fighting investigation.

When the Michael Vick investigation first made the news, I made a conscious decision NOT to read alot about it.  I already knew how I felt about dog fighting and it's fans.  I knew I would be horrified at any information I was able to read.  So I made a decision to not traumatize myself and to avoid reading Vick related articles.

I gained knowledge at this meeting, including watching footage of an actual dog fight, that I wish I did not have.  I am having difficulty falling asleep some nights due to these second hand images flashing in my head.  If you followed the case closely, you may not be surprised by the information I am about to share, as I am sure much of this information is common knowledge. 

I was not aware that the Michael Vick dog fighting business was a coincidental finding in a search intended to find drugs.  The investigation that led to the search warrant was drug related.  The warrant was for the property and for the person who was residing at Vick's house.  It was later discovered that this man was the "animal caretaker" employed while Vick was away. 

The agent then posted a photo similar to this one of Michael Vick's property. 

On the day the search took place, an agent stood in the gateway of the white fence, and stared deeper into the property.  The agent looked at the white trim on the house and the white picket fence. Another fence was visible but this one was painted black. The agent stared and wondered, "Why the black paint?"  That agent's question led to the discovery of the truth about Michael Vick and led to the freedom of 49 tortured animals.

The fence and the buildings in the back were painted black so they were camouflaged, especially at night. The fights would take place at night, and the dark paint hid the location from passers-by.  The buildings housed a fighting ring, drug cabinets full of prescription drugs and medical paraphernalia from international pharmacies.  There were kennels, chewed doghouses, food bowls, carcasses, burial grounds, birthing sheds, rape stands, chains, and more.

Another curious finding on the property evident in the aerial photo is the swimming pool.  When you earn the salary of a professional football player and can afford a multimillion dollar house, why would you have a cheap above-ground swimming pool like the one in the photo?  I have seen beautiful and luxurious above-ground pools with large wooden decks.  Vick's pool is certainly lacking any luxurious feel.   Vick could certainly afford a glamorous in-ground, landscaped swimming pool.  So why this pool?

The purpose of this swimming pool was electrocution of the dogs that did not perform.  Electrocution and drowning were just a few of the ways in which his dogs were executed.  According to our federal agent, the dogs were thrown in the pool with a shop vac, or had the cords wrapped around their necks.  Below are the words of another rescuer's experience:

From me (Donna) - I admit I'm stuck on this one because I just can't get myself away from the swimming pool in Vick's yard. I first learned about it while riding in the back seat of a federal agent's car that sweltering Tuesday back in Sept 07. The agent was assigned with escorting us to the various Virginia shelters so we could evaluate "the evidence" otherwise known as 49 pit bulls - now known as cherished family pets: Hector, Uba, Jhumpa, Georgia, Sweet Jasmine and the rest. I'm not sure if sharing insider information with us was kosher, but you know how driving down long country roads can get you talking. I imagine she just needed to get some things off her chest...

...Her candor set the tone for this entire saga. Everyone we worked with was deeply affected by the case. The details that got to me then and stay with me today involve the swimming pool that was used to kill some of the dogs. Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick's dogs were small - 40lbs or so - so tossing them in would've been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don't know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.

 I wear some pretty thick skin during our work with dogs, but I can't shake my minds-eye image of a little black dog splashing frantically in bloody water ... screaming in pain and terror ... brown eyes saucer wide and tiny black white-toed feet clawing at anything, desperate to get ahold. This death did not come quickly. The rescuer in me keeps trying to think of a way to go back in time and somehow stop this torture and pull the little dog to safety. I think I'll be looking for ways to pull that dog out for the rest of my life.

So that's where I'm at. A second chance for Vick? An HSUS sponsored spokesman for ending torture? In my mind's eye Vick is still in the shadows at the side of that pool. As many times as this scene plays out my head, he hasn't yet moved towards that dog to pull him out. Not there yet."

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Daily News led with the Headline, "Top Dog" in reference to Michael Vick's being advanced to starter position for the Philadelphia Eagles. 

I was extremely upset over what I thought was a legitimate newspaper using such a reference regarding a man with Vick's past. But as I researched this newspaper, I discovered that it is a sensationalist tabloid. It was a publicity stunt.  They used the term with the intention of upsetting those of us who still remember the Michael Vick who threw dogs into pools rather than footballs into end zones.  We have not forgotten those dogs. We have not forgotten that Vick.

Just two days before the Top Dog headline hit the newsstands, a book was released. 

This book does contain horrific details of the abuse that took place, so reader beware.  It also contains information about the 49 dogs that were rescued, the fight to keep them alive, and updates on the dogs.

I plan to read the book to answer some of my own questions regarding the rehabilitation of these dogs.

How many of these dogs are in typical family homes?  How many still show their physical battle scars?  How many still reside in a "sanctuary" due to aggression issues?  

Skeptics of the rehabilitation of these dogs propose that most of these dogs were "adopted" by their original foster/rescue provider simply due to continued behavioral problems that only they are willing to deal with.  I hope to discover if this is true?  Who can blame a dog for having difficulty getting over such a traumatic past?   I am confident that 49 lives are infinitely better.

There is a wonderful photographic tour of Vick's property, including the kennel, prior to the auction at The Washington Post

While Vick still keeps popping up in the headlines, I hope we all remember his past.  Perhaps the "Top Dog" headline worked in the animals' favor, reminding those who have forgotten.
I would love to see a reunion of Vick and/or his " animal caretaker" and some of these dogs, just to see the reaction of the dog when they see their former "Masters'" faces. 

Would the dogs growl at them in hatred? 

Would the dogs cower from them in fear? 

Would the dogs attempt to protect their new Master from the men who caused them such pain? 

Or would the dogs simply forgive them and whip their tails happily in the way that only pit bulls do?

If the latter were the response, then those dogs are one step closer to heaven than I am. 

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Lindsay said...

You should read this article it's about going under cover and reading about the biggest pitbull fighting bust in US history and how the state and fed. agents fought dogs, to blend in.. i still haven't been able to decide for sure How i feel about that. Anyway i read this article the other day and your blog post reminded me of it.

Tammy Hartwig said...

Working in the animal welfare industry myself (I foster & rehabilitate "last chance" dogs), I DID follow this story! For some reason I felt I had to so I could share my knowledge with those who were still "blind" to the whole story.

Sadly, I find that there are still many that believe Vick's original statement that he had no idea what was going on at this property and, that he had done his time and deserved a second chance. A SECOND CHANCE?? How many of his dogs ever got a second chance?

Personally, I feel this man, and I use the term "man" VERY loosely!), should never have been allowed to play football again!! I also think that part of his sentence should have been REALLY caring for these dogs at the sanctuary. Could his heart truly be as BLACK as the dog part of his property, that having to look into the eyes of his of his victims every single day and care for them properly, would not at least turn it to a gray? I don't believe so but I still believe he should have been made to do this.

As difficult as it is to say this as it is NOT who I am, I also believe he should have been tortured daily in his jail cell. What I do believe in in such horrific cases is, "an eye for an eye" punishment.

Thank you for sharing this with us!

Tammy Hartwig

seh77 said...

...I don't believe for a moment that other humans are safe around people who are capeable of these kinds of acts. Pretty horrific stuff here and yes, I see why you didn't ever want to be exposed to the dirty facts of his case. It needs to be public information so others understand the complete and evil truths of fighting dogs. To hide his crime he was not able to put the dogs down humanely or even gun shots, no vet shop visits, people would ask questions. Oh yeah, he was aware of all the ugliness going on. It was all clearly premeditated.
...Maybe the coward will get beat up on the field, over and over, then in his older years he will suffer from the deeds of his ugly past. His mind is defective, his body will catch up. Karma is a beautiful thing. sharon houser

Anonymous said...

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Wish you were here!":

good points and the details are more specific than elsewhere, thanks.

- Norman

Nicole Wilhelm said...

I am in the middle of reading the book right now. I cry every time I pick it up. Absolutely horrifying, and I will never, ever believe this guy deserves another chance.

Aimee said...

I just finished the book last night. It was a difficult one to finish, but a good book.

Donna of BADRAP is a friend of mine, as are several of the current owners of former Vick dogs. Yes, some of them were kept by their fosters, but many of those same dogs have gone on to obtaining the CGC and even become therapy dogs. Perhaps some of them were badly damaged mentally, but many came out in good shape other than recovering from a life of isolation and neglect.

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I think that Michael Vick may have been the best thing to happen to Pit Bulls. Without him, the dogs from the giant midwestern bust would have NEVER been given a chance. With such a high profile case, people were able to look beyond the "vicious dogs" and see them as the victims that they are and not as weapons.

Not that I was ever a football fan, but allowing him back in the league killed any respect that I had for the management of the sport. That man should have spent more time in jail, and never been allowed to return to a status where he is a roll model. It's so disgusting!

Jenny Oak said...

Oh my God! This awful its so sick and traumatizing. The whole description just gives you the creeps.

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