Michael Vick and Dogs Aiming for New Life

Vick plans to campaign against dog fighting with the Humane Society of the United States. The Virginia resident is still discussing with Humane Society officials how he will spread his message and when he will begin volunteering. Humane Society officials are hopeful that Vick will help expand their anti-dog fighting campaign nationwide. The program operates in two Chicago neighborhoods and one Atlanta neighborhood. Advocates  intervene in matches when appropriate, mediate dog-fighting issues and offer obedience classes as alternatives to the blood sport, said Ann Chynoweth, a Humane Society of the United States spokeswoman.

Vick can share his life story with young urban men to tell them that dogs are not weapons, Chynoweth said. “He said he started to fight dogs when he was 8 years old,” Chynoweth said. “It seems to us if he had a program like this it could have turned him away from the dog fighting which led to dogs being abused and which led to Vick’s arrest.” After the Falcons released him in June, Vick hopes to resume his NFL career. But Vick must prove he is truly regrets his crime before he can return to the league, said Lindsay Rajt, a PETA spokeswoman. PETA officials are calling again on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to require Vick to have a full psychological evaluation – including an MRI and psychological testing – before discussing his reinstatement.

“Unless a trained neurologist is allowed to truly and honestly assess whether or not any remorse that Vick might express is genuine, there’s no way to know whether or not he will stop being a violent person, whether to dogs or to anyone else,” read the PETA statement.

Vick needs to prove he can express empathy and contrition before becoming a role model for young children, Rajt said. The more than 60 dogs seized from Vick’s property – most of them pit bulls – are also seeking a second chance thanks to rescue groups such as Best Friends Animals Society and Bad Rap.

Halle is the first Michael Vick dog to be adopted from Best Friends Animal Society, according to the group’s Web site. The black pit bull with floppy ears celebrated the finalization of her adoption Saturday after living with her foster family for six months. Halle will be a pal to another pit bull, Tacoma, at her forever home.  Another Vick dog, Handsome Dan, lives with a foster family and is doing well. Other Vick dogs are recovering at the Best Friends sanctuary, said John Polis, the organization’s spokesman. Best Friends took in 22 of the toughest cases, with some of the dogs displaying animal aggression. The Vick dogs at the Best Friend sanctuary were featured in a special episode of the National Geographic show “Dog Town.” Dogs that are not adoptable will stay at the sanctuary.

“The dogs had to learn what toys were, what treats were, what all the basics are,” Polis said. “They never had attention. They’re under-socialized but they’ve seen lots of improvement.” Bad Rap recently posted updates on 10 dogs who were adopted, in foster homes and earned Canine Good Citizen and American Temperament Test Society titles. One dog, Jonny Justice, is thriving in his forever home and is a therapy dog for a children’s literacy program. The successes of Best Friends and Bad Rap prove not all canines rescued from dog fighting rings are beyond psychological repair.

“As we suspected, dogs from fighting backgrounds can be evaluated as individuals,” Polis said. “They can take tiny steps toward improvement with good training and a lot of love.” When the Vick dogs were first discovered, national organizations such as the Humane Society and PETA were adamant the canines had to be euthanized because of their brutal past, Polis said. But authorities and rescue groups made the move to evaluate the animals to see if they can be rehabilitated. PETA officials did comment that the dogs would most likely be euthanized because they were raised for fighting and may be ticking time bombs, Rajt said. The Vick dogs were raised for fighting and lived in conditions where their kennel mates were shot, electrocuted, and drowned, Rajt said. Often it’s not possible to re-socialize animals exposed to that type of violence, she said.

Chynoweth said not everyone can adopt a dog from a fighting background and more than 600,000 adoptable pit bulls are in shelters waiting for homes. The Humane Society of the United States met with animal control agencies, rescue groups and other organizations to hammer out a new policy for dogs seized from fighting rings. Now fighting canines will be evaluated for their ability to be rehabilitated.

“Animals should be treated as individuals,” Chynoweth said. The new policy will help victims seized in a mutli-state dog fighting ring that spanned Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Authorities rescued 407 dogs in the early July bust. The Vick case raised awareness about dog fighting. The Humane Society has a new program that awards $5,000 to anyone who gives tips that lead to arrests and convictions in dog fighting. The football star’s plight also shed light on the enormity of dog fighting, Rajt said. “It is estimated there are 40,000 professional dog fighters,” Rajt said. “How many animals are there for every dog fighter? It’s horrifying; we still have a long way to go.”