Vick case dials up rhetoric against dog fighting

Vick case dials up rhetoric against dog fighting

AVMA, animal-welfare groups, others speak out in a range of tones
Sep 01, 2007

Some responses were strident, others more straightforward — and a few pushed the decibel meter to the max.

But the message was the same from all sides: official, public condemnation of what the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) calls the "blood sport" of dog fighting.

The AVMA, animal-welfare organizations, professional football and at least one well-known member of Congress had something to say for the record, after Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick decided to plead guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to engage in dog fighting.

The high-profile case became the crucible for focusing intense public scrutiny on dog fighting — a violent, often clandestine, activity that is reported to be on the increase nationwide, particularly in urban areas. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates there are 40,000 "professional" dog fighters across the nation, and at least 100,000 "street" fighters in major cities.

On July 25, just days after the arrests of Vick and three co-defendants, the AVMA issued a statement saying it "condemns dog fighting and any event involving animals in which injury or death are intended, and supports the enforcement of laws against dog fighting and related activities."

The group said its encourages its members "to collaborate with law enforcement with respect to recognition, enforcement and education" on dog-fighting issues, directing them to its official policy statement that was posted earlier this year on the AVMA Web site.

It drew attention to the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, passed by Congress in March and signed into law in May, that raises penalties for dog fighting, but acknowledged that "the brutal contests seem to be increasing, especially in the South and large urban centers."

The AVMA concluded by calling dog fighting a "blood sport" that originated in ancient times, when dogs were used in war, but evolved into what it is today.

"Dogs bred and trained for fighting are aggressive, often dangerous, and unsafe to introduce into society as pets; therefore, the majority of animals seized are euthanized."

Vick formally entered a guilty plea in Richmond, Va., on Aug. 27, after which U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson set sentencing for Dec. 10, telling Vick that he is not bound by the sentence of 12 to 18 months recommended by prosecutors and the defense, but could impose any term up to five years.

Later, at a Richmond hotel, Vick apologized, said he takes responsibility for his actions and that "dog fighting is a terrible crime."

He said he took the opportunity "just to speak from the heart," admitting he had not been forthright earlier with the NFL or his team. "I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player," he said.

By the time Vick decided to admit to the charges on Aug. 20, his three co-defendants already had pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him, leaving the star NFL passer with little room to maneuver in or out of the pocket.

His predicament worsened when it was reported that a federal grand jury in Richmond, Va., was about to bring additional charges, but his guilty plea now makes that unlikely.

Co-defendants Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach told authorities that Vick, 27, took part in killing at least eight dogs that hadn't performed well in fights, using means such as electrocution, drowning and hanging.

They and the third defendant, Tony Taylor, said Vick was the chief financial backer for "Bad Newz Kennels," a dog-fighting, gambling venture that operated out of Vick's property in rural Surry County, Va. Vick earlier denied any knowledge of the operation, saying he rarely visited the home occupied by a cousin.

The charges against Vick carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 fine, but prosecutors asked for 12 to 18 months, somewhat more than usually recommended for first-time offenders under sentencing guidelines, because of the nature of the crime.