Vick case has impact across the U.S.
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2007:
CINCINNATI, NORFOLK, RICHMOND–The National Football League
on September 29, 2007 narrowly avoided embarrassment in yet another
instance of violence against animals when Paul Brown Stadium Limited
withdrew a request to the city of Cincinnati to shoot pigeons prior
to Cincinnati Bengals home games.
Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney had authorized the shooting,
wrote Mark Curnutte of the Cincinnati Inquirer, “but only after
other methods had been tried. PETA representatives jumped on the
issue, urging mayor Mark Mallory to stop any bird killings. They
said they would help stadium officials with ways to get rid of the
The Cincinnati pigeon issue blew up soon after PETA reaped a
publicity harvest from the aftermath of the plea bargain conviction
of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick for felony conspiracy in
connection with dogfighting.
Due to be sentenced on December 10, hoping to avoid a
potential five-year prison term that could end his football career,
Vick on September 18 took an eight-hour PETA course on “Developing
empathy for animals,” listening to six speakers and eating a
vegetarian sandwich for lunch.
“At the end of the class, Vick took home study materials and
returned another day to take a test,” recounted Dave Forster of the
Virginian-Pilot. “PETA wouldn’t release his score, but said he
Vick is also facing two dogfighting charges under Virginia law.
The Vick case sentencing of most concern to animal advocates,
based on calls and e-mails to national animal advocacy organizations,
appears to be the fate of the 53 dogs seized from his property when
the case developed in April 2007.
U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson ruled in Richmond on October
16 that the surviving 48 dogs should all be sterilized and
microchipped for identification, and appointed Valparaiso University
law professor Rebecca J. Huss to be their guardian and special master.
“My goal, and the court’s goal, is to find the best
possible future for the dogs and the humans and other animals with
whom those dogs would come in contact,” said Huss in a prepared
Four dogs recovered from the Vick property died before the
hearing. One was ordered euthanized at recommendation of
behaviorists from the American SPCA and the west coast pit bull
terrier advocacy and rescue group Bad Rap.
The effort to save the Vick dogs, seized under federal
jurisdiction, is consistent with a Virginia law which prohibits
killing impounded dogs solely based on their breed. Loudoun County
Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne on October 15, 2007 issued an
injunction under that law against the Loudoun County Department of
Animal Care and Control, at the request of the Animal Rescue League
of Tidewater and Norfolk resident Ron Litz, who had sued seeking to
force the shelter to allow pit bull terriers to be adopted.
“The county continues to deny pit bull adoptions,” wrote
Samantha Bartram of the Leesburg Today, “but pit bulls who pass
temperament tests are deemed eligible to transfer to outside shelters
if space is available.”
There is a further concern involving the Vick dogs.
Sterilization substantially lowered their value, since they could no
longer be used as breeding stock, but they are reputedly from
top-ranked fighting lineage, and the Vick association could give
them street cachet.
Some of the Vick dogs are rumored to be of the same lineage
as 50 pit bulls seized in April 2004 from David Tant, formerly of
Charleston County, South Carolina. Tant was sentenced in December
2004 to serve 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to 41 counts
of dogfighting and assault and battery. He was arrested after a
surveyor stumbled into a trip-wire on his property set to deter
possible dog thieves, and was wounded by a shotgun blast.
The Vick case broke in part because of tips gathered by law
enforcement while investigating the murder of alleged dogfighter
Thomas Weigner Jr., 27, on August 2, 2006 at his home in Liberty
About 285 pit bulls seized from the Weigner premises were either
judged to be too dangerous to be rehabilitated as pets, or died in
custody from diseases contracted at the Weigner kennels.
An unknown number of dogs were trucked off the property by
persons unknown between the killing and the impoundment.
Weigner was shot in front of his wife, three children, and
parents, who were reportedly bound by masked intruders.
“Though investigators remain tight-lipped about the progress
of the probe,” wrote Cindy Horswell of the Houston Chronicle on
October 21, 2007, “an affidavit filed for a search warrant in
Montgomery County has named William David Townsend Jr. of Willis as a
suspect. A recent search of Townsend’s home–fortified with seven
rifles, two shotguns and an unarmed grenade–led to the discovery of
about 10 pit bulls and a laundry list of illegal drugs, authorities
said. Townsend is being held without bail in the Montgomery County
Jail on aggravated drug possession, delivery and money laundering
According to Horswell, “Authorities believe the intruders were
searching for $160,000 won in a bet on a dog fight in Brazoria
An indirect spin-off from the Vick case, Missouri Humane
Society director of rescue and investigations Tim Rickey indicated to
Kim Bell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was the October 22, 2007
arrest of three men and seizure of 26 dogs in the largest Missouri
dogfighting impoundment in recent memory. Rickey told Bell that the
Vick case had resulted in more people calling in tips about suspected
dogfights and dogfighting operations.
The Humane Society of the United States is reinforcing the
trend by offering $5,000 rewards for information “leading to the
arrest and prosecution of any person involved in illegal animal
fighting,” HSUS announced on October 19.
Twin Falls Times-News writer Andrea Gates on October 20, 2007
hinted that the Vick case has also encouraged several Idaho
legislators to seek increased penalties for dogfighting. Idaho and
Wyoming are the last two states in which dogfighting is not a felony.