BOOKS: The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s dogs and their tale of rescue & redemption

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)

The Lost Dogs:
Michael Vick’s dogs and their tale of rescue & redemption
by Jim Gorant
Gotham Books (375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014), 2010.
287 pages, hardcover. $26.00.

The Lost Dogs, like a Three Stooges film, should open with
the warning, “Don’t try this at home, kids.”
Yes, the American SPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, and
several other partner organizations were able to avoid euthanizing 47
of the 51 pit bull terriers who were confiscated from football star
and dogfighter Michael Vick in April 2007. About two-thirds of the
dogs were eventually placed in homes; the rest remain in sanctuary

But, contrary to hype, this does not mean anyone has
achieved magical advances in handling authentic fighting pit bulls.
Little was done that might be within the means of local animal
shelters. Much as the chairs that the Three Stooges smashed over
each other’s heads were made of balsa wood, most of the Vick dogs
were not elite fighting stock. Most were barely more than puppies.
The one dog who was a confirmed fighting champion was euthanized.
“Breeding no doubt plays a role in dog behavior,” admits
Lost Dogs author Jim Gorant. “There are border collies who are
better at herding and retrievers who are better at retrieving because
they have been carefully selected to perform that task over time. By
the same logic there are pit bulls–so-called game-bred dogs–who are
more inclined to fight and are potentially better at it than others.
The Bad Newz crew, it seemed, had not been willing or wise enough
to spend the thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars
more it cost to buy dogs from elite lineages.”
Vick and associates had ordinary pit bulls, not confirmed
killers. The ASPCA and Best Friends, meanwhile, are among the
wealthiest and best staffed humane societies in the world. They
collected $1 million from Vick as part of a court settlement, and
enjoyed national publicity that afforded them the pick of thousands
of prospective foster caregivers and adopters.
More than 80% of the animal shelters in the U.S. have less
funding per year for all of their programs combined than was invested
in the Vick dogs. Probably fewer than 5% have as many volunteer and
adoption applicants per year.
Understates Gorant, “Because there might be resources
available to support them, it could be possible to save dogs who
would otherwise probably not make the cut.”
The success–so far–of the effort to save the Vick dogs has
escalated the pressure on shelters to save every dog. The ASPCA
itself felt the heat after euthanizing a pit bull named Oreo who
recovered from physical injuries after being thrown off a rooftop,
but proved excessively reactive.
Any of the Vick dogs may yet crack under stress. The odds are
against it, but each year about one pit bull in 100,000 kills
someone, compared with one dog of other breeds in about 10 million.
About one adopted pit bull in 30,000 kills or disfigures someone
after passing behavioral screening.
The ASPCA, Best Friends, their partners, and the Vick dogs
themselves have all enjoyed a long run of good luck. But a more
indicative case may be the disposition of more than 500 dogs who were
seized from a fighting ring by the Humane Society of Missouri in
October 2009. Through extraordinary effort, with more resources
than most humane societies but still just a fraction of the resources
available to the Vick dogs, the Humane Society of Missouri has also
saved about two-thirds–and has had to euthanize more than one third.

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