Michael Vick dog seminar

Best Friends founder Francis Battista to speak at American Bar Association seminar to assess Michael Vick case as model for future dog cruelty cases.
By Amy Abern

The legal brief filed by Best Friends and other animal rights organizations in the Michael Vick case was "significant" because it spoke to the court on behalf of the crime victims – the dogs themselves.

American Bar Association seminar focused on Michael Vick case

So significant, in fact, that the American Bar Association is holding a one-day seminar in Chicago to explore many of the issues raised by the prosecution and conviction in the landmark case.

"Prosecuting and Representing Animal Abusers and Caring for the Victims – The Michael Vick Case and Its Impact on Cruelty Cases," will be held September 19 at DePaul University College of Law. The seminar is sponsored by the American Law Committee of the American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section.

Francis Battista to speak about dog fighting, animal cruelty and the Vick dogs

Francis Battista, one of the Best Friends founders, will be a featured speaker, along with an impressive roster of academics, animal rights advocates, lawyers and health professionals.

They will share information, discuss the law as it applies to dog fighting and animal cruelty, report on the status of the Vick dogs, and review the case to determine what worked and what didn’t.

Late last year, the court ordered the dogs relocated to various rescues across the country. Best Friends Animal Society took in 22 of the most traumatized pit bull terrier dogs.

Battista will present an update on the "Vicktory dogs" now at Best Friends.

"Dog fighting is a cruel and abusive crime," he says. "The destruction of the reputation of an entire breed of American dogs and the consequent suffering and death of millions of pit-bull-type dogs is also a crime."

Best Friends and Safe Humane Chicago

Best Friends is the national partner of another participating organization, Safe Humane Chicago (SHC), an unprecedented community-wide alliance of animal advocates, law enforcement members, government leaders, community activists and faith-based organizations dedicated to ending violence against animals and humans.

Cynthia Bathurst, SHC principal director and Best Friends’ national director of Project Safe Humane, will present "The Importance of Court Advocacy Programs in Cruelty Prosecution," based on the success of a program she founded and managed for SHC.

"Abuse, exploitation and neglect of animals promote violence," she says. "The connection is based on sound research. By monitoring and attending court cases that involve animal abuse of any kind, court advocates show police, court officials and offenders that community members want enforcement of laws holding abusers accountable. They also represent victims who cannot represent themselves. "

Court-appointed guardian of the Vick dogs to also speak

Also speaking at the conference is Valparaiso University law professor Rebecca Huss, the court-appointed guardian of the Vick dogs during the case. She will focus on the animals as they relate to the process, as well as aspects of the process that "did not work that well."

"I wasn’t contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office until September," she says. "The dogs were seized in April, with the final transfer to the federal government occurring at the end of August. One of my recommendations is that if there is a need for someone to act in a capacity like I did, earlier involvement would be useful."

She also notes that a great deal of good has come from the Vick case, especially for the dogs. "Of course," she says, "the big bonus is to hear about how many of the dogs are doing. I think of them often and look forward to seeing what progress they have made.

"Best Friends’ making the effort to systematically determine what types of activities and treatment improve the quality of life for each dog provides information that should help in future seizure situations."

Other presentations from forensic veterinarian and attorneys

The seminar will also include presentations from forensic veterinarian Dr. Melinda Merck; Brian Whisler, supervisory assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and defense lawyer Claire Cardwell.

Photo (top) of Francis Battista and Billabong by Troy Snow

Photo of Cynthia Bathurst by Sheri Berliner

The work of Best Friends, with the Vick dogs and others, is possible only because of your generous support. Please help us reach our goal of No More Homeless Pets.