Michael Vick scandal: Five years later

In April 2007, the news about Michael Vick’s involvement in an illegal dog-fighting operation broke. Bad Newz Kennels was named after the town where Vick and his entourage were raised — Newport News, Virginia — a hardscrabble community across the bay from the Norfolk shipyards.

What began as a highly publicized scandal about the bad choices and cruel behavior of Michael Vick, then one of the highest paid stars in the NFL, ultimately became a scandal about the NFL. After serving time in federal prison, Vick — who confessed to body slamming, electrocuting, drowning and strangling dogs to death — was permitted to return to the privileged ranks of the NFL and a national stage. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fight venture. He served 18 of a 23-month sentence.

Vick’s signing by the Philadelphia Eagles precipitated an avalanche of controversy that was only made worse by President Obama calling Vick and wishing him well, as Vick had paid his dues to society. This was a questionable assessment as Vick was never tried on animal cruelty charges under Virginia law.

There’s a bigger story here, though. That’s the story of the effect this case has had on how canine victims of fighting rings are perceived and, more importantly, how they are treated following a bust.

The notoriety of this case served as a large stage on which to demonstrate once and for all that dogs who have been press-ganged into servitude in dog-fighting rings are not damaged goods, as so many in the media and even many in mainstream animal welfare organizations have long proclaimed.

They are just dogs.

I am so proud of the work Best Friends has done in this regard. Twenty-two of the hardest-case dogs from the Bad Newz Kennels came to Best Friends as a result of the decision by federally appointed Guardian/Special Master Rebecca Huss, a law professor at Valparaiso University School of Law.

The rehabilitation of the Vicktory Dogs, as they came to be known, proved to the world that there is a future for dogs who are victims of cruelty — even the most hardcore cases. Best Friends’ efforts with the Vicktory Dogs have bolstered the work being undertaken around the country on behalf of pit-bull-type dogs.

Here are a few of the high points:

  • Because of the Vicktory Dogs, numerous dogs seized in fighting busts have been saved, including the majority from the Missouri 500, such as Joy who still resides at the Sanctuary.
  • The Vicktory Dogs case was instrumental in getting the American Bar Association to adopt a resolution calling for the humane treatment, evaluation, and proper placement of all animal victims of cruelty, including fight-bust dogs.
  • And the Vicktory Dogs’ success was crucial to Best Friends’ successful drive in 2011 to lobby Florida to repeal the designation of all dogs and puppies seized in fighting busts as "dangerous." Now these victims of cruelty can be evaluated and adopted out, not summarily killed.

The Vicktory Dogs are pioneers in the fight against canine profiling, and each of these individual dogs — from Georgia, to Oliver, to Little Red, to Lucas — has caused a paradigm shift and helped save countless lives. These are truly America's dogs, and today we celebrate a critical anniversary in our history and relationship to dogs.


Francis Battista