Monday, April 26, 2010

The Rescue and Rehab of Michael Vick's Dogs

When authorities descended on Bad Newz Kennels in Smithfield, Virginia, on April 25, 2007, they were expecting to find a drug operation. The business was run by known drug users, distributors, and/or others with violent records. Their common connection, and the person who owned the property and the sprawling home on Moonlight Drive, was star Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

Inside the house investigators found a bong, small amounts of marijuana, a rolling-paper machine, and a couple weapons. Nearby, outside, they met a caretaker, who led them to 51 dogs of varying breeds (mainly pit bull cross-breeds, plus a few Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, and other terrier mixes), a hidden dogfighting complex, and a mass grave of dogs who had been killed by the Bad Newz operators, some of them (according to the caretaker) destroyed by Michael Vick himself.

In a compelling forthcoming book, The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant (Gotham, September 2010), Vick and his employees used a variety of methods to rid themselves of dogs that weren't up to fighting standards. Gorant, a Sports Illustrated writer, describes some of those methods, including hanging and drowning.

But The Lost Dogs isn't mainly about the vagaries of dogfighting, the characters or the society from which Vick and his employees emerged to carry on such a questionable operation. This well-written book is primarily about the many organizations that came forward to provide shelter for the impounded dogs and, even more important, the individuals who came forward to foster and rehabilitate those wounded animals. It is a study in the goodness of people and the incredible ability of dogs to heal from the wrongs that were done to them.

Of course, there can't be happy endings for all the dogs, but Gorant goes to great lengths to provide updated accounts on where many of the dogs are now, including Hector (shown above, from the Melissa's House blog), a scarred and wounded fighter who was rehabilitated in the San Francisco area and now lives in Minnesota as a therapy dog. Hector now makes regular visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to teach people about pit bulls and dogfighting. His story--as each dog's story--is amazing.

Along the way you also learn about outstanding programs, such as the San Mateo Public Library's Paws for Tales program, which brings children and dogs together in a positive way.

If you're a dog lover, look for the upcoming photo book Rescued in America by Melissa McDaniel. Also consider donating to needful organizations such as All or Nothing Rescue; BAD RAP; Best Friends; Out of the Pits; Recycled Love; Richmond Animal League; and the SPCA.

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