How long will the injustice of punishing the victims of the crime of dogfighting continue? How does it make any sense to rescue dogs from the tortuous abuse of a dogfighting operation only to turn around and kill them? Yet that is exactly what a new ordinance proposed in Orange County, California, would mandate.
Until the very high-profile Michael Vick case, the canine victims of operations such as his Bad Newz Kennels were not delivered to safe haven. Rather, they were automatically declared to be dangerous dogs and killed en masse. They would be rescued only to be killed. The crime and cruelty of dogfighting was compounded by the cruel injustice of killing the victims. At the time, it was also the recommended policy of two of the nation’s most prominent animal organizations.
Dogfighting is a crime. It is a repugnant activity with identifiable victims, who, under other circumstances would be household pets – a family’s happy, tail-wagging, face-licking best friends. Depriving these animals of that type of life and replacing it with pain and suffering in the fighting ring is a grave injustice and violates our sense of fairness. The public is rightly outraged when a dogfighting ring is busted, and no tears are shed if the perpetrator gets the book thrown at them – all too rare an occurrence.
However, there is no more of a sense of justice or fairness in turning around and killing the dogs rescued from such circumstances than there would be in prosecuting and killing child soldiers rescued from a warlord’s militia. Dogs, like people, are individuals with individual personalities and behavioral profiles – a fact that was made clear by the remarkable rehabilitation of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring.
Best Friends Animal Society took on the responsibility of providing sanctuary and rehabilitation for the 22 most challenging of the Vicktory dogs as the group came to be known. Twenty-five other pit-bull-type dogs sprung from Bad Newz Kennels who were deemed ready for adoption to the public went to an assortment of pit bull rescue organizations.
The Vick case was a game changer. His fame and celebrity status – he had an electric style of play and was the highest paid player in the NFL – made the whole case, including the dogs, front-page news. Normally, the dogs would have just been killed behind the scenes and with little notice, but there was nothing normal about the Vick case, and public pressure combined with common sense persuaded the federal prosecutors to give the dogs a chance.
While a few of the Vick dogs were indeed so damaged and traumatized by their experience under Vick’s crew that they will have to live out their lives in a controlled environment at Best Friends, the overwhelming majority of them have gone on to rich and fulfilling lives as pets and companions. They include therapy dogs who bring comfort to hospital patients while several others are now celebrities in their own right and act as ambassadors for the breed while making the case for other canine victims of dogfighting rings.
The blossoming of these dogs has been so persuasive that, to their credit, one of the national organizations that were calling for their demise when Vick was busted in 2007 have done a 180 and now advocate for the individual assessment of all fight ring victims.
I am proud of the groundbreaking work that Best Friends accomplished with the Vick dogs as the standard bearers of a new and enlightened relationship to canine victims of cruelty.
The glaring question remains, though, as to why those in positions of responsibility in a community such as Orange County, California, would opt for the dumbed-down, discredited approach to public safety that calls for the killing of any dog rescued from a dogfighting ring.
It is not fair, it is not just, and it is not necessary.
If you live in Orange County, California, please make your voice heard. Click here to send a message to your Board of Supervisors.
Best Friends Animal Society