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Editor's Note
Let's call a thug a thug

By Susan Dyer Reynolds

            As the owner of a pit bull as well as a pit bull lover and advocate, I am only too aware that there is more breedism, more cruelty, and more euthanasia for pits and pit mixes than any other breed. Only one out of 60 adoptable pit bulls finds a home. That means there are thousands of others – shy, scared, abused – never given a chance for rehabilitation and placement in a forever home. Thousands more are born every day to backyard breeders who don’t care about temperament or healthy physical traits, and are only looking for the big ones, the tough ones, the ones willing to do anything for their master. In fact, my very own pittie, that sweet blue-eyed beauty Jasmine Blue, was the product of just such a backyard breeder who intended to use her as a breeding machine.
The fate of the few pit bulls that make it through the “fight tests,” where they put puppies in a pit to see which ones show aggressive tendencies, is inevitably death, either at the jaws of another dog or at the hands of their owner. The puppies that wag their tails and want to play with the others are systematically killed, used as “bait” for the dogs in training, or dumped.
            Dogfighting in the past stayed mostly underground, but law enforcement has been cracking down recently because they realize that where there is dogfighting, there are other illegal activities, including gambling and narcotics. Once mostly a rural thing, dogfighting has also been finding its way into urban settings, due in large part to hip hop musicians who glorify fighting pit bulls. Last week, however, dogfighting was dragged into the public eye as never before because, it turns out, Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback, Michael Vick, is likely one of those backyard breeders.
            Vick, along with three others, is accused of conspiracy involving competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines. The horrific 18-page federal indictment sickened even the most hardened journalists covering the case, and caused NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to order Vick to stay away from training camp. On July 26, opening day of training camp, Vick was at the courthouse being arraigned.
            Federal prosecutors allege that the dogfighting business, known as Bad Newz Kennels, operated out of Vick’s property in rural Surry County, Virginia. Investigators confiscated 55 pit bulls and 11 other dogs (likely used as bait), and training instruments associated with dogfighting, including “break sticks” used to pry dogs’ jaws open and “rape stands” used to strap in a female dog so she can’t defend herself or even move her head during mating (the dogs are sometimes left in the rape stands for hours). Authorities also found 17 dead dogs, bloody carpets and bloody walls, and “pits” designed for holding fights.
            The charges against Vick are horrendous – you know it’s bad when “professional” dogfighters say they “would never do anything so cruel,” preferring to simply shoot the dogs in the head and be done with it. Four government witnesses speak of Vick participating in the deaths of numerous dogs that didn’t exhibit “fighting spirit” by drowning them, hanging them, and, in one case, body slamming (where he threw a puppy to the ground at full strength). If it’s possible to have a “worst” death, it would have to be the female pit bull that lost a fight, after which Vick wet her down and electrocuted her.      Even people close to Vick are having a hard time stomaching the whole thing, and an even harder time understanding it. The purse for winning a dogfight is usually around $1,000. Vick, over the course of his six-year career as the Falcons’ star player, has earned $62 million, and he was due to make a base salary of $6 million for the 2008 season. If convicted, Vick could spend six years in prison, and be ordered to pay a fine of $350,000 – about $25,000 less than what he makes per game.
            This isn’t the first time Vick has been in trouble – in 2006, he settled a lawsuit with a woman who claimed he knowingly gave her herpes. Last season, the NFL fined him $10,000 for making an obscene gesture to some fans while leaving the Georgia Dome – his home field. And in January, he surrendered a water bottle at Miami International Airport alleged to contain “a marijuana-like substance” in a secret compartment.
            All of these things should have been red flags to Falcons owner Arthur Blank, but as is often the case with gifted athletes, he chose to ignore it and hope it would go away. Now it appears the only thing going away is Michael Vick – it is highly unlikely he will play for the Falcons, or for the NFL, ever again.
            Vick’s story is a stereotypical one amongst many professional athletes: raised in a bad neighborhood with bad people, he managed to escape because he had a physical gift. Many athletes appreciate the second chance, move on from their pasts, and use their talents to “do good.” Michael Vick, despite millions of dollars being thrown at him and the sports world at his feet, remains what he has always been – a thug. Not only is he a thug, he is a sick and twisted thug who gets a serial killer-like thrill out of torturing and killing animals. Innocent until proven guilty, you say? He owned the property and the other defendants were his associates who, evidently, have turned on him. And Vick, according to sources, wasn’t trying very hard to hide his “hobby,” even creating Bad Newz Kennels merchandise. Not to mention the fact that no one has that many pit bulls, rape stands and break sticks, and bloody walls and carpets if they’re not involved in dogfighting.
            I like to think there is a special place in Hell for Michael Vick. I dreamt last night that he was hogtied with beef tendons, dipped in au jus, and had a filet mignon strapped to his groin. I had the pleasure of tossing him into a room with the 55 pit bulls confiscated from his property (I had superhuman strength in my dream, of course) and slamming the door shut. Unfortunately, morning shut the door on my dream, but Vick’s reality may come close. Because the charges are federal and so incredibly heinous, it is likely, according to legal pundits, that he will do some prison time … prison time with guys who make pit bulls look like fluffy bunnies; guys who haven’t seen a woman in a very long time. And let’s face it an ex-NFL superstar would make a mighty prestigious bitch on the yard.


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