Michael Vick's Pit Bulls - Turn Fighters to Lovers
Saving Michael Vick's Dogs
Mention the name Michael Vick, and it brings up a vision of a highly paid sportsman who plead guilty of conspiracy of orchestrating a dog fighting organization. All recollections of his fame as a talented football hero vanished, but for weeks all news shows and news stations reported on Michael Vick.
There were nearly 50 dogs found on Vick's properly, and you rarely saw them on the news. To the media, these dogs were just the same as any other Pit Bull in a family home- vicious time-bombs waiting to kill... It took Vick's imprisonment to shift the focus on the dogs and their destiny.
When the dogs were seized and transported to the holding facilities, the media reported that they were menacing. Everyone assumed that they would all be euthanized, since that's what happens with all other dog fighting busts. But, surprisingly, justice and compassion saved them. The U.S. district judge, Henry E. Hudson, gave Vick's dogs a second chance and ordered that each dog be evaluated individually. Hudson also ordered Vick to pay near one million dollars to pay for the lifelong care for those dogs who could be saved.
Of the 49 pit bulls that were seized, only one of them was deemed too vicious and was euthanized and another was euthanized because it was sick and in pain, but 25 of the dogs were evaluated and sent directly into foster homes and a handful of them were adopted. 20 of the dogs were deemed potentially aggressive toward other dogs and were sent to an animal sanctuary, and 2 of the dogs died of illness. Some, after extensive training and re-training, have been moved to foster homes and will be adopted to very educated owners.
Leo the therapy Pit Bull
After just one year after the seizure of the dogs, there have been many adopted out and living in permanent homes.
- Leo, a tan and muscular male Pit Bull wears a colorful clown collar when he visits cancer patients as a newly certified therapy dog in California
- Hector, another male dog with deep scars on his chest and legs, is training to be a national flying disc competitor in Minnesota.
- Teddles takes orders from a 2 year old child.
- Gracie is a lazy, couch potato in Richmond, living in the house with cats and sleeping with 4 other dog breeds.
Michael Vick's Dogs
Rehabiliting Pit Bulls
But, how can the dogs who were trained to fight now living in homes with children, working with the elderly, habituating with cats and other dogs... It's absurd considering rare dog maulings and the occasional dog bite or attack by an alleged pit bull makes international news, yet these dogs trained for dog aggression are living with other dogs without problems.
I mean, pit bulls are one of the few dog breeds that are thought to be so dangerous that we need to create breed bans against them.
Well, in regards to Vick's fighting dogs, Frank McMillan, a veterinarian who is studying the recovery of some of the Vick dogs says that "we don't know. We've assumed all pits are the same, and they have never let this many fighting dogs live long enough to find out" why these dogs are adjusting so well to family and pet life. There are next to none that have been confiscated in order to be studied because these dogs are always immediately euthanized.
Classic fighting pit bulls have thought to have been red to be friendly to people and aggressive with other dogs, but in modern street fighting, urban gangs encourage their dogs to go after people, which is why evaluators said that when they would walk into the kennels where Vick's dogs were housed, they weren't quite sure what to expect.
Instead of finding dogs who would run and lunge against the cage to get to the evaluators or anyone else as they walk through, the evaluators found dogs with great behaviors, some of which would lick human hands, but would lunge at other dogs. Some of the dogs even went straight to play mode with other dogs, wagging their tails and crouching down on their front legs in a bow. "Some actually perked up and developed more confidence only when around other dogs," observed a law professor and animal law expert who was appointed by the court to oversee the evaluations. "They actually seemed happier around other dogs."
Throughout the evaluations, it was determined that the dogs' main problem was not aggression but isolation.
A dog fighting "expert" with the Humane Society and proponent of euthanizing seized fighting dogs is skeptical of the emerging reports of the Vick recoveries, claiming "Fighting is in their blog. Retrievers retrieve, Shepherd herd, and fighting pit bulls fight. The behavior is bred into them. They should never be left alone with other dogs. Others disagree with this statement, as many have been able to successfully re-train and rehabilitate fighting pit bulls to habitat in loving homes with other people and dogs.
One founder of the Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls (BADRAP) has evaluated and re-trained over 400 pit bulls in the bast decade. BADRAP even received half of the dogs seized from the Vick incident. The founder believes that, "Yes, there are pit bulls who have fought, attacked and mauled other animals and people, but so have other breeds, incidents almost always have been traced to negligent, or abusive owners." He also remarks that, "It is not surprising that many of the dogs get along so well with other dogs. Just as the urge to fight is in their blood, so too, is the need to get along. You have 150 years of man trying to product a dog aggressive dog, but you have tens of thousands of years of Mother Nature preceding that. Dogs are pack animals; they survive because of their pack. It's hard-wired into their genes that they do no harm to each other."
Despite the image of the fierce pit bull that symbolizes the tough guy vogue, the American Pit Bull Terrier has earned the title and has been know as the All American Dog.
In the Civil War era, they were known as nurse dogs because they were so good with children. Pit Bulls sold war bonds, earned medals in WW1, were army hero's of various countries, and appeared in posters as idolized pinups. They have been ambassadors of good will. They are TV stars in many commercials of out present era, search and rescue dogs, drug sniffing dogs, therapy dogs, hero's in nursing homes, books, etc.
All the more reason for this present trend to look at each dog individually. One comment of a rescuer stated, "Every thoroughbred is not a great racehorse. Every hunting dog cannot hunt efficiently. All Labradors are not good swimmers. Every pit bull, even from an alleged fighting dog ancestry is not an aggressive fighting dog. There are no simple answers." "Pit Bulls are just dogs."
The legacy of Vick's fighting dogs has been far reaching. Laws have ben passed, restrictions have been enacted, and community actions have been argued. City councils have been sued by various owners. Happily, officials have asked for evaluations of the seized dogs rather than automatically euthanize them. But most of those arrested as dog fighters, do not have the kind of money that Vick had, so unfortunately, second chances are usually not given to even those dogs who are deemed worthy.
Michael Vick's Dogs: From Fighters to Family Pets
Summarized from the "Can The Vick Dog's Chage What They Think They Know?" by Renee Greenwood from the American Pit Bull Terrier Gazette; Volume 33, Issue 1; Fall 2008
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