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March 30, 2012

Michael Vick and The HSUS's work to end dogfighting

  • The HSUS' Pets for Life program strengthens the bond between people and their dogs. Ralph Hawthorne/Kingdom Photography

  • Rocky is one of the dogs benefitting from The HSUS' Pets for Life program. Jeff Jenkins/The HSUS

  • Alex and Moses are part of our Chicago Pets for Life program. Jeff Jenkins/The HSUS

The following are frequently asked questions about The HSUS's decision to allow Michael Vick to participate in our anti-dogfighting campaign.

Is Michael Vick a spokesperson for The HSUS?

Michael Vick is a messenger for the cause in general, helping to reach new audiences. He’s supportive of our Pets for Life program to end dogfighting and helps to spread the message through his public appearances. His new videos will extend that reach to many more people.

Do you think Michael Vick got a slap on the wrist for his crimes?

If someone commits a crime against animals, here's how events usually unfold:

  • The person committing the animal crime is caught and successfully prosecuted and pleads guilty to a federal felony.
  • As the case plays out in the public domain, there is a wave of social disapproval  and a new awareness of the gravity of the problem.
  • There is a new attitude and resolve in dealing with this crime across the nation. For its part, The HSUS seeks to drive reforms in law enforcement, public policy, social work, and other relevant sectors.
  • Finally, after the perpetrator is released from prison, he is typically assigned to the equivalent of community service helping to address the problem.

And that's how the Vick story progressed. He served his time in prison, he admitted his wrongdoing, and his regret, and he determined to make amends. His work in reaching out to important audiences now buttresses that of the leading anti-dogfighting group in the nation in its broad efforts to attack the problem.

Is any money changing hands?

No. The HSUS has not received any contributions from Vick, the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles, or anyone else in exchange for appearances and his participation in our community-based anti-dogfighting program. Nor is The HSUS paying Vick or anyone else for his participation. Vick pays his own expenses when he speaks at anti-dogfighting forums.

In October 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles launched "Treating Animals With Kindness" (TAWK), which provides grants to animal welfare organizations to protect animals. The HSUS was selected as one of the grant recipients and received a $50,000 grant, which we used to launch our anti-dogfighting and community intervention programs in Philadelphia.

What has The HSUS done to leverage the Michael Vick case?

Since the Vick case put the spotlight on dogfighting, we have worked with lawmakers, law enforcement officers, community organizers, and others to end dogfighting.

Since 2007, we've upgraded more than 40 laws (state and federal) on animal fighting. With other partners, we’re working to secure passage of H.R. 2492, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which would make it a federal crime to be a spectator at a dogfight or cockfight with additional felony penalties for bringing a child to such a fight.

The HSUS has also trained thousands of law enforcement officers on investigating animal fighting and worked with law enforcement on hundreds of raids on animal fighting operations. In 2011 alone, The HSUS helped to rescue 1,421 animals from fighting rings, paid out 21 rewards for tips leading to successful prosecutions and outcomes, participated in 18 animal fighting raids, worked with law enforcement on more than 200 dogfighting cases, obtained felony convictions against numerous top dogfighters and trained 2,000 law enforcement professionals. We sponsor a national tip line to report suspected animal fighting in America’s neighborhoods, and in 2011, we responded to 712 tip line calls.

We also launched programs in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia to reach at-risk youth. Hundreds of people have participated in our dog training classes, which provide alternative activities to dogfighting and teach dog owners that their dogs are friends, not fighters. We plan to expand these community-based outreach programs to other major urban areas.

There is no other animal welfare organization with an entire unit focused only on combating animal fighting.

While these efforts have put a dent in the problem of dogfighting, it remains a troublesome issue in urban areas. We need new ways to address the problem, and we seized on the opportunity to put Michael Vick to work because his celebrity and his unique story have the potential to turn thousands of young people into anti-dogfighting advocates.

Since Michael Vick is back in the NFL, doesn't your work with him signal that dogfighting is okay and that the penalty is weak?

Given the penalties available at the time he was sentenced, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson meted out a strong penalty to Vick. He paid a steep price for his crimes, in addition to serving his prison sentence. The HSUS has worked to upgrade the federal animal fighting law twice in the last two years. The penalties are much more severe now than in April 2007, when Michael Vick's home was raided. The HSUS has been pushing for felony-level penalties for animal fighting crimes for years because that's the only way to drive criminals out of this business.

We did not take a position on Vick's reinstatement to the NFL, and we did not lobby the NFL or any team to hire him. We planned to put him to work whether he returned to the NFL or not.

Why didn't you choose a different celebrity to connect with urban communities?

Michael Vick was a role model for many young people, and he lost everything because of what he did to dogs. His story is the strongest possible example of why dogfighting is a dead end. Just as former drug addicts are able to reach people struggling with addiction, former dogfighters are some of the most effective voices against this crime. We realized the potential that Vick has to reach at-risk youth and pull them out of the quicksand of animal fighting. That said, we constantly attempt to recruit celebrities and others to join us in our crusade to end dogfighting and other forms of animal cruelty. We want to use all pathways to stopping the problem.

Did Michael Vick approach you or did you ask him to help you?

When Vick was close to finishing his prison sentence, his representatives approached HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, who dismissed their first appeals. Later he agreed to meet with Vick, after considering the potential that Vick had to reach the estimated 100,000 participants in urban street dogfighting. If there was a chance that Vick could save one dog from suffering the same abuse he inflicted, the proposal was worth our consideration.

After meeting with Vick and hearing him express his remorse, Pacelle consulted with The HSUS' board of directors and staff. Despite our utter disgust with what Vick did and our leading role in making sure he was convicted and punished for his crimes, we decided that shunning Vick forever would do no good for any animal. Vick paid $1 million for the care and rehabilitation of the dogs at Bad Newz Kennels. Now he contributes his time and his voice to attacking the problem by reaching out to inner-city youth.

Has Michael Vick acknowledged that what he did to dogs was wrong?

Yes. Over the course of several face-to-face meetings and during public appearances, Vick has apologized and acknowledged the suffering he caused to animals. He has expressed his remorse and his desire to help more animals than he harmed by being an advocate for the humane treatment of animals. We only agreed to give him an opportunity to speak with kids if he was committed to the goal of ending dogfighting and to publicly acknowledging that his past actions were cruel and unacceptable.

Is The HSUS working with other NFL teams?

We are trying to engage the NFL and individual players in an effort to attack the problem of dogfighting and other forms of animal cruelty. We'd like to get more athletes involved, and to urge the teams to invest in important anti-cruelty work.

Learn more

Watch Michael Vick videos promoting The HSUS Animal Fighting Tip Line and kindness to animals
End Dogfighting
Pets for Life

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