Breeders tied to Vick case
Blood sport is difficult to expose, authorities say
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 27, 2007 01:02 AM
An unknown number of pit bulls bought from Arizona breeders are tied to the federal dogfighting case against NFL star Michael Vick, according to court documents.
Federal prosecutors say the dogs were obtained by Bad Newz Kennels, run on Vick's property in Surry County, Va., according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va.
Vick pleaded not guilty Thursday in Virginia to federal charges of dogfighting, then apologized to his mother and asked the public to withhold judgment until all the facts are shown.
The case has stirred national reaction. Animal advocates have decried Vick, and some have called for his ouster from the NFL.
No matter the response, law enforcement and animal rights activists agree that the case brings needed attention to the blood sport.
The case also sheds some light on Arizona's dogfighting industry, long known to exist but difficult to quantify and expose.
Dogfighting is typically an extension of organized crime or gangs, and infiltration is not easy, said Sgt. Matt Summers of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Animal Crimes Investigations Unit.
"It's a tight-knit community, which complicates and makes the investigation into dogfighting much more difficult," Summers said. "We investigate every tip to the fullest extent of our capability. It's just difficult to determine how pervasive it is or how often it occurs."
Violent and lucrative
But authorities say they know it happens. And at least once a week, Arizona Humane Society workers responding to stray-dog calls find a pit bull with telltale dogfighting injuries.
Kim Noetzel, a Humane Society spokeswoman, said new wounds crisscross scar tissue of multiple bite and scratch marks on the front legs, the neck and the groin.
"It's obvious this wasn't a one-time struggle," she said. "They are quite literally shredded."
Noetzel said local dogfighting circles are less formal than those often found in other parts of the country, and that most of the fights occur in urban, rather than rural, settings.
"It's more of a street-level activity," Noetzel said. "You have a group of people that meet in an alley or vacant lot and just start fighting their dogs, betting a few hundred dollars here and there."
Dogfighting is lucrative, but it's also a sport of arrogance, according to Sgt. Paul Penzone of Silent Witness.
"Those who are involved in it do it as a way of exaggerating their manhood, arrogance, their machismo and at the same time make a profit off the gambling end of it," Penzone said. "Any type of violence in our society is a problem and as long as it continues, it will grow and impact other aspects of our society."
'A horrible shame'
For the dogs that survive, rehabilitation is unlikely. Dogs bred for fighting are not suitable for adoption because of their demeanor, Noetzel said. The Humane Society sometimes isolates those dogs until they are ultimately euthanized.
"It's not their fault, and it's a horrible shame that they have to be put to death," Noetzel said. "But the reality is, if we rescue a dog who we know has a history of being fought and that dog ends up in the community and attacks and injures another dog or, God forbid, a child, that's a huge liability. We just can't run that risk."
The other scenario is when officials find a dog fatally shot or charred, discarded because it couldn't demonstrate "game" to its breeder. That dog is useless to the fighter and "becomes just another mouth to feed," Noetzel said.
Indictment details abuse
Vick and three others entered their pleas in U.S. District Court to conspiracy charges involving competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines.
"I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name," Vick said in a statement read outside court by Billy Martin, his lawyer. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was released without bond pending a Nov. 26 trial.
Vick's indictment states that several pit bulls at his Surry County home were killed if they weren't strong enough to fight. The federal government said Vick and his associates executed the dogs "by hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."
Purses for the fights ranged from hundreds of dollars to the thousands, and participants and spectators often placed side bets on the outcome, according to the indictment.
Vick and three others are charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture. If convicted, they each face up to six years in prison and up to $350,000 in fines.
Investigators say they found 66 pit bulls, equipment commonly used in training dogs to fight and evidence of a dogfighting pit during searches of Vick's property in April. It was not clear whether any of those dogs were from Arizona.
The federal indictment accuses them of brainstorming a dogfighting operation in early 2001, around the same time Vick was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, and buying the property in southeastern Surry to serve as the operation's headquarters.
They created Bad Newz Kennels in 2002 and tested some pit bulls' fighting skills, the indictment said. They killed some dogs that failed to perform well and started participating in dogfighting matches later that year, the indictment said.
The indictment lists at least 30 fights and says 15 dogs died at the defendants' hands, attributing the information to four "cooperating witnesses."
Career on hold
Vick is barred from training camp while the NFL conducts its own investigation into the federal charges related to dogfighting.
The Falcons planned to give their star quarterback a four-game suspension - the maximum punishment allowed by a team - but held off at the urging of Commissioner Roger Goodell, who could impose even stiffer penalties under a new player-conduct policy.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey