June 2007 Blog Home August 2007

27 posts from July 2007

July 31, 2007

Concerns and Criticisms Well-Justified for Vick

Last night, I was on MSNBC's Live with Dan Abrams' show to discuss the Michael Vick case. Yesterday, one of Vick's co-defendants pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with the federal government—a development that some legal analysts have called "devastating" for Vick. Also, yesterday, the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP held a press conference earlier in the day defending Michael Vick, expressing a concern about a rush to judgment in the case and criticizing the NFL and Nike and other companies for taking action against Vick before the legal process is completed.

On the Abrams show, it was a debate between me and the head of the local NAACP chapter. That's not a circumstance I relished, since the last thing I want is for the issue of dogfighting to be polarized around the issue of race.

Black and white pit bull dog in sand
© iStockphoto

I have said many times that Michael Vick and his co-defendants deserve a fair trial, and on that point, there is no quarrel between The HSUS and the NAACP, a proud and important organization in our nation also with a mission of defending the vulnerable. But there is no doubt that Michael Vick's property was used for dogfighting, and that fact alone grounds HSUS's concerns and public criticisms. In addition, the 19-page indictment against Vick is explosive, and just cannot be ignored. We do not want to see one of the highest-profile athletes in American sports go on with business as usual with these very serious charges looming.

Since its founding in 1954, The HSUS has worked on eradicating dogfighting, cockfighting and other forms of staged animal fights wherever they have occurred and no matter who has participated in these grisly types of premeditated cruelty. Today, dogfighting is a crime in every jurisdiction in the nation, and we demand that anti-cruelty laws be vigorously enforced.

The Michael Vick case has become high-profile because he is a star athlete, because his property was used for dogfighting, and because of the gruesome details contained in a 19-page indictment, not because he is African American. The Humane Society of the United States pursues animal cruelty cases with an entirely color-blind attitude, and that will always be our approach.

July 30, 2007

Weekend Victories and an Urgent Appeal

Nike just did it. It suspended its contract with Michael Vick late Friday afternoon. Nike is a tough corporation and rarely bows to pressure on any issue. Its accommodation to the public's demands shows both the depth of revulsion Americans have for animal cruelty and the power of The HSUS. More than 165,000 of you wrote through our website to Nike, and urged it to drop Vick while this legal shadow hangs over his head.

Here's is Nike's complete statement:

Nike has suspended Michael Vick’s contract without pay, and will not sell any more Michael Vick product at Nike owned retail at this time. As we’ve said before, Nike is concerned by the serious and highly disturbing allegations made against Michael Vick and we consider any cruelty to animals inhumane and abhorrent. However, we do believe that Michael Vick should be afforded the same due process as any citizen in the United States, therefore, we have not terminated our relationship.

Good news this time came in threes. Reebok, the official jersey sales company of the NFL, was first in the day on Friday to drop Vick, taking the unprecedented step of halting its sale of Vick's No. 7 jersey. And two top trading card companies also put a stop to selling Vick's likeness in its products.

While the Vick case will remain a key focus of The HSUS, even more important is our broader campaign against any organized animal fighting. At the same time, other urgent work continues in earnest and requires your active participation if we are to prevail. And on that note, I want to call you to action again.

Last week, as I reported on the blog, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two key HSUS reforms on the Farm Bill—one to ban "random source" dealers from selling cats and dogs to research institutions and the other to ban the use of live animals in marketing demonstrations. Early this week, another agriculture-related bill comes to the floor—the Agriculture Appropriations bill, which provides funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its programs for the 2008 fiscal year. It contains an animal protection provision that we must defend.

Language has been included in the committee's version of the bill to defund efforts to slaughter horses for human consumption or to transport them to Canada or Mexico for that purpose. The horse slaughter industry and its allies in agribusiness may move to eliminate that provision. I am hoping you will call your U.S. Representative and urge support for the horse slaughter ban and opposition to any effort to strip  horse protections from the Agriculture Appropriations bill. Please call your Representative at 202-225-3121 and say you are a member of The Humane Society of the United States, that you oppose the slaughter of horses, and you oppose any effort to strip the entire anti-slaughter provision from the Agriculture Appropriations bill.

On Saturday, I appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal. I spoke for about a half-hour on HSUS activities, including the horse slaughter issue. You can watch the program and learn more about horse slaughter and other animal protection laws we're working on here (look for the July 28 segment).

July 27, 2007

Talk Back: Praise for Pit Bulls

As the nation’s attention is drawn to the dogfighting allegations against Michael Vick, pit bulls—the most common victims of this violent “sport”—have also been thrust into the spotlight. We heard from several readers who were apprehensive about the limelight. Among them:

As an owner of two rescued pit bulls, I have mixed feelings about how the media is still portraying our beloved dogs. I feel that people are going to look at the videos being shown of the dogs fighting and still see the pit bull as being dangerous. I wish that someone could add the history of this breed to help educate the majority of people who still have such a skewed view. I am glad that there has been an increase in awareness regarding dogfighting. It just saddens me that it had to take something as horrible as this incident to bring this brutal underground sport to light. Thank you HSUS for all you have done to raise awareness about this breed. It saddens me that we live in a time where pit bulls were once an American icon and now they have fallen into the category of a malicious breed. I can only hope that the media can return the respect that this breed of dog should have and continue to punish the deed and not the breed! —Cheryl Richard

A pit bull mix followed my daughter home from middle school several years ago, mangy and skinny. We still have him, and he is so beautiful and healthy. People comment to me, "You have a pit," like I have something bad. All dog owners have to be responsible dog owners, even if it's a lab puppy around strangers, and I am. He loves to ride in the car, and he's very sociable with my other dogs, and has never hurt them. You get what you put into most dogs. Thank you for all the work you do for all animals. Blatant cruelty and evil toward animals in the name of sport and money needs to be stopped. Thank you again so much for being out there on the front lines against this. —Brenda

At The HSUS, we encourage the public to look past breed stereotypes and consider animals as individuals. You can read more about the pit bull’s history as a beloved pet and public servant, and enjoy a story about a special pit bull Daisy, submitted by blog reader Angie Laurusaitis, here.

Among the other responses we received to developments in the case against Vick:

There is enough evidence to support Vick being banned from participating in professional sports until he is tried on the charges and all the facts are known. His future in sports can be determined at that time. My hope is that other pro athletes watch and learn from his mistakes. The criminal punishment may pale in comparison to the ridicule of public opinion. If all the charges are proven, Vick has lost his fans for life. —Lanny Forrester

Continue reading "Talk Back: Praise for Pit Bulls" »

While Vick in Court, Our Work Continues

At Michael Vick's arraignment in U.S. District Court in Richmond yesterday, a trial date of November 26 was set. Vick's lead counsel put a major defense team on display, signaling that he intends to mount a vigorous defense against the charges set out by the federal government in its chilling and remarkably detailed 19-page indictment.

Michael Vick arraignment in Richmond, Virginia
© The HSUS/K. Milani
Media and spectators surrounded the federal courthouse
for Vick's arraignment yesterday in Richmond, Va.

But more trouble could come for Vick. Federal prosecutors indicated at the hearing that they may level additional charges. And last week, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Gerald Poindexter, the prosecutor in Surry County, Virginia, announced he, too, would be filing charges at some point for violations of state law.

The federal trial date is nearly four months away—and November 26 lands on week 11 in the 16-week regular-season schedule of the National Football League. I am concerned that the NFL, once the clamor over the Vick case tamps down a bit, may attempt to allow Michael Vick to suit up and play. The HSUS is dead-set against that idea.

As I mentioned previously, it's not an act of denial or vindictiveness to attempt to prevent Vick from playing, but the fact is, Michael Vick has been one of the NFL's most popular and talented athletes, and kids following the NFL place him on a pedestal. With the epidemic of dogfighting in this country, and an increase in street fighting in urban communities, the NFL needs to set a higher standard and establish a zero-tolerance policy for animal fighting and other forms of malicious, premeditated animal cruelty. It's just not acceptable to allow Vick to play before the charges are settled.

And while we want justice to be served in the Vick case, our larger target is the scourge of dogfighting in this country and throughout the world. Yesterday, HSUS spokespersons hit the airwaves, appearing on dozens of nightly news broadcasts and shows such as Larry King Live, CNN's Nancy Grace, and ABC's World News Tonight. We are delivering the message that animal cruelty is wrong, that dogfighting must be eliminated, and that we need stronger laws against the activity and the enforcement of those laws. On the lawmaking front, we worked with Senator John Kerry yesterday on the introduction of new federal legislation in the U.S. Senate to further upgrade penalties for dogfighting and to make it a federal felony to be a spectator at a dogfight. I'll keep you apprised as that legislation gains steam.

Meanwhile, The HSUS's other work continues on a hundred fronts. Yesterday, while Michael Vick appeared in court, there was some very good news, and also some bad news, for animals as Congress started action on the Farm Bill, the sweeping agricultural policy measure now being considered by the  U.S. House.

Yellow Labrador retriever dog in grass
© iStockphoto

The thrilling news is two HSUS-driven bills, which were melded into a single amendment to the Farm Bill, were approved late last night. The Israel-Doyle amendment, named for its sponsors Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), was approved and would prohibit the use in research of random source dogs and cats obtained from Class B dealers, who have been known to steal pets or acquire them through “free to good home” ads. It would also ban the use of live animals in sales demos of medical devices. Third, it would increase penalties for research-related violations of the Animal Welfare Act, as recommended by the USDA's Office of the Inspector General.

The HSUS led the fight to secure passage of these important animal welfare issues, and I am grateful to all of you who contacted your Representatives yesterday. When the Senate takes up its version of the Farm Bill, we will urge adoption of these provisions, too.

The bad news is the House Rules Committee denied us the opportunity to offer an amendment to ban horse slaughter—a signature campaign of The HSUS for many years now.  I was confident we had the votes on the House floor to win, but 110 amendments had been filed to the Farm bill, and House leaders decided to allow only about 30 amendments to be offered, and the horse slaughter amendment did not make the cut. We will seek other opportunities to pass the horse slaughter legislation this year, and put an end to this inhumane industry once and for all.

Always check humanesociety.org for updates on our many campaigns and activities. The active members of The HSUS are a key to our success.

July 26, 2007

Dogfighting Shifts from the Shadows to Spotlight

Since last week’s indictment of Michael Vick, major news outlets across the country and the world—from NPR to CNN, from The Independent to USA Today—have headlined the ugly world of dogfighting, exposing the ghastly cruelty of this underworld.

One of the most riveting of these exposés was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Dogfighting: A shadow world of bloodlust.” This article provides an insider’s account from Eric Sakach, who heads our West Coast Regional office of The Humane Society of the United States but before that time spent 19 years as an investigator for us.

With a special skill for infiltrating animal fighting rings, Eric helped to secure the arrests of more than 500 individuals involved in illegal animal fights.

The Journal-Constitution piece spans every grisly element of a dog fight, from the sights to the sounds to the smells:

Quickly, the referee says, "Release your dogs!" Or, "Let go!" And almost instantly the dogs are going to collide somewhere in the pit. It's a frenzied blur of biting, each dog attempting to gain an advantage over the other. It's like a wrestling match with teeth.

A lot of dogs are known by their style of biting. There are nose dogs (they go for the nose), leg dogs ... Their handlers are encouraging the dog by clapping or whistling. They'll yell, "C'mon, boy, get you some." That kind of stuff. They're not allowed to touch the dogs.

Some people are totally rabid, in a betting frenzy, calling out bets like, "100 on the red nose!" If someone acknowledges your call, you have a bet. There's people that lean over the side of the pit, seemingly trying to get the closest view of every bite.

I encourage you to read the entire piece.

As Eric notes, fights can happen “pretty much whenever and wherever people are willing to assemble.” Dogfighting is a highly organized underground movement, and thrives across the country in both urban and rural areas.

The HSUS has been focused on stamping out this spectacle for decades and will continue to lead the charge. But we can’t do it without you, and that’s why we’ve targeted ten ways you can take action to end dogfighting.

Perhaps most important, we’ve outlined telltale signs of dogfighting that you can watch for in your community. These include an inordinate number of dogs (there were 66 dogs on Vick’s former property in Virginia), usually pit bulls, being kept in one location, who are chained and seem unsocialized; and dogs with scars on their faces, front legs, and hind end. Read more signs to watch for here.

If you suspect dogfighting in your neighborhood, alert local law enforcement. The HSUS offers tools, advice and assistance for local officials, and has a standing $2,500 reward for information leading to a conviction of individuals involved in illegal dogfighting.

As dogfighting moves from the shadows to the spotlight, I hope you’ll stand with us to eliminate this despicable, criminal activity. Consider, if you would, a donation to our campaign to end animal fighting. If you detect animal fighting in your community, report it. And please, help spread the word—ask your local radio station to air our new dogfighting PSA, available in both English and Spanish.

We have public opinion on our side, and now we just need to execute a plan to rid the nation of this barbarism.

July 25, 2007

Time to Make Your Voice Heard

For today's blog, I am taking a quick break from the Michael Vick case because there are major animal welfare actions on tap tomorrow in the U.S. House of Representatives and I need your help—principally by contacting your U.S. Representative in Washington, D.C. today on these urgent issues and spreading the word to your friends and other allies of animal protection. You can reach any House member's office by calling the Congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121. If you do not know who represents you, you can go to www.Congress.org and plug in your zip code.

Tomorrow, in the House, Democratic leaders have scheduled consideration of the Farm Bill—a massive set of policy items dealing with agriculture policy in America. Typically, the Congress writes a new Farm Bill every five years, and the last one was in 2002.

A few weeks back, I mentioned that there were a couple of terrible provisions in a committee version of the Farm Bill—a $12 million subsidy for the veal industry and a sweeping and overreaching provision to nullify state and local animal protection laws—that were stricken from the measure. The HSUS worked hard to nix those provisions. We are pleased they were removed, and we hope they don't come up again.

Black horse rescued from slaughter by The HSUS
© The HSUS
This horse was among 30 that were
rescued from slaughter by The HSUS.

But now is our opportunity to get something positive done for animals by adding some animal-friendly amendments to the Farm Bill, and that can happen on the floor of the U.S. House through an amendments process.

The hottest issue will be an amendment to establish a federal ban on horse slaughter (the Schakowsky-Whitfield-Rahall-Cohen-Jones amendment). If you have been an HSUS backer for a while, you have undoubtedly heard from us many times urging your action to help us halt the cruel slaughter of horses for export to Belgium, France and Japan. The House and Senate have sided with us on the issue time after time in previous sessions of Congress, but for one reason or another, the horse slaughter ban did not clear every hurdle and go to the President for signing. This must be our year, and that's why we must deluge the House with constituent calls today and tomorrow.

Please contact your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to support the Schakowsky-Whitfield amendment to ban horse slaughter. Again, you can call 202-225-3121, ask for your Representative, and convey a message that you are an HSUS member and you support the Schakowsky-Whitfield amendment to ban horse slaughter. It's that easy. Please take action now, if you would.

The House approved a horse slaughter ban by a commanding vote of 263-146 last year, but a few lawmakers blocked a vote from occurring in the Senate. We need another resounding win in the House this year, and we cannot take anything for granted since the Farm Bureau and other agriculture interests are misrepresenting the issue, saying that somehow slaughtering horses is good for horses. If they succeed, it would not be the first time this Orwellian logic prevailed. But we cannot allow that to happen, and that's why your action is crucial.

Continue reading "Time to Make Your Voice Heard" »

July 24, 2007

After First Step, NFL Must Follow Through

Humane Society of the United States members and other concerned citizens have reacted with extraordinary passion and determination in response to the indictment against Michael Vick and three co-defendants. As of yesterday, more than 263,000 individuals contacted the NFL through The HSUS's online advocacy campaign at humanesociety.org. That figure is simply remarkable—and I am grateful to each one of you who contributed to this avalanche of communications to the NFL. It is this sort of collective action that reveals the power of our cause and the force of The HSUS.

Last night, in response to the outpouring of public concern, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Michael Vick that he is not allowed at the Atlanta Falcons' training camp, pending the outcome of an internal NFL investigation of the dogfighting charges against him. Goodell is right to take this action, and I commend him for it. There's just no way it can be business as usual for Vick and the Falcons given the seriousness of the charges set out in the felony indictment filed in U.S. District Court last week.

But this must be a first step. Goodell must not let Vick suit up until the federal charges against him are settled.

For me and The HSUS, this is not a matter of retribution. Vick will appear before a court of law, and that court will render a judgment on his guilt or innocence. That's where he may be punished by the federal government if he's convicted. But now, in the pre-trial period of this drama, we are adamant that Vick not be allowed to suit up because we fear the impact of such an action on young people and the message it sends to them.

Vick and his co-defendants are charged with taking part not only in dogfighting, but killing dogs by the most gruesome means, including electrocution and bludgeoning. We cannot let children think that such behavior is in any way normative. The NFL needs to proceed under the precautionary principle and send a suitable message to America's kids, who are a core part of the fan base of the NFL and the admirers and followers of its star players. Nike should also take note and follow suit.

The HSUS sees the scourge of dogfighting in our communities every day. It's an epidemic of violence and it dulls the sensitivities of everyone involved. Too many young people, perhaps influenced by peers, certain rap artists and other celebrities, are enticed by the idea of having a tough-looking pit bull and maybe even fighting the animal. Shelters throughout the nation are jam-packed with relinquished, seized or stray pit bulls, often physically and emotionally scarred. Many are poorly socialized and molded into aggressive animals by their keepers. As a result, hundreds of thousands of pit bulls are euthanized every year.

We have to turn this situation around, and it starts now by instilling the right values in America's young people.

July 23, 2007

Talk Back: Support for a Vick Suspension

The conversation continues surrounding Michael Vick, his status with the NFL, and his relationship with Nike. Among the comments we received:

There may be a silver lining here. Whether or not Vick is found guilty, this incident will generate so much publicity that everyone in this country is going to be exposed to the realities of a disgusting and barbaric practice. That includes people who are in a position to stop it, such as elected representatives and law enforcement. —Mike Stock

I can surely identify with the son that cried. I am a grown 52-year-old woman and I was so infuriated by the reports of the cruelty I cried and screamed, "How can ANYONE determine to perpetrate such horror upon another creature?!?" I own a pit bull terrier and am anticipating adopting another from a rescue shelter. They are some of the sweetest dogs when loved and trained properly. We must end this scourge on our society. —Dvora Fairfield

Football players are supposed to set good examples for our children; they are our children’s heroes. If found guilty Vick should serve time in prison, serve 10,000 hours of community service at the humane society, pay a large fine and NEVER be allowed to play football again. That should be what anyone found guilty of fighting dogs or chickens should have to do. It should NOT be tolerated by our justice system! The penalty should be severe; let these people committing these horrible acts know it won't be tolerated and the penalties will be severe, no matter who you are. —Tammy Provin

Continue reading "Talk Back: Support for a Vick Suspension" »

Blocking of Animal Fighting Law Could Benefit Vick

Little did he know it, but Michael Vick got a great assist—the equivalent of some tremendous pass protection on the field—in his dogfighting debacle from U.S. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who has emerged in recent years as one of the leading opponents of animal welfare in Congress. Thanks to Sensenbrenner, the penalties in the federal law against animal fighting—the core federal law that prosecutors put to use in the indictment—were kept as misdemeanors during the period when crimes Vick is charged with took place. If Vick is convicted and a modest sentence is meted out, he can probably thank Sensenbrenner.

Fortunately, federal prosecutors have delivered some felony charges against Vick and his co-defendants by invoking the federal Travel Act and conspiracy in their first charge. But the second and third charges in the indictment are misdemeanor charges relating to the federal animal fighting law. Ironically, the Congress upgraded this law earlier this year, and President Bush signed the measure in May—just after the crimes set forth in the indictment of Vick and his co-defendants took place—and after Sensenbrenner was no longer in a position to block the legislation.

Black and white pit bull from Michigan dogfighting bust
© The HSUS
A pit bull seized during a dogfighting bust in Michigan.

The idea of upgrading penalties to a felony for violations of the federal animal fighting law had active support in Congress for the past six years. In fact, both the House and Senate passed felony penalties for violations of the animal fighting law in 2001 and 2002, but the provision was inexplicably stripped out of the Farm Bill at the insistence of Republican House negotiators in a conference committee.

While there were just a handful of opponents of the legislation in Congress, the most influential detractor was Sensenbrenner, who from 2001 to 2006 had been chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, which writes the penalties for most federal crimes. It was Sensenbrenner who turned out to be the most well-placed friend on Capitol Hill of dogfighting and cockfighting interests.

Continue reading "Blocking of Animal Fighting Law Could Benefit Vick" »

July 20, 2007

Talk Back: Appalled by the Allegations

As news of the federal indictment against Michael Vick and three co-defendants spreads, animal advocates—and sports fans—across the country have reacted and united.

The response to our campaign urging the NFL to suspend Vick has been unprecedented. The outpouring of actions through humanesociety.org was larger than we have ever seen, and it shut down portions of our web site for two days. The league continues to say it will wait before taking any disciplinary action, so we'll keep the pressure on.

We've also renewed our call to Nike to sever ties with Vick. Yesterday, Nike suspended the launch of a new athletic shoe named for Vick, but continues to offer other items that bear Vick's name, including a "Vick Hero" T-shirt marketed to youth. Write Nike today and let them know what you think.

In newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today; in polls, on blogs and social networking sites; and on the floor of the U.S. Senate, public sentiment is clear across the nation: dogfighting is a gruesome act that cannot be condoned.

Blog readers have echoed this opinion. Among the deluge of comments we received:

My son cried when he heard the story. How can a person enjoy seeing animals fight to the death? —David Ilnicki

Thanks for all the work you do and for the thought provoking pieces such as this. I will definitely write letters to Vick's remaining corporate sponsors and will encourage my friends to do the same. It is a shame that it takes a high profile case to highlight something that has occurred far too much and far too long in our society to get people's attention. However, if there is something "positive" to take out of this, it may be that more people are aware and will take action. —JB

Please keep the pressure on Vick, Nike and the NFL. —Greg and Julie Krone

I called the NFL yesterday and said I wanted to urge the commissioner to immediately suspend Vick. I was immediately rolled over to someone else's voice mail. They must be getting a lot of calls. I did leave a message and I will call every day. We must be relentless on this. —€”Lynne

You should have a link to write letters to these corporations who use Michael Vick as a representative of their products and subsequently their corporate ethos. It is inexcusable that Nike has not dropped Michael Vick yet. While he has not been found guilty in a court of law, he certainly is not a role model that we need for our children on how to treat animals. Shame on Nike. Please set up email campaigns to not only the NFL commissioner, as you have, but also any company profiting from the likes of this horrendous "role model." —€”Sue

Continue reading "Talk Back: Appalled by the Allegations" »