Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dogged By Trouble

Sometimes, whether it's Craig Bellamy with a golf club or some GAA players on the razzle, it pays to take a step back when in the full flow of a moral outrage. And there's no better agent of perpective than a glance across the Atlantic. Not to say that a footballer on a drink-driving rap is not worthy of condemnation, but yesterday's indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on charges of running and sponsoring dogfighting sort of reaffirms the fact that everything, even scandal, is bigger in America.

Vick is the owner of 1915 Moonlight Road, near Smithfield, Virginia, a property which was raided earlier this year and found to have been used for both the training of fighting dogs, and the staging of actual dogfights. Approximately 30 dogs, various items of training equipment, kennels and a fighting 'arena' were found in the raid by local police in April.

Vick's response at the time was to protest that although he owned the property, he had no idea that it was being used in this way. He blamed family members who lived in the property for the shocking findings. "It's unfortunate I have to take the heat," he told reporters after the case initially came to light, "lesson learned for me."

However the details of the indictment published yesterday would appear to place Vick very much at the centre of the operation, and named him as one of four men charged by the U.S. District Court in Virginia with conspiracy to commit interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities (the actual trafficking of the animals between states, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years prison and a fine of $250,000) and to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture (1 year, $100,000).

In 2001 (ironically the same year in which Vick was a 21-year-old NFL draft first round/first pick for the Falcons) Vick and his associates, having bought the property on Moonlight Road, are alleged to have begun purchasing American Pit Bull Terriers for the purpose of starting a dogfighting kennel. According to the indictment, they named their operation "Bad Newz Kennels" and began readying the back yard of the property for their new business, building kennels and training areas, and a fence by which conceal them.

One of the most shocking parts of the indictment, apart from the cooperating witness statements describing Vick and associates sponsoring and providing dogs to compete in savage fights, is the process described as "rolling". "Rolling" is the practice of ascertaining whether a dog possesses the necessary "gameness" for fighting. A young dog is placed in an enclosed area and is then prodded and goaded until it displays the requisite reaction. If the animal responds aggressively, it is considered suitable for fighting; if it reacts timidly, it is not.

While some owners will attempt to find an alternative home for unsuitable dogs, Vick's group are alleged to have killed the rejected animals, or as the indictment states "executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."

Clearly the barbarism of this subculture - which reports have subjected is significantly popular among elite US athletes - is appalling enough, without being compounded by such horrific treatment of animals who do not even make it to the fighting arena.

Vick is currently in the Falcons' pre-season camp in Flowery Branch, Georgia, where he has reportedly been applying himself more diligently than ever, both on the training field and to the hefty tactical curriculum that quarterbacks must undertake, ahead of what was viewed as a critical season for player and team.

If the shocking charges of yesterday's indictment are true, he could soon have plenty time to study the playbook.



Blogger Fence said...

And it these sorts of practices that give dogs like pit bulls a bad name. I'd be willing to bet that the same practices occur here too, just on a smaller scale. We have huge problems with dogs (puppy farms still being legal eg) in Ireland, we just don't acknowledge it.

7:19 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

It's hard to comprehend how people would get into this, or what possible enjoyment they get out of it. But I'm sure there are people into it here too, and as we know, other bloodsports involving animals.

11:13 p.m.  
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