On Aug. 23, 2007, Michael Vick, then a super-star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, pleaded guilty to promoting dogfighting, a state felony charge in Virginia, where Vick lived at the time.
His plea came after a months-long investigation in which Vick’s Virginia property was searched and some 53 pit bulls used in his dogfighting ring were seized.
Vick was accused of breeding and training dogs for fighting, holding dogfights on his property and killing dogs that did not perform up to snuff.
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison, close to the maximum sentence. Public revulsion over animal cruelty, say legal experts, is one reason why judges tend to have a heavy hand when dolling out sentences.
Fighting to the death
Dogfighting is illegal in every state, and with good reason. It’s an exceptionally gruesome activity that involves placing two highly aggressive dogs, sometimes drugged to increase their combativeness, in a ring while spectators gamble on their favorite to win.
The dogs fight until death or exhaustion and often endure catastrophic injuries such as punctured lungs and pierced eyes. Owners force the animals to fight on even when they are clearly at the brink of death.
Dogfighting has also been linked to drug use, gang violence and illegal gambling. Owners’ bets can average a whopping $10,000 per fight.
Good from bad
Thanks in part to the Michael Vick case, the public and legislators are now more acutely aware of animal cruelty offenses. According to the Humane Society of the United States, more than 40 state and federal laws were strengthened in the aftermath of the Vick case.
And in February 2014, President Obama signed into law a bill that included the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which makes it a federal felony to knowingly bring a child under 16 to a dogfight or cockfight and a federal misdemeanor to knowingly attend an animal-fighting event. Depending on the offense, punishment can be up to three years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
And Michael Vick? He served his sentence and is back in the NFL, recently joining the New York Jets. In stark contrast to seven years ago, he’s now a spokesperson for the Humane Society, preaching about the cruelty of dogfighting.
Better late than never.