ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker responds in a NY Post op-edto the Jets’ signing of Michael Vick.
On Friday, the New York Jets signed Michael Vick to a one-year contract worth $5 million. His return on that investment is unknown, and frankly I don’t care.
Vick is free to do as he pleases both on the football field and off. But one thing he can’t do is absolve himself of his direct participation in horrific and fatal animal torture and abuse. And whether he takes our home team to the Super Bowl or spends the season riding the pine, we’re not obligated to forgive, and it’s essential we don’t forget.
History bears repeating: The Michael Vick investigation began in April 2007 with a search of Bad Newz Kennels, located on Vick’s Virginia property. We at the ASPCA were involved early on, assisting in the recovery and analysis of forensic evidence from Vick’s property, including carcasses and skeletal remains of numerous dogs.
The ASPCA also led a team of certified applied animal behaviorists in behavior evaluations of the rescued dogs, making recommendations to the USDA and US Attorney's Office regarding the dispositions of the dogs.
It became clear over the course of the investigation that this was not a crime of passion or a case of obliviousness. Michael Vick was fully involved in a six-year pattern of illegal activity that included dogs being savagely electrocuted, drowned, and beaten to death.
We fully acknowledge Vick has "done his time" and even participated in some public outreach, but that does not erase the crime.
The ASPCA has been closely following the progress of the federal Farm Bill for months. This mammoth bill contains many complex rules and provisions on a wide array of issues, most of which you haven’t heard anything about unless you’re a politician or a farmer. Now that it’s passed, one provision in particular deserves your attention because it will make a big difference in the fight to end animal cruelty.
Thanks in part to the work of the ASPCA and advocates from around the country, the Farm Bill includes a measure to strengthen federal animal fighting laws by making attending an animal fight a federal offense. It also imposes additional penalties for bringing a child to an animal fight.
These changes send a clear message: animal fighting is so vile, so unconscionable, that accountability shouldn’t end with those participating directly. Anyone attending an animal fight is a participant, and any participation is wrong—especially when you bring along impressionable children or facilitate the events through illegal wagers and admission fees. No child should witness animals being forced to maul each other beyond recognition; or be exposed to grownups torturing animals mercilessly, gleefully, profiting from their pain. It’s not just a traumatic experience for them; it breeds desensitization to violence, abuse, and atrocity. That paints a pretty bleak future.
And if you think animal fighting is a rare event restricted to small communities, think again. You need only go back to last year’s major dog-fighting raids, one in March involving nearly 100 dogs in Missouri, Kansas and Texas, and another in August involving 367 dogs in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. We were proud to play a leading role in each, but we also know that for every fight we disrupt, many more go on undisturbed.
While we celebrate this law as a victory for animals, we also express relief for what it didn’t include: namely, a dangerous amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would have decimated state animal cruelty laws across the country by preventing states from passing and enforcing their own laws regarding the production of “agricultural products.” Such products could include farm animals, dogs in puppy mills, and even locally grown fruits and vegetables. Grabbing that power from the states would set a dangerous precedent and leave animals unprotected.
History shows us time and time again that where there’s money to be made, defenseless animals often pay the highest price. Thanks to our collective efforts, Congress took a stand for them, and for children. It may not be the part of the Farm Bill getting the most attention, but it’s the part best protecting the most vulnerable among us.
We love to hear happy adoption stories, and we were especially excited recently when adopter Terry G. reported that Kona, one of nearly 100 dogs we rescued from a life of fighting in March 2013, is thriving as a beloved pet in the suburbs of Chicago. We cared for this special pup after assisting in a federal dog fighting raid spanning Texas, Missouri and Kansas, and we’re thrilled that she is finally receiving the love she deserves.
Please take a moment to watch video footage from our multi-state dog fighting raid in March.
Sadly, this wasn’t our only encounter with large-scale dog fighting operations in 2013. In August, at the request of the United States Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), we assisted in a multi-state, federal dog fighting raid of an operation throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. We rescued more than 360 dogs ranging in age from just several days to 10-12 years, who had been left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. Many were emaciated with scars and wounds consistent with dog fighting, and some were tethered by chains and cables that were attached to cinder blocks and car tires.
The U.S. Farm Bill is very close to completion. The House and Senate have each drafted versions of this five-year bill, and starting today, a committee made up of about 20 senators and representatives are meeting to iron out any differences and present a final, unified bill.
We have the opportunity to strike a major blow against animal fighting in this Farm Bill. The Senate’s version of the Farm Bill contains a provision to make it a federal crime to be a spectator at an animal fight—this language mirrors the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, a stand-alone bill with an astounding 216 House cosponsors—that’s very close to half of the entire body!
Since the Senate passed identical legislation during the last session of Congress and the current version is supported by nearly half the House, the bill seems poised for success. However, if we can get the Farm Bill conference committee to keep it in the Farm Bill, it’s a done deal: We won’t have to wait for the House to take a vote on the stand-alone bill.
It is important to note that spectators at animal fights are not there accidentally; they intentionally seek out these illegal activities at secret locations, often traveling long distances and crossing state lines for the entertainment of watching animals fight to the death and the opportunity to gamble on the barbaric event.
On March 24, the ASPCA assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement agencies in a federal dog fighting raid that resulted in the seizure of nearly 100 dogs from multiple properties in Missouri, Kansas and Texas.
Yesterday, at a federal court in Kansas, justice was served. Two individuals connected with last March’s raid learned that they would serve time in prison, pay large fines and perform community service for their roles in the illegal enterprise.
Pete Davis Jr., 38, was sentenced to 16 months in prison and Melvin Robinson, 42, was sentenced to 10 months after pleading guilty to charges related to dog fighting. Davis and Robinson were also ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and pay $430,919 to the ASPCA for the care of the dogs seized. Both Davis and Robinson are also banned from owning dogs for three years following their sentences.
“The ASPCA is proud to have helped secure justice for the dogs involved in this case,” says Tim Rickey, Vice President of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. “Thanks to the persistence of the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and Missouri State Highway Patrol, these individuals are finally answering for the suffering they caused these dogs. Dog fighting is a horrific crime, and we encourage the public to continue to report suspected dog fighting activities to local authorities.”