The story of the dogs abused in NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s illegal dogfighting activities.
During the course of another investigation, Virginia state officials were led to a rural property owned by Vick, where they found drug paraphernalia, marijuana and an assortment of guns—as well as evidence of an illegal dogfighting operation, including a pit where dog fights occurred and a field where 66 pit bulls were chained up with very little food and water. Sports Illustrated senior editor Gorant (Fanatic: Ten Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die, 2007) looks at how dedicated local law-enforcement officers and a USDA undercover agent teamed up to gather evidence, bringing the case to trial (“the biggest dogfighting conviction ever, one that set new precedents”), despite local pressure to drop the prosecution. The author presents a nuanced picture of Vick’s involvement, from his original effort to cover up his connection to the dogfighting ring by claiming that he had bought the property for the use of family and friends, to his confession and apology. Sentenced to 23 months in prison, his career was left in shambles and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Another outcome of the case was the rehabilitation of the dogs, which for the first time, writes Gorant, “were looked at not as weapons, as the equivalent of a gun in a shooting, but as victims.” Because of the efforts of dedicated animal-rescue workers, two-thirds found good homes where they were loved and socialized. The author makes a strong case that pit bulls have an underservedly bad reputation—“the latest breed to get sucked into a self-fulfilling cycle of fear, hype, substandard care, and rising population”—following in the footsteps of bloodhounds, German shepherds and Dobermans “as next in the line of tough-guy dogs.”
Despite some maudlin passages, Gorant ably presents an ugly story with a redemptive ending.