Michael Vick and the Problem of Dog Fighting

Filed Under: Dogs, Practice Stories

Finally there is an issue that unanimously crosses partisan lines: the issue of dog fighting. Atlanta Falcons Quarterback, Michael Vick, has forced society to confront this sinister practice head on.

Michael Vick was indicted on July 17, 2007 along with three associates for fighting dogs. One of the most disturbing aspects for me of this indictment was not just the fighting of the dogs that took place, but the utterly savage way in which defeated animals were subsequently executed by their owner for poor performance. These proud, loyal animals were killed by those they served by hanging, electrocution, drowning, or slamming the dog’s body repeatedly to the ground. I feel these individuals received a visceral high from subjecting those weaker than themselves to barbarian horrors.

As a practicing veterinarian I see a large number of pit bulls in practice for they are quite popular in this area. Rarely do I ever have problems dealing with these pets. These dogs typically have a wonderful demeanor toward people but have been bred to eliminate their doggy competition. Often people seem to be attracted to this breed to effectively create for themselves a more powerful persona.

Here is an animal that gave his or her heart and soul to do its owner’s bidding, and for its loyalty and trust the animal was subjected to even more horrors, until thankfully death ensued. Has society deteriorated to such a level that once a battle is lost, the loser should be tortured and annihilated?

Are not pets and children the most innocent among us? Yet we have some of the weakest laws protecting them, perhaps because they are non-voters. Political correctness defines that there are no losers and that all are equal in value, yet we as a society are so incapable of losing that we condemn the competition or reprimand the loser. These dogs paid the ultimate price for their loss, torture and death. Has Michael Vick never lost a football game? I wonder what the consequences were if he had such a loss.

There is currently an estimated 40,000 Professional Dog Fighters in the United States with an estimated 100,000 individuals that are involved in street canine fighting.

Not only are dogs bred for fighting at risk of this violence, but also pets (dogs or cats) which are stolen from their owners’ property or acquired from shelters to serve as bait or forced sparring partners for these professional dogs. Unfortunately, this practice has not received the same publicity that professional dog fights themselves have. Pet animals often die as a consequence of being used as a training aid or are killed afterward by the same barbaric tortures previously described.

It is currently illegal in all 50 States to fight dogs but in two States it is only a misdemeanor. Many State anti-animal fighting laws carry a punishment of no more than one year in jail. There are currently two federal laws pending, one the “Dog Fighting Prohibition Act” would make dog fighting ventures punishable by up to five years in prison while a proposed “Federal Dog Protection Act,” would broaden the scope of pending legislation to include restrictions on tools used in dog fighting and the interstate commerce associated with it. This bill would also make it possible for rescue groups to recoup their expenses when caring for dogs that have been seized by federal agents.

Somewhat forgotten in the publicity fever of professional dog fighting is the fate of roosters used in cockfighting. So ingrained is this spectator sport on our heritage that at least one college team’s mascot is named for those courageous birds, the South Carolina “Gamecocks”. A gamecock is another name for a fighting rooster. In fact, the epic mini-series “Roots” and novel by Alex Haley glorified cockfighting as the way one of the author’s relatives elevated his status during slavery by being the best at training and fighting roosters. For me that mini-series was the first insight I had into the practice of fighting roosters.

Until 2007 it was still legal to fight roosters for sport in Louisiana with the actual law not taking effect before August of 2008. Cockfighting is only a felony in 33 States. This spectator sport pits two roosters against one another with a razor tied to their spurs. A spur is a long nail located on the foot of a rooster which they use as a weapon to defend themselves from competing roosters or other animals. To inflict greater damage, razors are added. In some parts of the world such as the Philippines, Cockfighting is carried by sports networks for viewers’ amusement.

The law enforcement of cockfighting is currently so lax in the United States that individuals raising roosters for fighting make no effort to even hide their operations. In some parts of the country they are quite plentiful. Often these facilities can be seen plainly from the highway. At one place we clearly saw a police car pulled up front as if to hide its identity. That breeding facility was still in place months later when we drove past.

I for one think these malevolent practices show how primitive the human race still is. How may one take pleasure in watching the suffering of another? No matter how arrogant we are, man appears to become primeval in the brutalizing of another less powerful creature. There is a subculture of the human race that delights in blood sports. Perhaps basic survival, one of our most basic instincts, allows individuals to rationalize such brutal violence as entertainment. Has it not been proven that those among us who brutalize animals will also move on to people? I do not understand how anyone could justify the abuse of animals or children. We all must work together to effectively eliminate such practices.


Lewis, James. “Clash of Cultures”, DVM. August 2007. pp 24-26.

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Vol 230, No. 10. p.1445.

Lewis, James. “The Other Vicktims”. DVM. October 2007. p.11.

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Vol.230, No. 9. p.1292.

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Vol. 231. August 15, 2007. No. 4. p.515.

“NFL Enlists ASPCA’S Help Over Vickk Matter.” Pet Product News International. October 2007. p. 74.

“Congress May Toughen Dogfighting Laws.” Pet Product News. November 2007. p. 29.

Topics: animal law, dogfighting

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