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The dogs are (still) alright

As we enjoy this holiday weekend, we thought it would be nice to bring you some good news. It’s the remarkable tale of what happened to the dogs at the center of the Michael Vick dog-fighting case. Not only is this story one of the most popular we’ve done on Need to Know, but this case has become a watershed moment for animal welfare in the U.S.

Most of the time, dogs that are seized from fighting rings are considered far too dangerous to be kept alive and they are euthanized. But in the case of the Michael Vick dogs, tens of thousands of people spoke out and asked that the dogs be given a second chance.

Inspired by Jim Gorant’s book “The Lost Dogs,” Need to Know’s William Brangham tells the story, first reported back in January.

As Jim Gorant notes in his book, the Michael Vick case was certainly unique — having a rich and famous celebrity at the center of the case meant there was enough attention – and enough money – to try something different with these dogs. In almost every other dog-fighting bust in the U.S., those resources just don’t exist, so it’s unclear whether the example set in this case will continue.

There have been some notable changes:

– “The Vick investigation had not only shed light on the disturbing game of dog fighting,” writes Jim Gorant in The Lost Dogs, “it had inspired action and begun to change the public view of pit bulls from perpetrators of violence to victims of it.” In several recent dog fighting busts, the successful approach used in the Vick case was applied to these new cases, and many dogs were spared as a result.

– The Humane Society of the U.S. has changed its position on how captured fighting dogs should be handled. The organization now supports individual evaluations of fighting dogs, and saving those that can be saved. (Peta, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, still believes that trained fighting dogs are too risky to try and rehabilitate.)

– Once he was released from prison, Michael Vick teamed up with The Humane Society to help them in its ongoing national campaign to educate kids around the country about the cruelty of dog fighting. Vick has repeatedly expressed remorse for his role in these crimes, and he was allowed to rejoin the National Football League in 2009 by Commissioner Roger Godell.  In the 2010 season, Vick was the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, and led them on a thrilling season and into the playoffs.  If the 2011 NFL season isn’t derailed because of labor negotiations, it’s expected that Vick will be offered a multi-million dollar contract.  Just this week, Nike announced that they have re-signed Vick for an endorsement deal, after having dropped him in 2007 when his crimes came to light.

– The Virginia property where Vick’s dog fighting ring operated is getting a second chance as well. A group known as “Dogs Deserve Better” has purchased Vick’s former property and plans on turning it into a sanctuary for abused dogs.

– The story about one of the Vick dogs featured in our program has been turned into a children’s book called “Saving Audie.”

– The young pit-bull named Jonny Justice and his owner Cris Cohen are no longer a part of the reading program for kids in Northern California. When one local library wouldn’t allow pit-bull breeds into its facility – even one who’s passed as many behavioral and temperament tests as Jonny has – Cris Cohen decided to leave the reading program in protest.

For more information on dog fighting in the U.S., and what’s being done to combat it, check out these organizations:

Bay Area Dog lovers responsible about pit bulls

ASPCA: Ten ways to help end dog fighting

Best Friends

Humane Society: Dog fighting

Pit Bull Rescue Central

(Originally aired January 21, 2011)