What would for NFL quarterback Michael Vick say about this movie?
“They are more forgiving of our species than we could ever be of there’s.”
The Champions is an award-winning documentary that follows the story of the dogs confiscated from Bad Newz Kennels owned by Michael Vick.
Face the Facts: The is no mistaking that Vick not only participated and oversaw the sheer torture of innocent dogs at the Virginia kennels, he actually tortured his own pet dogs. When dogs weren’t able to fight any longer, they were often executed. At one point he lied about it all. And obviously, illegal gambling was also going on at the property.
Despite all that, at the end of the day, the nation’s most notorious dogfighter pled “not guilty” to animal cruelty charges — charges that were eventually dropped in a plea bargain — and he was convicted only of bankrolling a dogfighting conspiracy. He served 18 months in prison before being welcomed back to the public spotlight and the National Football League to make millions in salaries and endorsements.
To demonstrate his sorrow and rehabilitate his image, it was thought that Vick should ‘hit the road,’ and speak about animal cruelty across the country.
I was on the Board of Directors of the American Humane Association at this time, and we unanimously rejected the opportunity to ‘get into bed’ with Vick, though the PR might raise dollars for the organization. After all, any event with Vick would garner attention.
The Humane Society of the United States jumped at the chance, and HSUS Wayne Pacelle went on tour with Vick, and together denounced dog fighting. That’s fine, I suppose, though the events were choreographed and questions were often not allowed, especially from the media – for fear of pressuring or embarrassing Vick, or Pacelle.
But what about the dogs at Vick’s compound?
At the time the fighting dogs were confiscated in 2007, it was routine for dogs involved in fighting to be euthanized. I was on record at the time, questioning the sensibility of such actions. What I said then and I continue to ask, “Why kill the victims? Isn’t that the reverse of what we should be doing?”
“Of course, not all dogs can be ‘rehabbed,’ and adopted – but all should be, and must be evaluated as individuals.”
That’s exactly what I wrote in my newspaper column at the time, and boy did I receive the nasty letters.
Law professor Rebecca Huss at Valparaiso University said the same, and the courts paid attention to her.
Meanwhile, at the time the HSUS supported euthanasia for the dogs at Vick’s kennels as did PeTA (The HSUS has changed their policy and today supports assessing all dog fighting dogs as individuals, but according to the movie PeTA still stands against even potentially adopting them).
“The Champions” follows the stories of these fighting dogs. Of course, it turns out that the dogs are lovers and not fighters.
I believe Vick did do society one favor – millions of people do now understand, who once didn’t, that these are just dogs (call them pit bulls or whatever you want), and they are truly victims of their own circumstances, and society.
Dogs are an incredibly adaptable and forgiving species. It’s amazing any of these dogs went on to become therapy dogs or agility sport champions, or even to live happily as a family dogs in homes – and incidentally some in homes with young children – and totally, 100 percent without incident (except too many kisses).
Notions about dogs called pit bulls are absolute rubbish. For starters, while they share a generalized “look,” they look so different from one another because they are greatly different from one another – which is simply because they are mixed breed dogs.
As Cynthia Bathurst of Safe Humane Chicago has said, and I have been saying – they’re actually All American dogs.
And the rationale to ban the breed makes little sense, since for starters, most are not actually pure bred dogs. They are not of one breed. So what are you banning?
While the most popular pure bred dog in American, according to the American Kennel Club registry, are Labrador Retrievers, it’s a good guess there are more pit bull-looking dogs out there than Labs. Banning them is to ban what is likely the most popular group of dogs in any given community.
The intent of bans is a knee-jerk political response, generally to an event resulting from irresponsible ownership and/or something being blown up in the media. It turns out that according to a study and position statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (which I co-authored with Dr. Sagi Denenberg), bans are ineffective to lower dog attacks.
Sometimes, you’d think that dogs – if they could – would email one another and say, “Let’s overthrow the humans.” But they never would – dogs are too loyal.
I believe “The Champions”, teaches us as mere humans about compassion and trust – traits exhibited by each of the Vick dogs, that many people think could never be ascribed to ex-fighting dogs.
I recommend this movie – but most especially for people who still – if even they do so secretly – hang on to the belief that dogs that look like pit bulls are inherently bad. In fact, all dogs are inherently good.
Find The Champions screening near you.