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What Happened To The Dogs In Michael Vick's Dogfighting Operation


At one time, dogs rescued from dogfighting compounds would be put to death. They'd be deemed too dangerous to live. Then, 12 years ago, a football superstar was caught running a major operation.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Three co-defendants have already pleaded guilty, and all three gave graphic details about how Michael Vick's Virginia property was the headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels. The dogs were raised there to fight.

CORNISH: Now, Animal rescue operations saw this as an opportunity to change minds. They fought to save the lives of Vick's pit bulls. Washington Post reporter Emily Giambalvo recently traced what happened to each of those dogs

EMILY GIAMBALVO: The 47 dogs were split up to eight rescue organizations, and a lot of them, the majority of them, went straight into foster homes and began living this new life where they can learn what it is like to be a normal dog. And then for 22, they went out to Best Friends, this giant animal sanctuary in Utah, and those were the dogs deemed the more difficult cases. And those, they spent a few years, really, recovering. And most of those ended up getting adopted, too, but those were the ones that needed some more time, whether that was because of just shyness or dog aggression or aggression toward people.

CORNISH: So how did their experience on Vick's compound affect the rest of their lives - right? - those dogs that needed that extra support?

GIAMBALVO: At Vick's property, obviously, we don't know everything that happened, but it was a very small world, where all they knew was that people usually led to bad things, whether it was fighting or whether it was just a really lonely life without good experience related to people and sometimes related to other dogs. So then when they got to these new homes or the sanctuary, what was important was to slowly kind of retrain their mind to think, you know, people aren't so bad; this world isn't bad.

And, you know, these dogs had never been in a home environment. You know, they didn't know what a toy was. They didn't know what a treat was. And they kind of had to teach them about all these things and kind of slowly convince them that, like, when a person comes into your kennel, bad things aren't going to happen. And obviously, that takes time and especially depending on the emotional trauma, and every dog is different. So for some of them, it did take years, you know, to really open up and trust people.

CORNISH: These dogs all had names. Is there one story that sticks out to you?

GIAMBALVO: There's one named Uba, who lives right here, outside of D.C. So I went over to their house, and what's really cool about him is that the other dog in his house is named Jamie, and she's actually from a dogfighting operation, but her case happened after the Vick dogs. So it's this really interesting parallel - the fact, like, Jamie wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for Uba and all the other dogs. So it was kind of cool to see the change that the 47 sparked.

CORNISH: You actually spoke with Michael Vick. What did he tell you?

GIAMBALVO: Yeah. I talked with Michael Vick for about 20 minutes, and he talked about how he fell down this path and said that now he works to educate kids and make sure they have the right mentors so they don't fall into this, too. I think it says something that he was willing to talk about it and to kind of let me know what he's been up to these 12 years and to kind of explain that he's not the same person as he was.

CORNISH: There have been major dogfighting busts since then - right? - which you alluded to. So we can't say that what happened with Michael Vick put an end to the practice. What would you say was its place in history, this story? How did it affect how we think about these animals?

GIAMBALVO: Yeah. That's what's really important here is because dogfighting is still a major issue. It's not, like, that because this Michael Vick case came to the forefront that ended it; it hasn't. But what has changed is what becomes of the dogs that are found. The dogs used to be seen just as evidence. You know, they were there to provide evidence in a court case.

And now, ever since the Vick case, what we see is that these dogs are evaluated. People from organizations come in, and they do these temperament testings. They see what the dogs struggle with. They see what might be the appropriate course of action with that dog, whether it needs to, you know, go to a sanctuary or go to a foster home or what that dog might need. So that's what changed.

CORNISH: Sounds like you're saying they're treated as victims.

GIAMBALVO: That's exactly what it is. And before, they weren't; before they were evidence, and now they're really seen as the victim of a crime.

CORNISH: Emily Giambalvo of The Washington Post. Her story about the dogs rescued from Michael Vick's fighting compound is called "A Second Chance."

Thank you for sharing it with us.

GIAMBALVO: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILLIONYOUNG'S "LOVIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.