SURRY – Michael Vick wouldn't recognize the inside of his house now.
Sprawled across the floor of the living room once owned by the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Hunter, a mastiff, opens an eye and thumps his tail when Tamira Ci Thayne scratches his ear.
Obnoxiously loud snores come from Cocoa, a chocolate lab crashed on a dog bed. A black lab mix, Clicky, curls in her crate while Polly, a nervous black-and-tan coon hound keeps a quiet, watchful eye on Thayne.
It's nap time – 2 to 4 p.m. daily – at the newly opened Good Newz Rehab Center for Chained and Penned Dogs in rural Surry County. Ninedogs live there and five more expected in the weeks ahead, said Thayne, founder and chief executive officer of Dogs Deserve Better Inc., which runs the center.
The Pennsylvania-based animal rights group bought the 4,600-square-foot white-brick house where the Newport News native bankrolled and operated a dog-fighting operation, Bad Newz Kennels. Vick was at the peak of his career with the Atlanta Falcons in August 2007 when he pleaded guilty to federal felony conspiracy charges related to the dog-fighting ring. He served 20 months in federal prison, followed by two months of in-home confinement, before he began rebuilding his football career.
Carrollton developer Wilbur Todd bought Vick's 15-acre property at auction in November 2007 and attempted to sell it. Last January, after learning Vick's house was still on the market, Thayne launched an online fundraising campaign to buy Vick's house for the organization's new headquarters. Thayne previously ran the organization from her home in Tipton, Penn.
Within weeks, donors chipped in $180,000, almost enough for the down payment of the house. One anonymous donor contributed $10,000 and a business kicked in $18,000, but most of the donations were small: $5 or $10, whatever people had to spare, Thayne said.
One contributor, Monica Severy of Virginia Beach has pledged to donate $5,000 a month for the next decade. That $600,000 contribution covers the organization's $3,000 monthly mortgage payments and a good part of their monthly operating expenses, Thayne said.
"This is important to me because I grew up around chained dogs … and I saw the loyalty the animals had for their owners even after they were left suffering in the elements," Severy said. "She (Thayne) is trying to educate people and make a difference in how we treat man's best friend and I wanted to help."
Dogs Deserve Better received a $10,000 grant to make the house more dog-friendly. Thayne installed the rubber flooring, added a dog door, bought tarps and fencing for yard areas so some dogs could stay outside during the day. All the yards have shaded areas and plastic, bone-shaped swimming pools to keep the dogs cool on hot days; all of the dogs sleep inside at night, Thayne said.
One of the organization's goals, once revenue starts coming in, is to install a metal fence around the perimeter of the property so the dogs that tend to flee without a leash can have the freedom to run loose on the property. Some of the fencing has already been built near the front of the property.
Inside, Thayne has ripped up the plush, cream-colored carpet from the living room and master bedroom floors, replacing it with rubber, sealed flooring frequently used in vet offices and doggie day care centers. The rooms are bare, save for the dozen or so dog crates lining the walls. The oversized tiled shower off the master bathroom holds a super-sized jug of dog shampoo.
The living room will be a place where dogs receive individual obedience training and learn how to play, Thayne said.
"It takes most dogs that have spent their lives in pens or on chains about three months to learn to play, to learn to chase a ball, because they are so traumatized," Thayne said.
Dogs, on average, spend three to six months in rehabilitation before they are put up for adoption on the Internet website, Petfinder.com Adoption fees range from $75 to $150, depending on the pet's age and size.
Thayne said Vick's fame and the public anger about his dog-fights probably generated donations she might not have received otherwise. But she said she doesn't want to play off Vick's celebrity to make money for Good Newz.
Although changes have rocked the main house, few changes have been made in the four buildings where Vick's pit bulls trained to fight and kill other dogs.
The buildings are painted black, inside and out, even the windows. The dog fights were held on the second floor on a barn-like building accessible only by ladder. Downstairs, chains of varying thickness, each about seven feet long, hang on one wall. A 2002 calendar with images of puppies on every page sits on a counter.
Another building has eight kennel runs, some still filled with decaying hay. On the counters are more than two dozen unused syringes, which once were used to inject dogs with steroids, or with antibiotics if they survived the fight, Thayne said.
Michael Vick's infamous former home now a haven for dogs
Group has turned house into a rehab facility for chained and penned dogs
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