A Baltimore group dedicated to rescuing abused and abandoned dogs and cats has been selected to foster three pit bulls formerly housed at kennels in rural Virginia owned by suspended NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who was convicted of federal dogfighting charges.
The dogs have been taken to Maryland and are being housed with various "foster families," according to members of Recycled Love Inc., a volunteer nonprofit organization. The locations of the dogs are not being made public for fear that someone interested in having a "Vick dog" might steal them.
As a condition of taking possession of the dogs, Recycled Love also had to agree not to allow photographs of the dogs or speak too specifically about them until after the last defendant in the dogfighting case has been sentenced later this month.
However, Karen Reese, who helped found the group, said the three dogs are doing well in their new homes. She said Recycled Love members are hopeful that the plight of the Vick dogs will raise awareness of the evils of dogfighting and encourage Baltimore residents to take steps to stop it. They also believe that children who watch dogfights could be indoctrinated into a world of violence.
"The reason we decided to do this is because we could no longer ignore the plight of the pit bull," Reese said. "We have challenged ourselves to take [advocacy for pit bulls and other abused animals] to the next level. It can be addressed and it should not be ignored."
City officials have also taken steps to end dogfighting in Baltimore. A dogfighting task force was formed last year with the hope of pursuing criminal charges against those who organize and participate in such events. A city spokesman said the task force is investigating several leads but that no arrests have been made.
"We are getting a lot of information about where the dogs are, but even when you find the dogs it can be difficult to find the people who own the dogs," said spokesman Sterling Clifford.
Vick's Bad Newz Kennels gained national notoriety last year when the Atlanta Falcons quarterback was indicted by federal officials on dofighting charges. Dogs that did not perform well in test fights were killed by electrocution, drowning, hanging and other means. Vick was convicted and is serving a 23-month sentence in a Kansas prison.
Vick's dogs - federal authorities seized 52 pit bulls from the property - were evaluated by animal experts, and of those, 47 have been turned over to animal groups for long-term fostering or adoption.
A majority of the dogs were flown by chartered jet recently to a 33,000-acre ranch called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. Those dogs, Reese said, will probably never be able to be adopted by families because of past abuse. Several other rescue groups have also agreed to foster Vick dogs, including Bad Rap of Oakland, Calif., the Richmond Animal League of Richmond, Va., and the SPCA of Monterey County in Monterey, Calif.
Each of the Vick dogs comes with a stipend for its care - money the athlete forfeited as a result of his conviction. Because the dogs that went to Best Friends in Utah will probably never be adopted, each of them arrived at the sanctuary with a $20,000 stipend to help cover the cost of lifetime care. The three dogs that Recycled Love will care for each came with a $5,000 stipend, according to federal documents. Two of the Baltimore dogs may be adopted, and the third may end up with an owner who is an experienced dog handler.
Reese started Recycled Love with another animal advocate, Sallyann Jennings, several years ago, about the same time that reforms at the city's animal shelter started to take root. Both women were shocked when they realized the number of animals that were being euthanized so they mobilized to try to save them. The women soon joined forces with the shelter's director, Jennifer Mead, who was hired to turn the shelter into a quasi-nonprofit.
Said Reese: "We challenged ourselves to take [our advocacy] to the next level."