Eleven groups, a mix of dog owners and animal welfare organizations, have filed an amicus brief in the criminal case pending against Michael Vick and his cohorts in federal court in Virginia. The amici curiae or friends of the court, are urging Judge Henry E. Hudson to allow Jim Crosby, an expert in canine aggression, to assess the dogs seized in connection with the investigation into dog fighting by Michael Vick and others. It is hoped the judge will consider alternatives to euthanasia for at least some of the dogs. A trust fund that Vick would be ordered to fund would pay for the care and rehabilitation of the dogs
Judge Hudson has already ordered the dogs held in the custody of the U.S. marshals. The ASPCA has already started evaluations of the dogs. For more on the status of the dogs, click here. United States of America v. Approximately 53 Pit Bull Dogs
The amici organizations have also asked the judge sentence Vick to 57 months in prison and assess a $250,000 fine, the maximum allowed, which would be used for public education about dog fighting. Â They have suggested the property where the Bad Newz Kennels operated should be forfeited and converted to a no kill shelter for abused and neglected dogs.
Vick sold the property located in Surry County, Virginia immediately after the March raid that revealed an extensive dog fighting operation. For more on the raid and Vick’s indictment and guilty plea, visit these sites. Ookie Pleads Guilty: Is He Just Immature as He Claims, or a Criminal?; It’s Not About Ookie’s Footbal Career; It’s About Stopping Dog Fighting
The amici claim they are "united in this brief in a single purpose to speak for the voiceless victims of the cruel world of dogfighting so that the sentence imposed on the defendant [Michael Vick] will truly hold him accountable for the atrocities he financed and committed against these defenseless animals."
They tell the Court:
Â Unlike most forms of sports gambling, dog fighting is not a victimless â€˜sport’….The rearing process for fighting dogs is about as ugly as the event itself. Dogs who are condemned to live in this underworld spend their lives on 10â€12 ft heavy metal chains or locked in crowded cages, far away enough not to kill each other, but close enough so that their lives are spent in a constant state of agitation. They are pumped full of steroids and are conditioned by spending hours on a treadmill or tied to the back of a moving car â€ all to develop aggression and stamina for the "pit". Since fighting dogs tend to be owned by the most sadistic members of human society, abuses such as starvation, kicking/beating, burning, especially when a dog is a perceived loser, are common.
The United States Congress, having heard testimony regarding dogfighting and concluded the following in the congressional commentary to 7 U.S.C. Â§2156:
Dog fighting itself is a grisly business in which two dogs either trained specifically for the purpose or maddened by drugs and abuse are set upon one another and required to fight, usually to the death of at least one and frequently both animals. The testimony indicated that a fight between two trained dogs would often continue for over an hour and that the dogs would literally chew out each othersÊ¹ eyes and break or chew off each othersÊ¹ feet and legs, bloodying each other extensively, all to the cheers and goading of handlers and onâ€lookers. H.R. REP. 94-801
In addition to the fate which awaits a poor fighter or even dogs likely to become poor fighters, there are other animal victims of this sadistic enterprise. ÊºBaitÊº animals are used to test a dogÊ¹s fighting instinct. Often ÊºbaitÊº animals are stolen pets, puppies, kittens, rabbits, small dogs and even stock (Pit Bulls acquired by the dogfighting ring which appear to be passive or less dominant). ……
Even in the grim world of the dogfighting pit, Vick’s sadistic conduct can only be described as ghastly. How many times did Vick have to slam the broken body of a 45 pound dog to the floor before it stopped whimpering and found escape in death? For how long it did Vick have to submerge a dog’s head in water before it stopped struggling to take its last breath? Did he hear the dog’s neck snap as it struggled, twisting and dangling from the hangman’s noose?
Like the majority of violent criminals, the defendants in dogâ€fighting cases, as a rule, reflect the brutal environment from which they come. Their lack of empathy for the dogs is merely a reflection of the lack of empathy shown to them as human beings.
However, Michael Vick is not a povertyâ€stricken youth…. On the contrary, Vick is a college graduate, a national sports hero with a multiâ€million dollar contract who was idolized by fans from Maine to California. Vick had everything and instead of using his money and prestige to contribute something to society, he chose instead to dedicate himself to the reprehensible crimes committed by the Bad Newz Kennels.
Shortly after he pled guilty before this Court, the defendant made a public statement to the press … Other than a cursory statement rejecting dog fighting, he evinced no understanding whatsoever of the crime that he committed. In fact, he dismissed his conduct as "bad judgment". Amici respectfully suggest to the Court that getting arrested for joyriding in your father’s car is the result of immaturity and bad judgment. The torture and slaughter of helpless animals for fun and profit is not reflective of "immaturity" or "bad judgment". It is an indica[tion]… he is incapable of feeling remorse for the crimes he has committed. He appears to be one of those thankfully rare individuals who lacks empathy for other living creatures. He appears to be a man without a moral compass.
The U.S. attorneys prosecuting Vick have agreed to recommend a 13-18 month sentence in prison or even less depending on Vick’s continuing cooperation. The amici contend, however, the "unconditional love and devotion that a dog gives his owner was repaid with brutality and death. Other than child abuse, it is hard to imagine a more vulnerable victim than the dogs who were trapped in the Bad Newz Kennels." They argue that pursuant to the sentencing guidelines, Vick’s sentence can be enhanced because he was the leader of a criminal conspiracy and his crimes involved multiple, vulnerable victims. Â U.S.S.G. Â§3A1.1(b); U.S.S.G. Â§3B1.1(a). Also, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Â§3553(a) the sentence can be increased in view of Â (1) the nature and circumstance of the offense and history and characteristics of the defendant; (2) the need of the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, provide just punishment, afford adequate deterrence and protect the public; (3) available sentences; (4) Guidelines ranges, and (5) the need to avoid sentencing disparities.
The amici ask the court not to sentence Vick to less than 57 months, still 3 months less than the statutory maximum. This case is likely to be a benchmark for how other dog fighting cases are treated. It is important the sentence reflect the seriousness of the conduct. It is important the sentence send a signal to dog fighters that if caught, they will face substantial punishment.