Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mike Vick has earned our support while he works to end dogfighting

Like most people, I don't readily admit when I'm wrong.  When the news broke about Michael Vick heading to Pittsburgh for an interview, I reacted as many animal lovers, particularly animal loving Steelers fans, did.  I gave away my Terrible Towel, made plans to throw my lunch box away at the end of the day, and invited people to the bonfire scheduled for as soon as the burn ban is lifted.  I've taken some time to think on it, and although I don't know how broad of an audience I'll really reach, here it is.  I was wrong.

The wounds caused by what Michael Vick did will never fully heal.  We'll never forget those that died, even if we never met them. We'll never forget the horrors that the survivors had to endure, although we did not witness them.  As we begin to deal with the mortality of those who made it out, we'll always remember the obstacles they overcame to make their way into new homes to experience a soft bed, a gentle touch, and an enduring love for the first time.  And we'll always be grateful for the incredible people that took them in and gave them these things.  We'll always have love and respect for those who worked to turn the horror house that was Bad Newz and turn it into the Good Newz Rehab Center. (Full Disclosure: I'm a former local rep for Dogs Deserve Better, and I consider Tami Thayne a very close friend)

None of those things will change if Michael Vick never plays another football game.  No amount of protests or petitions will ever bring the lost dogs back to life. There is no way to ever make those horrible things not so horrible.

(Note: You will not hear "he did his time so leave him alone" from me. That's not how I feel, but that's immaterial to the topic at hand.)

If Michael Vick were to just go away, people would slowly think less and less about what happened.  Our walking example would lose it's effectiveness; Vick's name evokes incredibly strong emotion, and it wouldn't have that effect if nobody knew who he was.  He is, for better or worse, the face of dogfighting.  So what do we do with that?  One option is to gang up on him, drive him away, and nothing will change except that you won't have to hear his name or see his face or think about him making money anymore.  For some people, that's the only goal - to punish Vick again, and again, and again.  To apparently give up the positive work they were doing and try to destroy one person.

Me?  I have higher hopes.  No matter how much we want to believe that someone able to commit such heinous acts is irredeemable, reality hasn't matched that expectation.  While the very thought of patting Mike Vick on the back or thanking him for something is enough to make many people physically ill, he has undeniably done some great things.  Though it's a hard number to quantify, Vick's work with HSUS and with children has absolutely changed lives and saved lives.  Mike Vick is no longer our enemy.  There are many active battles that need to be fought, and we need all hands on board.  If that means you're standing side by side with someone you despise, what will you do?

In just a few years, Vick went from committing the most despicable acts to speaking to thousands of children to ensure none of them would follow in his footsteps.  He's continued to do this work, even as he faces a constant barrage of attacks from all angles.  We won't ever forget, many won't ever forgive, but what it's critical we do is move forward.  We begin each day zeroed out on animal deeds.  If we want to make that number black and not red, we need all hands on board.  Michael Vick of 10 years ago was our worst enemy; however, Michael Vick of today is an ally, and could be an even greater one.  We owe it to the dogs that died to not have their deaths be in vain. We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to Mike Vick that we take the energy surrounding this and channel it into positivity.  We do that by working with him, not fighting against him.

When Patrick was thrown down the garbage chute in NJ, that was something horrible without chance for redemption and advancement.  We couldn't expect that woman to suddenly become an animal advocate.  When I found Vedder with chemical burns, I knew I'd never be able to get anything positive out of the person who did it to her.  I realize that the sheer magnitude of what Vick did was worse, and again, we can't change the past - but goddammit, we can't throw away opportunities to change the present and the future.

If you're convinced that there's no way you're ever willing to work on the same side as Mike Vick, well... you might need to take a long, hard look at what your motivation is for being involved in animal rescue.  Is your goal to save and improve as many lives as possible?  Reduce and eventually effectively eliminate animal cruelty?  Those are honest, commendable goals.  But if you refuse to use every possible advantage to make these things happen, you're throwing away opportunity, and opportunity means lives.

Upon his release from prison, when he first started working with HSUS, I didn't feel that his work was sincere.  I saw it as a PR move, and nothing more - I figured he'd stop doing it once he threw a bunch of touchdowns, or made a pre-set number of speeches to schoolchildren, or whatever arbitrary target had been set.  Yet here we are, 5 years later, and he's still at it.  He's either pulling a REALLY long con, or he's truly sincere.

When you come across someone that's done harm to animals, you want to stop it immediately.  But let me ask this - what's next?  Is your goal to take their dog/cat/horse away and never let them own animals again?  That's not my goal. I worked with DDB because I enjoy changing minds. I knocked on doors in "rough" parts of town because I wanted to have a discussion and make allies. I believe I was successful, and I believe that HSUS working with Vick had the same result.

If I were to ever meet Vick, I'd likely be very upset, thinking about the lost lives.  And then I'd thank him for the work he's done, ask him what he has planned, and see if I could help.  I'd encourage him to keep working.  I can walk around a neighborhood and reach a dozen people in a day.  Mike Vick can type 140 characters and have millions of people see it.  I'm proud of my accomplishments, but I'm fully aware that he's capable of accomplishing much more from his position in life than I am from mine.

Now I need to implore everyone to help us maximize output from Michael Vick.  We need to provide a supportive environment and encourage him to continue working and reaching children.  We need rescue groups to focus on the good he's done and focus energy on expanding that, rather than pulling away from Steelers associated events.  I believe Mike has a very strong resume over the last 5 years - lets help make him proud of the good he's done, and figure out how we can ampilfy it.

Am I saying he's a good guy? No.  I can't make that judgement.  He might be.  It really doesn't matter, though.  We must separate the awful things he did from the great things he's doing.  We must focus on reinforcing the positive, and not re-hashing the negative.  I don't feel any pity for him, and we shouldn't ever forget what happened - but, we are compounding one horrible crime with another if we actively work to stop progress and outreach.  Forget the destructive petitions, and start petitioning the Steelers to develop and publicize efforts in Pittsburgh that will save lives.  This is an enormous opportunity.  Let's not blow it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this - feel free to reach out to me via e-mail at, or on twitter @amoran2, or Facebook (just search for my name and pick the one with the picture of a dog, most likely)  If you're willing, please share this wherever you can.  I'd really like to get a discussion going that's more than the current "dog murderer!" vs "shutup he did his time!" mentality.

Adam Moran

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why We Must Forgive Michael Vick

Michael Vick's crimes are unforgettable and unforgivable. The pain endured by all of the "Bad Newz" dogs must be remembered, and will always remain a constant reminder of why we rescue. And ultimately, it is because of them that we must forgive Michael Vick.

Under the terms of Vick's probation upon his release from prison in May 2009, the only animal-related requirement was that he not own, possess, or sell any canines. There was no community service requirement at all, let alone animal-related community service. Yet almost immediately upon his release, Vick hooked up with the Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS was bashed for this, and people claimed Vick was only doing it for his image - at the time, this seemed like a valid point. However, after the publicity of this initial announcement, very little publicity has been given to the other things Vick has done.

If Vick was only out to improve his image by working with The HSUS, wouldn't his "publicity team" be turning each and every occurrence of Mike Vick speaking about dogs into a media circus? I mean, that's the job of a publicist - if your job is to repair the image of a man who did awful things to dogs, you're damn sure to make it very public every time he does something good for them. Yet beyond sparse local media coverage, there hasn't been much publicity at all. How many people know that Vick has done over one hundred speeches at schools so far?

(Note: These numbers are guesses, although I believe that they're a very conservative estimate. The actual impact is likely much greater, but I don't want to be accused of exaggerating.)
During his speeches, the number of students he has spoken to is at least 15,000. If just 1/4 of them listen to his message, he's reached 3,750 kids. Those kids are, without fail, going to go home and pass that message along to friends and family. If just 1 percent of that 3,750 were already abusing animals, or would have in the future, That's 38 animal abusers stopped. For comparison, if Vick had been locked up for life or executed, those numbers would all be zero.

Some people argue that Vick could have done this work with The HSUS without being granted the privilege of playing a game and making millions of dollars at the same time, and it's true that he could have done the speeches. But would the impact have been the same on these kids coming from "ex-con Mike Vick" as coming from "NFL Superstar Mike Vick"? Of course not.

If you argue that Vick wasn't punished enough for his crimes, I'm apt to agree with you; in that case, though, venom needs to be directed towards the laws in place and those that enforce them, and not Vick.

So why MUST we forgive him? If for no other reason, utility. More good will get done if we support the work he's doing than will if we fight it because of his past. Being stubborn and unforgiving won't help. And to be quite honest, by opposing Vick, you are opposing the work he is doing... and ultimately, you are hurting dogs.


Oh yeah... wanted to touch up on some silly things I've heard.

1. "Vick owning a dog is like a pedophile moving next door to a daycare/adopting a child/etc." - ok, sure is. By that logic, though, should petty thieves never be allowed into a convenience store again? Should convicted money launderers never be allowed to have money again? As rescuers, we always talk about the healing power of dogs. Opposing Vick's ownership of a dog is entirely vindictive - nobody can honestly believe he is going to fight dogs again. With all of the notoriety this move would receive, can anyone honestly believe that dog would be anything but pampered?

2. "He's not doing enough" - Really? He's done more already - impacted more people, educated more children, and given more publicity to the horrors of dogfighting than anybody I know. What, exactly, would be "enough"? I have a feeling you don't have an answer for that.

Anything else? Post questions here and I'll respond quickly. You can also e-mail me at

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Am The Enemy

I serve my country proudly, and have deployed to Afghanistan. I stand, remove my hat, and place my hand over my heart during the national anthem, and correct others who don't. I am on my first and only marriage, and have always been faithful. I am loyal to my friends and family. I often place the happiness and comfort of others in front of my own. I volunteer over a thousand hours a year to help those without a voice, and I donate more than 10% of my yearly salary to others that do the same.

And yet, according to the criteria presented by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and others, I am the enemy that needs to be stopped. Why? I am a liberal atheist. I believe that two consenting adults, regardless of sexual orientation, have every right to the legal and emotional benefits of marriage, as well as to raise children. I believe that the phrase emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." still applies. I demand not only a good reason to go to war, but proper planning for war. I don't believe that any policies or laws should be based upon the teachings of religion or a belief in a higher power, but rather on the innate morality of mankind.

Beware of me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tyler's story: An apology, a warning, and a Plea

Many of you read and responded to the story of Bishop, an abused pit bull who bit me at a Big Fix event back in October. Today's blog will be much longer than most, because I want to ensure I leave no details out. I feel I must apologize to those of you who donated for his care, I must warn everyone in rescue to do in-depth research before leaving an animal in another's care, and I must ask everyone to help the hundreds of animals at a “sanctuary” not receiving the care they so desperately deserve. I have heard stories of things far more grossly neglectful occurring, but I'm only going to share things I have experienced first-hand and can confirm.

When I sent out a plea for a place for Bishop to stay for 3-4 months while I worked on rehabilitating him, I was directed to SARA Sanctuary in Seguin, and their founder, Tracy Frank, agreed to grant me this somewhat out of the ordinary request. Like I said before, I was terrified of Bishop, but I spent four afternoons sitting outside of his kennel at ACS trying to get him comfortable with me (and moreso, me with him). I decided one of the most important things to erasing his memories of his past life was to give him a new name, and that was the moment that Bishop died and Tyler was born.

On Saturday, December 12th, his time was up at ACS and I had to take the next step. I picked up a bag of chicken jerky to give Tyler partly as a treat and partly to give him something to chew on besides my face, and headed down to ACS. Some people tried to convince me to put a barrier up between the back and front seats of my car (hi Shawna!), but to get Tyler rehabbed, I needed to show him unquestioned trust. What kind of start would that have gotten us off to?

When Debbie Allen opened his kennel at ACS and told me “he's yours, go get him,” my joy in knowing he was going to be one of the very few pit bulls to walk out of ACS was quickly overwhelmed by my fear of what happened the last time I was face to face with him. I reached down to take off his old big, thick collar with the hook from his chain still attached, and replaced it with a new, smaller one. Tyler seemed like he knew where we were going, and he quickly dragged me down the hall, out the door, and to my car. I went to get into the front seat, and he beat me there; I opened the back door and lured him back, then quickly jumped into the front seat, and off we went.

The first half of the drive, I carefully balanced using enough force to keep him out of the front seat with not using so much force to make him think I was going to hurt him. Other than his determination to get into the front seat, he was being very good; he spent much of the trip (after he realized I wasn't going to let him up front) with his head on my shoulder. It was very sweet; yet, at the same time, he was terrifyingly close to my jugular! We arrived at SARA safely after the longest hour of my life, and were greeted by a few loose dogs circling the car; Larry, Axle, and Candy. When Tyler saw them, he started lunging at the windows on all sides, and my fear was renewed as I thought I was going to get mistakenly caught in his rage. Tracy Frank came out and cleared the others away from the car, then directed me towards Tyler's new pen.

We talked for awhile, and I let her know that anyone who chose to venture into his pen should do so very carefully. I wanted to make him completely trusting of me, and then we'd work on other people. I promised to come out as often as I could, and I promised to feed him when I was there; since I couldn't make it every day, though, someone else would obviously have to feed him from time to time.

The next few weeks went very well. I had plenty of time off of work due to a reduced manning holiday schedule, so I went out 2 or 3 times a week for the first few weeks. Tyler was making tremendous progress, and by the beginning of January, I was comfortable enough to sit down on the ground with him. He'd never sit still with me, but he would allow me to pet him all over. I made very sure to keep Tracy apprised of his progress, so she'd know what she had on her hands.

After the holidays ended, I was back to only being able to go on Saturdays. I had asked for permission to go one evening a week and maybe Sundays when we had adoption events or other things on Saturday, but my request was ignored. I went every weekend up until January 23rd, the day of Big Fix part 3; I couldn't go that day because I was tied up. I went out on Monday the 25th, but the gate was locked, so I turned around and drove back home. When I returned on January 30th, I noticed that Tyler had lost a little weight, but since many of the dogs out there were often coughing, I assumed he had caught something and didn't have his normal appetite, so it wasn't much of a concern. I then also had to miss the following week.

When I returned again on February 15th, I took a friend with me that was interested in meeting Tyler because she was considering fostering him. I felt completely safe taking her into his pen with me, because by now, I trusted him entirely. As we walked into his pen and he greeted her, we both noticed immediately how much weight he had lost. Tracy and Hector (an employee) came over while we were in there, and we let them know just how great he was doing with my friend. Hector then asked me to empty his water bowl so it could be refilled, and this is when I first realized that Tyler apparently didn't receive any care at all if I wasn't there. His water bowl much more closely resembled a mud bowl; it wasn't just dirty water, but thick. Tracy later explained this away by stating “ I did observe him running and jumping into his water tub almost constantly. Saturday was unseasonably warm, so no doubt Tyler would have been jumping in it to cool off. I find this pretty odd, considering the high temperature that Monday was 58 degrees; and, since I was there around noon, the temperature hadn't even crossed 50 by the time I got there. Unseasonably warm for Minnesota, maybe, but San Antonio? Even if she meant it had been unseasonably warm at any point in the two weeks leading up to it, the high temperature for the year to that point was 70 degrees; hardly “I need to jump in water to cool off” temperatures.

I also noticed that Tyler's food bowl was completely empty. I really wasn't sure when the last time was that he had been fed, so I decided then he was coming home the next weekend if things hadn't changed. I filled two bowls up for him, and left him with at least 3 days worth of food (at least, 3 days worth for a dog being fed regularly and not being starved). The last time I was there, Tracy told me that Tyler had jumped out of his pen, and he had scars on him from the other dogs. She didn't think I needed to build a fence extension, though. When she told me this back on January 30th, I should have realized it as the first sign of a problem, because Tyler had NEVER left his pen while I was going out more often and leaving him with full food bowls every time. I believe he was so hungry that he was willing to climb out of his pen and into another dog's pen to get food.

When I returned on February 20th, Tyler's bowls were empty, again. He had lost even more weight. I grabbed his food bowls and went to the bin where I had always gotten dog food from in the past, and when I opened it, I noticed a few bags of cat food on top. I moved them aside, and found more cat food underneath. I kept digging, all the way to the bottom, and found nothing but cat food. I went and found Hector and asked where the dog food was so I could feed him, and Hector hesitated momentarily and told me “just leave his bowls outside, I'll fill them up and feed them.” This was an enormous red flag for me, of course. I wasn't able to take him home that day, though, so after I left I sent Tracy an e-mail asking if I could come back out for him on Sunday, a day they're usually closed. She told me I could come out, so I went out to get him on Sunday.

When I arrived on Sunday, I wanted to confirm what I had suspected yesterday, so I looked in the bowl of another dog (since Tyler's were, of course, empty). I was hoping that someone had just put the cat food in the wrong place and they weren't actually feeding cat food to the dogs. I looked in Jane's bowl and sadly found cat food in her bowl. Later on I would ask Tracy about this as well, and she told me “ If that happened, then I guess it happened. I don't think anybody was badly affected by a little cat food. I am not aware of any illegalities of a dogs eating cat food. I later spoke with a vet about the dangers of feeding cat food to a dog, and he told me that it could cause kidney failure; yes, feeding it to them once isn't going to hurt, but just the fact that she's willing to do it at all causes enormous concerns for me in regards to the rest of the dogs there. Anything you're willing to do once, you're willing to do over and over again.

I brought Tyler home and started feeding him puppy food to help put some weight back on, and he ate like... well, like a dog that had been starved for weeks. 36 hours after I brought him home, after he had eaten about 20 cups of food, I took him to get a weight on him. He weighed in at 45 pounds, and I think it's fair to say he was approximately 43 pounds when I brought him home, before he ate so much. Nine weeks earlier when I took Tyler to SARA, he weighed 58 pounds. That weight loss absolutely cannot be explained away by saying “he ran around constantly” at SARA (Tracy's words, again), it can only be explained by sickness or starvation. Judging by the fact that now, two weeks after picking him up from SARA, Tyler is back up near 60 pounds, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn: whether it was intentional (which I don't believe it was) or because of absolute neglect, Tyler was starved at SARA. There is absolutely no excuse for his condition. The only thing more appalling than his condition? The fact that Tracy Frank refuses to accept responsibility for it – in fact, she refuses to admit there was anything wrong with him the day I brought him home. Have a look at this picture, and judge for yourself.

Because of my concern for the other animals there, I called a friend of mine, another Dogs Deserve Better rep in Texas, and told her about the conditions since she had taken a few dogs out there as well. Although Tracy initially refused to release these dogs, insistent upon keeping them in this “sanctuary” instead of allowing them to go into foster homes, she eventually relented and allowed Elizabeth to pick her dogs up. As they were driving away, Elizabeth began to look at her dogs, and noticed a few ticks. Not surprising, due to SARA's environment; however, the more she looked, the more she saw. There were so many, she stopped at Wal-Mart on her way home to get tick spray, and spent some time in the parking lot with her mother picking and spraying ticks off of these poor dogs. A week later, ticks were still falling off; hundreds in total. And these were very friendly dogs; how bad must it be for the other dogs that Hector is afraid of? Jane also had a cut on her eye, which we had pointed out to Tracy a week earlier to make sure it was treated; it hadn't, and by the time Elizabeth got her back, the cut had become infected.

In my opinion, what this breaks down to is the fact that Tracy has way more animals at SARA than she can possibly care for properly given her small staff and struggling financial situation. By animal care standards, there should be a minimum of ten minutes spent on each dog each day, just taking care of the basics like food, water, and cleaning up waste. This would require 6+ full-time employees on staff everyday, and Tracy doesn't have anywhere near that taking care of the animals. Oh – and these 6+ staff members would be meeting the needs of the dogs only. This doesn't even take into account the 600+ other animals; goats, horses, donkeys, cats, chickens, geese, and pigs (and possibly others, I'm not sure).

I won't delve further into this because I don't know much more, but I do have a list of questions.

1) How many hours a week is there a certified veterinarian on site?

2) Does every dog receive heartworm and flea prevention?

3) Are the livestock receiving the proper worming medications they need?

4) Who decides when an animal should be euthanized? (I ask this one because when I was asked to watch the place for a night, I saw more than a few dogs in terrible shape and miserable). Are dogs ever actually euthanized?

5) How often are there fights? (quite often, I know this). How often are dogs severely injured in these fights? How many die?

Now that the story has been shared, I want to put out a plea for help. The animals at SARA sanctuary deserve much better care than they are receiving, and I am asking all of my readers to go to SARA's website and demand this. Demand answers to the question I posed, and demand answers to any questions you have yourself. If you're a donor, be aware of what exactly you're donating to; demand open record-keeping, demand accountability on every dog that has ever died on site.

We all need to demand that Tracy immediately cut intake off. The fact of the matter is, until Tracy finds a way to properly take care of the animals she has, every single new animal that comes in is coming into a bad situation, and making the situation worse for those already there. If you have room to take dogs from SARA to lighten the load, contact Tracy and offer to do so; I don't know if she'll say yes, but we must try.

I think SARA is a great concept, and I think Tracy had good intentions; however, it's very clear that she's taken on much more than she can handle, and Tyler is very strong illustration of this. Luckily for Tyler, he had someone going out to check on him; most of the others don't have anybody on the outside concerned about their well-being.