Michael Vick's Becoming A Hall Of Famer At Virginia Tech — And Dog Lovers Aren't Happy
Here's what you can do about it.
JC Johnson wasn't quite sure what to do when she first heard about Michael Vick being inducted into Virginia Tech's Sports Hall of Fame.
As someone who'd adopted and loved Ray — one of the 51 pit bulls seized in 2007 from Bad Newz Kennels, Vick's brutal dogfighting operation — Johnson tells The Dodo she "used to just be livid whenever I heard that man's name."
But one day, she realized that the dogs themselves "didn't waste one moment thinking about this man." She decided that she'd do her best to follow suit.
So Johnson decided that her response to Vick's induction would be to create a hall of fame of her own: A Pit Bull Hall of Fame, dedicated to the dogs who are therapy dogs, service dogs and police dogs; those who've performed heroic acts; survivors of abuse; and just plain wonderful pets.
"I know pit bulls," Johnson says. "I know how amazing they are."
While Johnson has a deliberately measured and positive response, it's struck many as baffling, and even outrageously wrong for Vick to be included in Virginia Tech’s Hall of Fame.
This is in part because of the vicious nature of what Vick did — including drowning, hanging and electrocuting dogs when they lost fights — which is described in horrific detail in this investigative report, put out in 2008 by the United States Department of Agriculture.
It's also because Vick doesn't seem to meet the school's own requirements for its inductees. Virginia Tech states that Hall of Famers "must be of good character and reputation/not have been a source of embarrassment to the university in any way."
"He very obviously doesn't meet all the criteria," Rachel Beasley, an animal rescuer who describes herself as "very much pro pit bull," tells The Dodo.
Beasley attended Virginia Tech for two years before switching to another school to complete a nursing degree. She says she is "devastated" to see her "beloved university" honor Vick.
"Kids are watching, viewing these athletes as role models," she says. "Virginia Tech needs to have higher standards."
In an effort to get Virginia Tech to see her perspective, Beasley has launched an online petition asking for Vick's inclusion in the Hall of Fame to be canceled. It's been up for less than a week, and as of Wednesday morning, more than 24,000 people have signed.
An in-person peaceful protest is also being organized at Virginia Tech for the late September weekend of Vick's induction.
Organizer Katherine Blanton, an animal rescuer whose parents are Virginia Tech graduates, tells The Dodo she is demonstrating because "it is wrong to recognize a man who, for so long, participated in the hands-on killing and torturing of innocent animals."
Blanton agrees that Vick is one of the university's most accomplished athletes, but she also believes he is a "stain" on the university's legacy.
The school has issued a statement in response to people questioning how Vick meets the good character requirement. The statement cites Vick's athletic achievements, as well as the 18 months he spent in prison, as "time he served for his crime."
"It also has been informed by the remorse he has shown since that conviction, the work he is currently engaged in to advance animal welfare issues, as well as his efforts to help our current student athletes, based on lessons he’s learned in his own life, make positive choices as they begin their adult lives," according to the statement — a reference to Vick's partnership with the Humane Society of the United States on an anti-dogfighting campaign, among other charitable activities Vick has engaged in since his release.
"Mr. Vick’s induction into the university’s sports hall of fame acknowledges his tremendous achievements as a student athlete — who some will say was the greatest in the history of the university," the statement goes on to say. "We understand that there those who do not and will never agree with this decision. It in no way condones the actions for which he was convicted. The university remains dedicated to the protection of animal health and welfare and embodies great care and compassion for all living animals."
"Apparently, whoever is in charge of making these decisions hasn’t read the USDA Investigative Report that is publicly available online," observes Darcy Dennett, whose film "The Champions" documents the remarkable effort made by a group of people who worked tirelessly to ensure Vick's former dogs would not be defined by the cruelty they endured, and adopted into loving homes. "I’m not sure a person can ever serve enough time for the extreme level of cruelty outlined by eye-witness accounts in the USDA Investigate Report."
Melissa and Paul Fiaccone adopted Cherry Garcia, another of the former Vick dogs, in 2010. Paul said his dog's favorite activity is "cuddling." He happily tells The Dodo that after having a leg amputated last year due to painful arthritis, Cherry is "going through another puppy stage. He's a good dude."
Last weekend, Paul and Melissa went to visit the former Bad Newz Kennels. The expansive Virginia property has been renamed the Good Newz Rehab Center, and it's now a home for formerly chained and neglected dogs.
Some of the Vick-era buildings have been kept in place, including the building where the dogs were forced to fight. Pieces of flooring in that building have been cut away, taken by law enforcement to be used as evidence. Paul says it's when he saw those cut-out pieces, and realized that the evidence being taken away was spilled blood, that "it really hit me," what happened to the dogs — to his dog — in this place.
"It chills you to the bone," Paul says.
Melissa wants to see Vick's induction into the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame canceled, but she feels sadly confident that "it's not going to happen."
She's not going to stop protesting or stop telling people about what Vick did to her dog, and to all those dogs — the ones who were rescued, and loved and the ones who didn't make it. "I feel like it's my job," she says.
Johnson, for her part, wrote a moving blog post about her decision to create the Pit Bull Hall of Fame in response to Vick being honored.
"Instead of filling my head and heart with anger, I am going to channel this feeling into something good. Something that might help improve things for these dogs who have changed my life," she writes. "This will be my legacy to my beloved Ray, and the dogs who have followed in his paw prints. And it’s a way to permanently thumb my nose at Michael Vick and all the people who have abused and vilified some amazing dogs … Celebrating the dogs is all that really matters."