Ten years ago this week, a watershed event in animal cruelty captured the nation’s attention: the investigation of NFL quarterback Michael Vick for dog fighting. But looking back, the most important milestone was not so much the story of a superstar convicted of operating a dog fighting ring. Instead, it was the revelation to most Americans that dog fighting is still active, popular across the country, and sadistically enjoyed by the kinds of people we thought we knew.

Whether or not you believe in Vick’s rehabilitation, or that his crimes should be forgiven and forgotten, the Vick case was instrumental in bringing about critical advancements in our tools and our ability to further curb dog fighting.

For example, 10 years ago, it was common for dogs seized in dog fighting cases to be immediately euthanized due to the perception that they’re inherently aggressive and dangerous. The Vick case triggered behavior experts to take a harder look. Now, dogs are evaluated as individual animals, and placement decisions are based on behavior, not on background or circumstances. In fact, of the 49 Vick dogs evaluated by the ASPCA-led team, only one was deemed behaviorally unfit for rehabilitation, sanctuary placement, or adoption.

Other advancements since the Vick case:

Major Dog Fighting Rescues

  • Since 2007, the ASPCA, along with other rescue groups, have worked closely with federal, state and local authorities to infiltrate major organized dog fighting networks, including the largest (July 2009) and second largest (Aug 2013) dog fighting raids in U.S. history. You can see some of these dogs from the 2013 rescue here.
  • In 2010, the ASPCA formed a dedicated team of highly-skilled investigators, veterinary experts, behavior professionals and sheltering professionals to provide specialized training for law enforcement, assist in animal cruelty investigations and respond to victims of animal cruelty and disasters across the country. I was proud to both lead and work among those dedicated professionals. Since then, the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team has assisted law enforcement in more than 100 dog fighting investigations and rescued more than 3,600 dogs from fighting yards or kennels. Last year alone, the ASPCA deployed to eight states and rescued nearly 350 dogs from dog fighting cases.
  • The fields of forensic science, legal advocacy, and animal behavior assessment and rehabilitation have also evolved and play active roles in contemporary dog fighting investigations. Our ASPCA Forensics Team investigates animal crime scenes to locate, record, preserve, and analyze physical evidence, while our Legal Advocacy Team provides essential support to prosecutors, including drafting motions, securing search warrants, assisting with evidence review, and identifying appropriate charges. With our help, prosecutors have filed 787 criminal charges related to dog fighting. As the criminal case progresses, our Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team evaluates each animal and works closely with our animal placement team to identify the most appropriate placements for each dog.
  • As a milestone in and of itself, in 2014 the ASPCA established April 8 as National Dog Fighting Awareness Day to help draw attention to and educate the public about the continuance of this depraved “blood sport,” and inspire action to help end it.

Legislative Successes

  • After the Vick case, a wave of state laws to…