Locals enabled Vick indictments

Today, a Surry County judge set a trial date of April 2 for beleaguered NFL superstar Michael Vick to face charges of animal cruelty and organizing dogfights. On that date, he'll have two Charlottesvillians to thank– or curse– for creating the laws that could put him behind bars for up to 10 years.

When Carolyn Betts (then Carolyn Foreman) became executive director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals over six years ago, she had already seen her share of abused animals. But she was unprepared for what awaited at her new post.

"We had 40-50 animals dropped off per year who were either torn apart or had old wounds from dogfighting," she says. "We consider ourselves to be an educated, somewhat affluent area, and I never would have thought this is where you'd find dogfighting."

The more Betts learned, the more disturbed she became.

"I started working with law enforcement and saw videos of these fights," she says. "There was a twisted, desensitizing, cult quality to it. I saw the bloodlust these people get and the thrill they get watching these dogs 'play through the pain' as these fights went on not just for a couple of minutes, but for hours."

When she began to work with Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) on the matter, they found that the popularity of pitting dog against dog had spread, due in part to the fact that the state dogfighting statute made the crime almost impossible to prosecute.

"Actual dogfighting is very hard to catch," explains Bell, a former Orange County prosecutor. "You either have to get an undercover officer invited to one of these fights or get a camera in there somehow."

So, in the 2003 General Assembly session, Bell introduced a bill to make it illegal to "possess, own, train, transport, or sell" any dogs for fighting. Soon afterward, Betts went to Richmond to testify before a House Committee and gave legislators a literal wake-up call.

"It was 8am, and I thought, 'I'm going to get their attention and show them what they need to see,' and showed them these videos," says Betts. "They were all quite shocked."

That reaction resulted in a 96-3 House vote in favor of the bill and a 40-0 vote in the Senate before then-Governor Mark Warner signed it into law.

Flash forward four years when Surry County police raided Bad Newz Kennels, Vick's 15-acre Smithfield property, in June and found 66 injured dogs– as well as treadmills, scales, and blood splatters on the walls of one of three black outbuildings. The evidence was enough to bring two state felony counts against the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, and he has already reported to jail after pleading guilty to federal conspiracy charges.

Bell says that while he's pleased to see the state law working the way he intended, he's sad to hear some of the stories emerging from the Vick compound, which include dog killings using electrocution and drowning.

"You don't have to be an animal rights activist to find this absolutely repulsive," says Bell. "It's too bad we need laws like this, but this kind of animal cruelty has to be stopped."

For her part, Betts is just happy to see that the Vick case has shed light on the problem.

"I'm ecstatic," she says. "When you work in animal welfare, every day is one little victory and one little disappointment. This law getting passed is one big step forward."

–photo by Jay Kuhlmann

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2 comments

I just deleted a comment that made allusions to two bodily functions that had nothing to do with the above post. Keep it clean, folks.

Sincerely,
Lindsay Barnes

The local SPCA has always been a positive for this community and now the State. Keep up the great work you dedicated workers! I hope the community will remember to shop at your store.