Regardless of what he does on the football field, Michael Vick will always be shadowed by his dog fighting convictions. And while most of those who work in animal welfare would prefer Michael Vick be forgotten altogether, the Vick name and conviction have ultimately helped the cause. The so-called Vicktory dogs led to widespread repeal of most laws requiring that dogs in dogfighting cases be put down and led to many subsequent cases where fighting dogs got the chance to live ordinary lives. And now those dogs are the subject of a documentary.
The Champions will make its debut at the Hampton International Film Festival on October 10. It’s both the story of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s clutches, and the story of the people who worked to change those laws that would have led to their demise. Included are both animal rescue orgainizations, like BADRAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls) and the Best Friends Animal Society, the people who adopted the Michael Vick Dogs, and the dogs themselves.
Much of the material covered in the documentary is of course familiar to those who have followed the story of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz kennels in April, 2007. And there’s been no shortage of media coverage about the Vick dogs: a Sports Illustrated cover, several episodes of the Animal Planet show Dogtown, two books (a picture book, Saving Audie about one of the dogs rescued from Vick, Audie, and The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant, the author of the Sports Illustrated story), and numerous facebook pages for the dogs managed by their new owners, seeing it on the screen gives the story a much more personal light.
The documentary will also allow people to see the dogs intract with others in real life. Since one of the main fears of those who oppose the rehabilitation of fighting dogs is that they will be violent with others, seeing the Michael Vick dogs interact with their families — which include other dogs, cats, and children — says more than any words can. Hearing the words and seeing the faces of those who worked so hard to rescue them and have seen what the dogs have overcome is also very different from merely reading it on a page. And it puts the dogs forward without the shadow of Michael Vick hanging over them.
Even now, while Michael Vick worries over missed passes, the dogs that spent time with him continue to suffer the after-effects. Many of them are infected with babesia, a bloodborn parasite usually passed on by ticks but especially common in fighting dogs because of the open wounds they inflict on each other, and at least one, Ray, died from its side effects. While Michael Vick was required to set aside money for the dogs’ care as part of his sentencing requirements, the money can’t buy new healthy lives. But it’s not all bad; they are alive and doing better than anyone would have thought. Several have even become therapy dogs and visit schools, libraries, and hospitals to educate and comfort — a remarkable testimony to the dogs’ strength after their time with Michael Vick.
For those who are willing to travel to see the documentary on its opening night, tickets went on sale September 26 and are still available for both screenings. One of the Michael Vick dogs, Cherry, will be attending the screening with his person, who will be part of the panel afterward with director Darcy Dennett. And of course, sitting in a movie theater in October would be much more pleasant than watching Michael Vick on any outdoor football field, and the dogs would most certainly agree.
[Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]