Football, Pit Bulls, and Regaining Trust: A book review of Jim Gorant’s The Lost Dogs

Stephen Iannacone

In July of 2007, after months of investigating, Michael Vick and three others were charged with the federal crime of operating an interstate dog fighting ring known as “Bad Newz Kennels.”  Initially, Vick maintained that he only funded the dog fighting ring.  However, as further details were released over the course of the investigation, he eventually confessed and publicly apologized for his actions.  Every sports fan, animal advocate, and legal aficionado knows the result of this case.  However, very few of us know the amount of effort that went into building a case against Vick, collecting the evidence, attempting to rehabilitate the pit bulls that authorities were able to rescue, and finding these pit bulls new and loving homes.

Jim Gorant, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, does a remarkable job of presenting these facts in his book The Lost Dogs.  The book leaves you feeling sickened that a man like Vick could be playing football again after a mere 19 months in prison, but also feeling revitalized to learn that so many of the pit bulls have survived what they were forced to endure.  Gorant pays credit where it is due: to the investigators who managed to obtain a near impossible warrant and eventually indicted Vick; to the shelters that helped care for the pit bulls after they were rescued; to the many people who assisted in rehabilitating the pit bulls; and to the pit bulls themselves.  Gorant reveals the true side of not only the Vick dogs, but also an entire breed.  Plainly stated, pit bulls are discriminated against, especially in the media.  This book takes a step in the right direction, clearing the name of a misunderstood and mislabeled breed.   Continue reading

Dangerous Dog Ordinances Can Be Vicious and Dangerous – Like People

Bruce Wagman

Over the years I have been practicing I have probably handled a dozen cases in which I was hired by the owner-guardians of a dog who had bitten someone, whether that someone was a person or another dog or cat.  These cases seem to be getting more common these days, but that is just an anecdotal observation and it may simply be that I am seeing more of them because I have done some and people look for someone who has experience with them. 

For whatever reason I am seeing them, I can say that I like working for the dangerous dogs.  There are a number of aspects of these matters that make this so.  First, the cases always start off with my putative client (the dog) being designated as either “dangerous” or “vicious” under the applicable local ordinance, and being sentenced to death.  The part I like is the immediate challenge of starting with an adverse and unjust ruling and having the strong motivation to try to overturn it; and as a lawyer fighting for animal protection, I am accustomed to being the underhuman and taking on those types of conflicts.  Second, and maybe most exciting, is the potential payoff for all involved.  That is, if we win, a life is truly saved – and one I can meet and pet.  The dog is always loved, or the humans would not be paying a lawyer to try to save her.  And in most cases, the dog is not guilty of anything but a single transgression; in other words, these cases do not usually involve multiple offenders, but dogs who have had one or two incidents that have led them to be determined fit to die by our society’s summary dismissal of animal life.  The cases involve innocents and (usually) errors or aberrations that certainly do not deserve death.  Third, the cases are “fun” from a litigator’s point of view because they are quick mini-trials without the restrictions of the rules of evidence or formalized procedure.  (This has its downside too, of course.)  So they are good practice for young lawyers, and a pleasant exercise for seasoned litigators.  Fourth, the cases are usually relatively self-contained and time-limited.  In most situations, the hearing resolves the issue to the extent that the human clients are satisfied.  The time between the designation of the dog and the hearing is usually less than a month, and the decision is usually delivered shortly thereafter.  It is true that these cases have the potential to last for years, if they leave the administrative process and go through the courts, but that is the rare one.    Continue reading