If you haven't had a chance yet to pick up last week's issue of Sports Illustrated, check it out before it retreats to the obscurity of library shelves. The feature article updating readers on the current condition and whereabouts of the infamous Vick dogs is even more encouraging (as more time passes as the dogs are doing better) and more bittersweet (as more time passes and it becomes clearer that most of the dogs will never completely get over their trauma) than previous features on these amazingly resilient animals.
As writer Jim Gorant reminds, even PETA and HSUS thought the dogs were beyond rehabilitation and it was a waste of time and money to try. "If you're a dog and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suggests you be put down, you've got problems." But as Gorant goes on to describe, the 47 of 51 dogs that were rescued have made remarkable progress.
For me though, what happened to the Vick dogs goes beyond the realm of a feel-good animal welfare story. It's pushing the boundaries of animal law in incremental steps that may not be grabbing the big headlines, but is definitely changing the way the legal system perceives and handles these issues.
For example, each dog was individually evaluated and placed based upon a series of factors that can fairly be described as the best interests of the dog. You just don't get that with the cars, boats, paraphernalia and other items seized in drug busts.
Gorant described another moment in the case:
"On Aug. 23, 2007, Vick appeared in U.S. District Court in Richmond, and Judge Hudson accepted a plea agreement in which the former quarterback admitted that he had been involved in dogfighting and had personally participated in killing animals. The agreement required him to pay $928,000 for the care and treatment of the dogs, including any humane destruction deemed necessary. "That was the landmark moment -- when he not only gave the dogs the money but referred to it as restitution," says Zawistowski. "That's when these dogs went from weapons to victims."
Animal law scholars have argued for years that animals should, if not be accorded full "person" status under the law, at least be granted some sort of elevated property status that recognizes, once and for all, that a dog is not the same as a table or a lamp, no matter what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in Desanctis v. Pritchard, 818 A.2d 504 (Pa. 2003). The actions of Judge Hudson go a long way toward demonstrating how the law should, and imho eventually will, evolve.