My nonprofit organization bought Michael Vick’s dogfighting compound in Surry County, Virginia, and transformed it to a rescue facility for formerly chained dogs. As such, I walked the grounds where his dogs were chained, fought, and died for four years.
The black sheds where his dogs trained and ultimately lost their lives still stand today, serving as a stark and brutal reminder of the world of dogfighting.
What I remember about my first experience with the house and grounds of 1915 Moonlight Road was a stillness, a loneliness, an oppressive feel; yet underneath there was a yearning for more—a wish to be seen, to be heard. Did the land, the souls who remained on the property seek redemption for the blood spilled in their name? Perhaps.
I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to protect the ground and all those lying therein, a similar desire to what one might experience when visiting battlefields or other sites of tragedy—a wish to somehow “fix” the horrors of the past.
To me, the grounds and buildings there were never evil, but instead almost hallowed by the pain they’d been forced to witness. They were victims of the evils of man in a way similar to the dogs who suffered so greatly within them.
Almost everyone who came to visit asked to tour those sheds, and during my four years I would lead hundreds of people through them, highlighting how each had been used in the dogfighting operation.
I’ve cried and I’ve watched others cry, as they were so touched by the plight of the fighting dog and so moved by what occurred there that their emotions overtook them. Not a single person who went in there came out unaffected. That is the power of those sheds.
Dog lovers felt a need to see where the crimes were committed, to understand the depths of the depravity involved in dogfighting. Most left with a strengthened resolve to put an end to this horrific abuse of our “best friends”.
The buildings appeared hastily and poorly erected, especially compared to the pristine white house decorously built at the front of the property. Three of the four sheds had spray-painted black interiors, too—even down to the windows—to keep anyone from seeing inside.
The far right shed consisted of darkened kennels for the injured and mothers with pups. This shed gave off a pervasively eerie feel, the walls scraped with claw marks by dogs desperate to escape.
Finally, there was the two-story fight shed, closest to the house. There were still odds and ends left in this shed, almost like it had frozen in time. Anything that the feds hadn’t considered as evidence for their case against Vick and his buddies still remained as it was four years earlier. This included an ESPN mug, old collars, lots of rusty chains, some cement dog bowls, and, creepiest of all, a puppy calendar from 2007.
Upstairs, where the dog fights actually occurred, was like stepping into a time warp. There were two old sweat jackets tossed over camp chairs, an old stereo and speakers, cut out squares in the floor from where the feds tested the wood for blood, and old tan carpet remnants.
The windows were painted black, and dog scratches etched the walls.
If there is indeed a hell, I hope that this is one of the rooms dogfighters end up in, forced to fight for their lives day in and day out.
The man who had these sheds built, who planned and financed an elaborate dogfighting operation, who served not a single day in jail for the crime of animal cruelty, was none other than the man the Pro Bowl now seeks to honor with a captainship today: Michael Vick.
“Yeah fine. I killed the dogs. I hung them. I slammed them. I killed all of them. I lost f@*king millions, all over some f@*king dogs.”—Michael Vick, October 12, 2007, after failing his polygraph.
The argument has been made that Vick served his time and he deserves our forgiveness. That he’s shown remorse.
I would argue that the remaining physical evidence of his crimes instead shows a man determined to commit atrocities against our best friends, to use them in a way most heinous and slaughter those who failed him—and the only reason he stopped was because he got caught.
While even murderers may be worthy of God’s forgiveness, that doesn’t mean that they should be upheld and honored by man.
If Vick’s crimes against the voiceless aren’t enough for a lifetime of dishonor, what would be enough?
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—Tamira Thayne is the founder and former CEO of Dogs Deserve Better, and the author of the newly-released: “It Went to the Dogs: How Michael Vick’s Dogfighting Compound Became a Haven for Rescue Pups”, now available from Who Chains You Books.
Some photos here courtesy of photographer Rita Thomas.