Commentary

A dogfighting sentence with an exclamation point on it

Updated: August 17, 2007, 12:05 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Her name is Little Mama. She's, oh, about 1½ years old. Just the sweetest pit bull you could ever pet. And then somebody stuck the blade of a 4-inch hunting knife into her skull.

"The worst case of animal abuse I've ever seen," says Carl Leveridge, president of the Atlanta Humane Society.

That's where they brought Little Mama, to the 58,000-square-foot nonprofit shelter and clinic in northwest Atlanta. She was terrified and in pain, yet Leveridge said Little Mama allowed one of the staff veterinarians to lift her lip and inspect her teeth. Like I said, a sweetie.

Surgery was needed to remove the knife blade, which had been pushed nearly 2 inches into her sinus cavity and lodged in bone. Miraculously, the stabbing missed her brain. And as of Thursday afternoon, the patient was in stable condition and showing signs of improvement.

"A half-hour ago I was over there petting her," said Leveridge, who has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the creep who did this. "Her tail was wagging against the cage."

See, this is why prison is too good for people capable of this kind of cruelty. This is why Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, if he cops his own plea or is eventually found guilty of federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, should have to join the rest of his Bad Newz Kennels crew and do some hard time at the Atlanta Humane Society.

Just prison? Nuh-uh. Instead, doghouse during the day, then federal big house at night.

Maybe they'll make him work here a year. That would be good.

Carl Leveridge, president of the Atlanta Humane Society

"Do you think a judge might impose something like that?" asks Leveridge. "Maybe they'll make him work here a year. That would be good."

That would be justice. Or the beginnings of it.

Of course, if it were up to me, I'd also sentence all guilty parties of the Bad Newz group to work as Alaskan Husky No. 7 in next year's Iditarod. At the very least, I'd have them chase mechanical rabbits at Mile High Greyhound Park in Commerce City, Colo. Or have them fetch Joey Harrington's jockstrap -- post-practice -- with their teeth. And, sorry, no showers for the Bad Newz crew. Tongue baths only.

Yeah, I'm a dog person. I don't want to go all "Marley & Me" on you, but the night I brought my Cocker Spaniel puppy Elvis home, I slept next to him on the kitchen floor so he'd feel safe and wouldn't whimper so much. Twelve years later, I slept next to him on the living-room floor as his breathing became more shallow and his blood count worsened by the minute. He died later that day. But at least he didn't die alone.

We've got another pooch now -- a pain-in-the-butt, pig-in-a-dog-suit Cocker named Oskie. And even though he's been known to sneak on top of the Thanksgiving dinner table for a slice of just-carved turkey, I can't imagine a day without him.

So pit bull torture sessions? Drownings? Electrocutions? Hangings? Shootings? Rape stands? Fights to the death? There isn't an adjective in existence that describes my level of disgust, astonishment and sadness at the inhumanity of such acts.

Vick will get his day in court and, for his sake, I hope he's able to -- as he put it -- clear his "good name." But if there's a plea (and it appears such an option is being discussed), Vick and his accomplices deserve more than merely prison; they really should spend time working at the humane society.

Weird how this works out. Leveridge recently met with representatives of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Blank happens to be the owner of the Falcons and has contributed to the Atlanta Humane Society for years. He has two old Labradors that he adores.

"He's a true animal-welfare advocate," says Leveridge. "For this to happen to him, I feel so bad for him."

If I'm the federal judge in charge of sentencing, I make Vick and the others report to the AHS Monday through Sunday at 8 a.m. sharp. There are about 100 cages that need to be cleaned twice each day. Sadly, there are few vacancies at the Humane Society.

Vick could walk dogs. He could help groom them. He could cut the grass and help maintain the grounds. He could stuff envelopes in the administrative offices. He could work with the on-site dog behavior expert. He could offer to work in the AHS wellness clinic, which provides free animal-health services for pets whose owners can't normally afford such care. He could attend the monthly support-group meeting, where animal owners who have lost their pets help each other through the hurt.

"It's a cliché term, but it is like losing a family member," says Leveridge. "If he went to some of these sessions, saw some of these people sobbing their eyes out ... and yet [Bad Newz allegedly] is killing them for sport."

Most of all, Vick could write a check. Something in the two commas, six-zero variety. It wouldn't bring back the dogs that were allegedly tortured and killed at Bad Newz, but it would save others.

The AHS has an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million. It cares for about 400 animals, including about 200 dogs. A Michael Vick Endowment Fund of, say, $5 million, would help bankroll the AHS for the next 20 years. Now that's a legacy.

The AHS has an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million. It cares for about 400 animals, including about 200 dogs. A Michael Vick Endowment Fund of, say, $5 million, would help bankroll the AHS for the next 20 years. Now that's a legacy.

"That would be the best way, giving money," says Leveridge. "People would say, 'He realized he did the wrong thing and he wants to help animals.'"

It beats what some of them are saying now. Angry Falcons fans have sent more than 100 Vick jerseys or T-shirts to the AHS, occasionally with a charity check attached. Just the other day a woman handed Leveridge a bag full of Vick T-shirts with his familiar No. 7 on them.

The jerseys and T-shirts don't go to waste, though. The nice ones are used as pillows for the animals. The others are used as rags to clean the kennels.

Including Little Mama's.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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