PETA says Vick took, passed course on preventing animal cruelty

Updated: October 2, 2007, 5:03 PM ET
By Wright Thompson | ESPN.com

Michael Vick recently accepted an invitation from PETA and attended an eight-hour course on animal cruelty at the group's Virginia headquarters, according to the animal-rights group.

Animal advocates
hope for best

Now that a motion filed in U.S. District Court claims the overwhelming majority of pit bull terriers seized from a dogfighting operation bankrolled by Michael Vick need not be euthanized, animal welfare advocates are hoping for the best outcomes for the dogs.

But they are warning that future placement of the animals must be carried out thoughtfully.

"I wouldn't say I'm necessarily surprised," said John Goodwin, deputy manager of the Humane Society of the United States' campaign against animal cruelty. "This has been a case where there's been a pretty big spotlight on it. I think there is a lot of public sentiment that wanted the dogs to do well."

"They've been through a terrible situation. We hope there is a ray of sunshine for them," Goodwin said. "We just hope people exercise caution and proceed with great care so they don't end up hurting another animal or [end up] living a lonely life in a kennel run."

Shonali Burke, a spokeswoman for the ASPCA, said the organization "will go to great lengths to make sure the dogs are going to be placed in the right situations to provide the best quality of life for them."

"There have been a lot of steps so far to make sure these dogs have been treated well and humanely," she said.

-- ESPN.com senior writer Elizabeth Merrill

PETA assistant director Dan Shannon said when Vick completed the course, he was given material to take home and study. Shannon said Vick returned to the offices on a later day to take a test on the things he'd learned, which he passed. Though PETA officials are still pressing for jail time for Vick, Shannon did say everyone was impressed with the seriousness with which Vick approached his classes.

"He seemed nervous at first," Shannon said, "but he seemed really interested."

Vick's attorneys were not immediately available to comment on PETA's account of Vick's attending the class. The NFL also did not immediately return a call for comment.

Vick, the disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback, faces up to five years in prison and awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in a federal dogfighting case. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 10. He recently was ordered confined to his Virginia home after testing positive for marijuana -- a violation of the conditions of his release while awaiting sentencing. The urine sample was submitted Sept. 13, according to federal court records.

Vick also has been indicted on state charges of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Each felony is punishable by up to five years in prison. His arraignment on those charges is set for Oct. 3.

Vick's representatives were first approached by PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. After an initial exploratory meeting involving Vick, Newkirk and Shannon, the quarterback agreed to attend a class, which he did on Sept. 18, PETA said.

According to PETA, Vick's day was specifically planned for him, and it focused on animal protection and empathy. First, he was given an overview of animal protection, then a session that laid out the scientific evidence for animals' ability to feel happiness, sadness and pain.

In the initial meeting, PETA said Vick had mentioned wanting to speak to school children, so he was shown the program they normally do at schools. He saw police training tapes that describe links between violence toward animals and violence toward humans. An entire session was based on Christian teachings about the treatment of animals.

"He seemed to get the most out of that," Shannon said. "He was blown away by how much the Bible had to say about animals."

Because of the impact PETA officials think the course had on Vick, Shannon sent a letter on Tuesday to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asking him to make a similar course mandatory for all NFL players.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.

Wright Thompson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) is a senior writer for ESPN.com and The Magazine. He has been featured in seven editions of Best American Sports Writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.