The news received Friday set off a weekend of ecstatic, celebratory joy for Tamira Thayne and all the folks at DDB (Dogs Deserve Better). After a concerted effort to raise enough money to purchase Michael Vick’s former dog fighting property, Thayne announced DDB has been approved for a bank loan to cover the remaining two thirds of the purchase price.
DDB, a Pennsylvania-based 501(c) (3) organization was founded with a single mission: to raise awareness of, rescue and help change laws for chained and penned dogs across the country.
On February 4, 2011, DDB announced an option the group obtained to purchase Michael Vick’s Surry County, Virginia property where he ran the infamous Bad Newz Kennels. Vick served 21 of a 23 month sentence in federal prison for bankrolling the dog fighting operation at the property.
Some animal advocates are quick to point out that Vick was never convicted of the horrendous cruelty against the Pit Bulls he owned. He pled guilty to federal conspiracy charges and that is the felony he served time for; not the electrocution, hanging, beating and drowning of under-performing fight and bait dogs he finally allocuted to.
When Vick’s career hit the brakes after his 2007 arrest, he ultimately forfeited the property at 1915 Moonlight Road. Apparently the property’s history did not make interested buyers come knocking at the door. The down turn in the real estate market of the last few years didn’t help, either. The white brick house has five bedrooms, four and a half baths in 4,600 square feet of living space and is set on 15 acres of wooded land. The investor holding the property turned down a bid of $747,000 at auction in December 2007. Too bad, because the price DDB is paying is $595,000.
How Good Newz was Conceived
A long term organizational goal of DDB has been to build a rehab center for formerly chained dogs to learn what life inside a home with a family is all about. One of DDB’s Virginia reps, Shannon Allen, mentioned at a meeting the Vick property was still for sale and “…wouldn’t it be awesome if we could take it over?” Thayne discussed the idea with her board members and visited the site. “It all fell into place from there,” said Tamira.
When asked if she found the property haunting, Tamira told me no, and added “I felt when I was there that the dogs who lost their lives and suffered there welcomed us and were grateful to us for both preserving their memories, continuing the fight against dog abuse, and bringing happiness to a place of such sadness.”
I also asked Tamira if she has heard of any reaction by Vick or his camp. “No. We know he knows about it, he was asked in an interview about it and said he thought it was a good idea. Nothing more.”
More of the interview:
MD: What specific plans do you have for the property so far?
TT: Well, we plan to build a state of the art dog facility on the property. There is [sic] 15 acres, and we will build back in the flat grassy area. Our first and immediate goal will be to fence the entire property, and we will be hoping for volunteers to come and help us with that, and looking for donated (new or used) 6 foot chain link fencing. We also will need to reconfigure the house to take in some dogs right off the bat, and perhaps put up small structure to house more dogs while we fundraise to build the center.
MD: Will you be moving your base of operation to Virginia from Pennsylvania?
TT: Yes, we will.
MD: How many dogs do you plan to be able to house at any given time?
TT: Once we are built and operational, our first year goal will be to house, train, and get adopted out 500 dogs a year. This will progress as we build our abilities, and our long-range goal will be to move at least 1,000 dogs a year.
MD: How do you anticipate the neighbors will react?
TT: We’ve had many positive reactions, and just a few negative ones. Our goal will be to be a good neighbor, and hopefully our neighbors will do the same. Vick had as many as 70 dogs there living outside chained and penned, and they had to make a LOT of noise for the neighborhood. Our dogs will live inside with us, and once our property is fully fenced, will be safely confined. We hope to keep the barking, especially at night, to a minimum, thereby fostering good neighbor relations.
MD: I am assuming feedback so far is positive; have you had any negative feedback about turning the Vick property into a rehab center for formerly chained dogs?
TT: Can you do anything in life without negative feedback? I’ve come to think that No, that’s not possible. Yes, there’s been some, but the overwhelming majority of people support the idea.
MD: Explain the rehab center concept. I am assuming it is to evaluate the formerly tethered dogs and train them to live inside with family members – correct?
TT: Yes, basically it’s to do what we do with these dogs in foster homes every day already, but with more dogs and on a grander scale. When a dog is living chained or penned, it’s very rare that they come away issue-free. The very least we have to do is spay/neuter, vet, bath, and housetrain the dog to get him/her ready for adoption. As more issues come into play, we will address those as well. Some examples of chained-dog issues that we deal with frequently are: timid dogs from lack of socialization with humans, food aggression from time spent with too little food and water, territorial aggression from spending so much time ‘guarding’ their little plot of land, and poor people skills, such as jumping for attention and mouthing to get attention.
For us, having a standard shelter is not the answer, because we have to be teaching these dogs how to live within the home and family. So we want to design a center where they will be trained in a house setting every day, working one on one or in small groups with a human to assess and deal with issues and teach housetraining and people skills. Our current scheme, designed by rep Tim Treybal, would call for four ‘house’ areas where the dogs would be trained each day. We’re excited to work with ideas to make this center the absolute best it can be for meeting the needs of the dogs and getting them ready to live inside the home with new, loving families.
MD: How long does it take to rehab a formerly chained dog?
TT: When I work hands-on with a dog, I can typically have him/her housetrained within a matter of days. Depending on the other issues, a dog can be ready for a new home in as short as a week…yes, it really varies.
MD: Do you have programs/policies in place?
TT: We already have a strong foster program that rehabs about 400 dogs per year, and we plan to continue our foster program for the organization, as we are able to get dogs off chains all around the country this way. The Rehab Center will probably pull dogs from reps who need help all along the east coast, and we hope to double our rescue abilities in the first year our facility is built.
MD: What would you like to say to all the people who donated and supported your cause?
TT: Well, THANK YOU! never seems to be enough. Truly, without all the people who donated that first dollar for their ‘vote,’ and then continued to support us with donations of $5 and $10, we would not be here. All those small donations added up! And for those who were able to donate larger amounts, we were incredibly grateful. It was a leap of faith for them, because we couldn’t tell them we were guaranteed to get this property, and we are now so happy to be able to tell them, YES, WE DID IT.
Now we continue to plan, dream, and make the dream a reality. This is a wonderful step in the right direction.
Congratulations Tamira and all the people who helped realize this dream come true for chained and penned dogs everywhere. And, best of luck to the DDB reps and fosterers throughout the country as the Good Newz Rehab Center opens shortly. Settlement on the property is anticipated in the next two weeks.
So far, about a third of the purchase price has been raised and a bank loan approved. Fundraising will continue and DDB has some creative ways of doing that. Purchase a $50 restaurant gift certificate for $20 or a $100 certificate for only $35!
A Memorial Will Be Built
All in all, this is an upbeat ending to a tragic and emotionally-toxic environment. It will now truly be a happy home for the formerly chained dogs and anyone else who crosses the doorway!
DDB also plans on making a memorial to the Vick dogs who fought, suffered and died on the site. This will be in the former kennels on the property and the public can visit, leave prayers and well wishes.
You can look forward to some mighty happy tales of recovery from the Good Newz Rehab Center in the coming years. Yes, Tamira, you did it!
Photo used with permission of DDB