TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. When the Philadelphia Eagles signed football star Michael Vick to an NFL contract just three months after his release from prison on a dogfighting conviction, the move was controversial. Vick had pled guilty to running a dogfighting ring on his rural Virginia property for six years, and many animal rights activists objected to restoring Vick's celebrity athlete status so quickly.
Michael Vick's arrest two years ago brought public attention to the little-known culture of illegal dogfighting, which is more organized and widespread than most people imagine. Raids by federal and state authorities in six states last July led to the rescue of 400 dogs and the arrest of 26 people on dogfighting charges, including a Little League coach, a registered nurse and a teacher.
Michael Vick pledged to work with the Humane Society to fight against animal abuse. Our guests believe he's already had a significant impact on dogfighting, both positive and negative.
Our guests are John Goodwin, the manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States, and Sean Moore, a former dogfighter in Chicago who now works with the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting in that city. They spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
We want to alert listeners that the first several minutes of this conversation will include disturbing descriptions of cruelty to animals.
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Well, John Goodwin and Sean Moore, welcome to FRESH AIR. John Goodwin, let's start by talking a little bit about how widespread dogfighting is in the United States. Do we know how many dogfighters there are in America?
Mr. JOHN GOODWIN (Manager, Humane Society of America): It's hard to estimate exactly how many people are involved in this. Prior to the Vick case going public, we had done some research and estimated that in the organized world of dogfighting, there are probably about 40,000 people involved, and at the street level, we estimated it, you know, at least 100,000.
Now, in the wake of the Vick case, we've seen the strengthening of laws. We've seen a lot of attention from law enforcement, and so I believe at the organized level, the numbers have come down a bit. It's very hard to gauge exactly how many people are involved in this, but I can say that it is certainly more widespread and pervasive than I think most people realize.
DAVIES: Now, it's interesting. I wish we could show the audience some of the trade publications that have flourished in the dogfighting world, but they're really remarkable, and they have pictures of pit bulls and ads for kennels with, you know, names like Hell's - Kennels, and you see a lot of references to champions and grand champions. What does that mean?
Mr. GOODWIN: A champion is a dog that has won three contract matches, and a grand champion is a dog that has won at least five contract matches with zero losses. And when I say contract matches, I'm separating that from backyard roles, you know, little practice fights and referring to dogfights where the dogs are put through a physical exercise regimen to get them in top physical condition and then fought for money on some pre-arranged date that was set in advance.
DAVIES: Right, and these are often planned months in advance, right, and take place according to fairly strict rules. Explain a little bit of the kind of rules and rituals that accompany a contract match.
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, in a dogfight, when the people arrive, the first thing they're going to do is weigh the dogs because the dogs are fought according to weight. So, you know, if the dogfighters agree to fight at 43 pounds and one of the dogs comes in over 43 pounds, then the guy with that dog is going to have to pay a forfeit because a dog that is going against a heavier dog is going to be at a disadvantage.
Next, they're going to wash the dogs. Dave, if you and I were fighting dogs against each other, you would wash my dog, and I would wash yours. That's because these guys would put poison on their furs and just different things to cheat. And so by washing each other's dogs, you could remove any sort of sort of substance that would cause an unfair advantage.
DAVIES: Right, and if I put poison on my dog's fur, that means that when your dog bites it, he's going to ingest it, and that's an advantage.
Mr. GOODWIN: That's exactly right. That dog may end up dying or having severe stomach pain or something that would cause him to lose the fight.
Then after all those preliminaries are taken care of, the guys would get into the dogfighting pit, which is usually 14-by-14 feet square with carpet or canvas on the ground, to give the dogs some traction. Each of the dogs and their handlers would have a corner that would be their corner, and it would be - they would have duct tape or paint across the ground to kind of - what they call a scratch line right in front of that corner, that the guy would stand behind with his dog prior to the beginning of the match. The referee would get into the pit, and they have the dogs face each other, and they let them go, and they start fighting.
Now, eventually one of the dogs is going to be getting the worst of it, and he or she is going to turn his head and shoulders away from his opponent because he's getting just mauled. That's called a turn. When that happens, they will pick the dogs up, take them in their corner, kind of have a 25-second break. And then the dog that did the turn, that was getting the worst of it and started to show some signals that he wanted to quit, would have to scratch. And what that means is, he would have to then cross the pit and make contact with the other dog to show that he's still engaged in the fight.
After that, they would scratch in turn. The second dog would scratch next, then the first, then the second, then the first, and the fight goes until either one dog is dead or so injured that he just can't scratch anymore and doesn't make it across the pit within the pre-arranged amount of time, whether it's 10 seconds or 20 seconds.
DAVIES: Yeah, well, let's talk a little bit about the fate of the animals here. How often is it that one of these matches ends up with a dog mortally wounded?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, you know, we looked at fight reports in a magazine called the Sporting Dog Journal, which was kind of the flagship publication for many years, this little underground dogfighting circuit. And we estimated that 13 percent of the dogs actually died from wounds sustained before they even left the pit. And a lot more of them would die later from the injuries - you know, a day later, two days later. And then the other losers, with the small exception of a special handful that didn't die from their injuries, would be executed. Because again, the dog that seemingly lacks that gameness is of no value to the dogfighter, and they're not going to want to continue to sustain the cost of feeding them and taking care of them and keeping them alive.
DAVIES: Right. Now, I gather that a lot of dogs are executed who either fail to perform in a fight or who are puppies who, for whatever reason, are not judged to be, you know, effective future fighters. How are these animals dispatched?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, you know, in the country, a lot of them are killed by gunshot. But when you get into an urban area, where that would attract a lot of attention, then you see methods like electrocution being very popular. When you look at the indictment of Michael Vick and his co-defendants that were all part of Bad News Kennels, they would also drown some of the dogs, and they hung a couple of the dogs.
I was particularly surprised about the hanging because the pit bull has such a big, strong, muscular neck, and that just didn't seem like an efficient way to kill those dogs. And I think that was one of the things that really upset a lot of people about that case because it seemed like some things were done that were just - I mean, you take an already cruel activity and then throw something like that in there, and it just boggles the mind.
DAVIES: Now, human athletes have sports doctors and trainers. These dogs need veterinary care, but I can imagine that since it's such a secret activity, people don't like to take their dogs to vets. What do they do?
Mr. GOODWIN: You're absolutely right. A lot of these guys try to kind of do their own rudimentary form of veterinary work. And so if you raid a large dogfighting kennel, you'll oftentimes find all sorts of substances - different antibiotics, lactated ringers, which are fluids that they put into a dog after a fight because he's lost a lot of blood, and they need to get the volume of liquid in their body back up to prevent shock. You know, amoxicillin and ampicillin are two different antibiotics that the dogfighters like to give them to try to kill off any infections that get into the open wounds that the dog sustained. And so a lot of these guys just kind of try to perform their own veterinary medicine, and most of them haven't been through vet school so it isn't usually super-effective. But these dogfighting magazines oftentimes have articles on things like post-fight veterinary care.
DAVIES: In the dogfighting magazines that I looked at, it seemed that half of the pages were devoted to ads from kennels for breeding, which suggests that it isn't just a matter of training animals but getting the right genetic mix of aggression into your beast. How does that work? I mean, do you buy a puppy from a kennel? Do you pay a stud fee and take your female to mate with a particularly, you know, accomplished male?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, I can tell you've read those magazines pretty thoroughly. You're absolutely right. Both, the answer is both. Some people will buy puppies. Some people will buy what they call a prospect, which would be a dog that's probably about 18 months to 2 years old that's fully mature, and if he's going to be fought, he's ready to fight. And others do send their females to a kennel and pay a stud fee.
And you know, with the dogfighting, let's say you bet $5,000 and win on a dogfight one weekend, but then you bet $5,000 and lose on one the following weekend. You've broken even. But when you take a dog that's a winner and put him out to stud, well that's just pure profit, and within the realm of the dogfighting world, that's where the high-end kennels make their money.
DAVIES: We're speaking with John Goodwin. He is the director of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. Also with us is Sean Moore. He is a former dogfighter from Chicago who now works in the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting there. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're talking about dogfighting in America. With us are John Goodwin, manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States, and Sean Moore. He is a former dogfighter from Chicago who is now working to end this practice with the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting.
You know, a moment ago, John Goodwin, you said that there are really, kind of two worlds of dogfighting. There's the very organized world, where these contract matches occur and people breed their winning animals, and then you said there's sort of a much less organized street-level dogfighting. Tell us about the difference. What's that second world like?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, the street-level dogfighting's not as formal. Guys will get pit bulls or, you know, whatever kind of dog from random sources and fight in the neighborhood, and you know, for many different reasons, status, maybe a small wager. And that's a world that I think that Sean is probably far better educated about than I am and I think will probably give - be able to give a lot of insight into because that's the world that he came from. But it is a different level of dogfighting, but there are times when people graduate from one to the other.
Like for example, Michael Vick started off as a streetfighter in Newport News, Virginia. And then in time, he got to know people, particularly a man named Oscar Allen, who went by the name Virginia O, who introduced him to more of the organized world, and he kind of graduated upwards, or downwards depending on one's perspective, into a different level of dogfighting.
DAVIES: Well, let's talk to Sean Moore. Sean, you grew up on the west side of Chicago, and you're 28 years old now, right?
Mr. SEAN MOORE (Former Dogfighter): Yes, 38.
DAVIES: Thirty-eight, OK, OK. And how old were you when you first got into dogfighting?
Mr. MOORE: I was 12 years old when first I encountered that a pit bull could do damage.
DAVIES: And what got you interested in actually owning one that could fight?
Mr. MOORE: Well, actually I was born into the breed of pit bulls. You know, I come from a generation of families that fought on the different levels that you guys - talking about today. In my case, what got me involved with dogfighting was it was these bully guys. They had German shepherds back in my day and Great Danes. So those were the dogs of choices. And me, myself, I was a pit bull owner. And a lot of guys with these German shepherds and Great Danes and all these different other types of dogs, used to chase us through the neighborhoods and bully us a lot.
And this one, particular day I had my dog, which was a pit bull. He was a cur -would be a dog that didn't want to fight. He was always getting beat up by his litter mates and everything. So this one particular day, I was in the alley, and here come these bully guys with these two German shepherds, and this one German shepherd ran up on me and my dog, and my dog grabbed it and instantly locked up on his neck and killed it.
I had to go get my uncles to release my dog from this other dog, and which built the reputation for me in the neighborhood to be a tough guy, a gangbanger, and all the unhumane things that I had became being a dogfighter, you know? It was like us guys in these urban communities, we born into negativity. We got to work our way out of it to where other people work their way into what we do.
DAVIES: So having that animal that could kill was - it was status, it was power?
Mr. MOORE: Oh yeah. You know, coming from where I come from, status means a lot, especially on the negative side. Because you don't want to walk down the street and be bullied, get your money took and beaten on as a punk in the neighborhood amongst a lot of criminal activity. You want to be a part of that somehow, some way, and me having dogs made - led me a point to where it gave me a sense of ability to where I could walk through the neighborhood, and people talking about me in the negative way, but it's positive for me.
DAVIES: You're a guy not to mess with, in other words.
Mr. MOORE: Right, especially with a pit bull.
DAVIES: When you got into this, how many dogs did you have?
Mr. MOORE: Well, as far as I can go back and remember, I always had me two pit bulls because my uncles always provided me with the dogs that I guess they didn't want to fight. I got those dogs, the cur dogs. That (unintelligible) kill them. They actually give them to the family members, the ones that wasn't capable of fighting.
So I've always had a pit bull, maybe one to two at the most at the time, as a youth. But as I got older, it went to the hundreds.
DAVIES: Where would you keep them?
Mr. MOORE: We had places, you know, houses. You know, back in the day, family members was into gangbanging and drug-dealing real good so on the street level, you got to be a drug dealer or a gangbanger to even be mentioned in the like a -Mike Vick, or you got to have money. And we come from where there ain't a lot of money, and you got to be doing illegal activities to be involved in these type of things.
So guys like myself, we wasn't making that type of money. So what we would do, guys of my age, as youth age, once they learned about the pit bulls, was let's fight. You know, let's see who got the toughest dog. It wasn't no type of rules or regulations that we went by into what make it dogfighting today. (Unintelligible) where we don't have no structure amongst dogfighting. We could fight a boy against a girl. We could fight a 100-pound dog against a 30-pound dog. It don't matter to us - to where, like, John was stating earlier, it was structure amongst the next level of dogfighting after the street level.
DAVIES: Right, and when your dogs fought, was it more often for money or more a matter of a grudge or pride?
Mr. MOORE: Well, it was for money. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was for the money. But nine times out of 10, if you fighting a guy with a dog, you don't like him no way. You know, it's pretty much like a dogfighting arena gang thing, type of thing. So it was more like, I don't really like this other guy who got the dog that we fighting. So it was more like, macho of who going to leave away with the reputation that day.
DAVIES: And where would these fights occur?
Mr. MOORE: Oh, man, backyards, garages, streets, abandoned buildings, anywhere you wanted to throw down there at the time.
DAVIES: Now, I know that this is a life that you have moved on from, but back then, were you involved in other illegal stuff, you know, drugs?
Mr. MOORE: Yeah, you know, that go without saying. You can't do these type of things without being involved in gangbanging or drug-dealing because you - there's no one who goes to work and come home and say, I bet you $5,000 my dog can beat your dog. No, that don't go on. So it's guys that's gangbanging, drug-selling and yes, I was a part of that. You know, I ain't proud to admit but yes, I was a part of that, and that's why I'm doing what I'm doing today, to give back to my community what I destroyed.
DAVIES: Right. I'm interested - did the police know about the dogfighting? Did they care?
Mr. MOORE: Well, I'm going to say this. Michael Vick shined the light on dogfighting on every level, to the point where it's been times back in the day when I was dogfighting and the police, it wasn't a case. It wasn't nothing they could really fully charge you for. You know, I didn't - just have left for dogfighting, my dog bleeding, holes in him, and the police has grabbed him, and they was looking for drugs and guns because I was a gangbanger and a drug dealer to the point where I had a dog down here that was bleeding and suffering, and the police, you know what they used to say to me? Like, did he win? Or, he look like a killer.
It wasn't like now, today, if they see me walking down the street with a dog, I'm going to jail. So now - the police wasn't educated just like we wasn't educated, and Michael Vick shined the light on dogfighting.
DAVIES: John Goodwin, I wanted to ask you one question going back to the organized world of dogfighting. These contract matches, there's a lot of betting. How much money is involved in the matches, in the breeding? Are we talking about things that guys get rich in or can make a living off of?
Mr. GOODWIN: It depends on the dog. You know, if you've got a couple of dogs that have never been in a contract match before then, you know, it's going to be probably in the thousands. Then you get up to the champion level, and you might start talking about a five-figure sum of money. You get up to the grand champions, you know, dogs that have won at least five contract matches and are undefeated, you can conceivably get into the six-figure range.
There was an instance down in - a little outside of Houston, Texas, in Beaumont County back in 2006, where a man named Tom Wagner(ph) was murdered, and when law enforcement came down there and investigated the murder, they found that he had 300 pit bulls bred for fighting on chains in the acreage behind his house. And they discovered that he had won a dogfight for $100,000. And somebody, probably somebody that was at that dogfight, went to his house and killed him and ransacked the place until they found the $80,000 that was left over because he'd spent $20,000 of it by then.
So there we have evidence of a dogfight for $100,000. And what happens when, you know, people that are involved in these criminal activities know that you've got that kind of cash laying around your house?
DAVIES: And the interesting thing is, I mean, even though these matches can involve significant money, they're never seen by very many people, are they?
Mr. GOODWIN: No. I mean, it's a felony crime in all 50 states. Well, now, on the street level, you know, I'm sure that Sean probably could talk about some stories where, you know, things have been a little bit more out in the open, but at these organized matches, because they are concerned about being raided, they do them in, you know, out in the middle of nowhere. They'll have a situation where everyone meets at a Wal-Mart parking lot and caravans, and only the guy in the car in the front knows where they're going - so, you know, taking counter-security measures to try throwing law enforcement off their tail that may be trailing them.
So it happens in the shadows, and that's kind of what I was referring to earlier when I said that this is more widespread and pervasive than people know about. It's more widespread and pervasive because it happens in the shadows, so people don't always see it.
GROSS: We'll continue Dave Davies' interview about dogfighting in the second half of the show, with John Goodwin, the manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States, and Sean Moore, a former dogfighter in Chicago who now works with the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting in that city. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're talking about the culture of illegal dogfighting and the impact star quarterback Michael Vick has had on it. He was convicted for running a dogfighting ring. Three months after getting out of prison, Vick signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and pledged to work with the Humane Society to fight against animal abuse.
Let's return to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with John Goodwin, the manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States; and Sean Moore, a former dogfighter in Chicago who now works with the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting in that city.
Before we continue, I want to let you know this discussion goes into details of extreme animal cruelty.
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Well, let's talk about this, as you say, the organized world of dogfighters. Some call themselves professionals, dogmen, as they call themselves. What are their historical and regional roots?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, dogfighting came over to the United States from England and Ireland. Back in the 16, 1700s, people would have these events where they would set dogs against bulls or dogs against bears and really brutal, vicious events, bull-baiting and bear-baiting. In 1835, England outlawed animal-fighting. But the people who wanted to continue doing this, despite the fact that it was now banned, moved to dog-versus-dog fighting because it was much easier to hide combat between two bulldogs as opposed to trying to, you know, have a bear and bring him through the middle of London to a pub.
Now, in the mid-1800s, these dogs started to come over to America with European immigrants, and the breed was refined and became what we know as the American pit bull terrier. Dogfighting was popular up in the port cities along the northern part of the Atlantic Coast, moved over into the Midwest, and then kind of really took a foothold in the American South in the first half of the 20th century. And you know, now it's prevalent, to some degree, probably just everywhere in the United States.
DAVIES: I want you to help me understand something, and that is this: You know, when Michael Vick established his dogfighting operation, "Bad Newz Kennels," he was 21. He had just become a rich man. He had a huge NFL contract and he could've done anything with his life. He could've bought a condo in Hawaii. He could've traveled to Europe. He chose to spend six years, and put a lot of time and effort and money, at a time when it's very clear from the case that he knew the risks to his career. And I wondered, what is the appeal? What was so exciting or emotionally nourishing to him that he would risk that for dogfighting? Help me understand; what's the appeal of it?
Mr. MOORE: Well, like I just said earlier, just a few minutes ago to you, that we born in negativity. It don't matter how - what level we reach, if you born to something, you got to find a way to get out of it, and Michael Vick didn't find that way to get out. Even though he was on the level of hundreds of millions of dollars, he still thought as a poor person in an urban community because we always thought that this was something, a sport or something that we could do.
Because like I said, it's been police has pulled me over with my dog bleeding, suffering, and never took me to jail for it. So if the police don't do anything about it, we thinking it's OK. You know, when the police officer tell you, you got a look like a - you got a dog that's a killer and you know, you thinking OK, if law enforcement telling me oh, I look like I got a killer, then there's nothing wrong with doing what I'm doing.
DAVIES: Mm-hmm. You know...
Mr. MOORE: So I think Michael Vick took that same approach far as, even on the level that he was on, he still got that same attitude, which - what he grew in, which was negativity, and took that to that 'nother level, thinking it was OK.
DAVIES: Mm-hmm. You know, pit bulls are really loyal animals and dogs generally - I mean, you know, pet owners know how loyal and affectionate dogs can be, and they return that, and that there's a real emotional reward for a pet owner. And I'm wondering, do you feel any of that for the dogs that you fought? I mean, you know, you're obviously putting them in harm's way and you know, subjecting them to even mortal wounds. But did you love the dogs that you trained?
Mr. MOORE: Well, I get this question asked every interview I've done - do dogfighters really love their dogs? And I can honestly say, yes. You know, I could say, yes. And like on my level, street level, it's not about the two dogs fighting. It's really the two individuals that argued for these dogs to fight that should be fighting, but we got the two dogs that do fight so we're going to let them fight. So it's never about the love of the dog. And in anything violent, you can't never mention the word love. You know, in war, in fighting, that's another separate word that should not be used in no type of violent atmosphere or category.
Mr. MOORE: Yes, people do love their dogs, though they fight them. And the strange love is that you love your dog to the point where you hoping it don't lose. You know, you put your dog out there to win. That's the whole idea of it. But yes, you do love your dog.
DAVIES: Did you ever cry over a dog who was injured or killed?
Mr. MOORE: Oh, yeah. My last dog fight was 1996. I was pretty much persuade and peer pressured into something that I pretty much created, because I was pretty much through fighting dogs. But this one particular guy came up to me like oh, you old. You a punk, and you ain't got it no more. And it was these new guys coming up behind me now, you know, that was putting more time in it and took more time and energy and had more money than I did - and was pretty much peer pressuring me into do something that I didn't want to do. And that - even though my dog had won the fight, I won $1500, I still had to put my dog down because it suffered a severe injury to the neck.
And like John was saying, a lot of those guys not going to take these dogfighting dogs to veterinarians because the veterinarians is going to call the police on them, so we do the next best thing - is home remedies. Go to the store, buy penicillin, ampecillin, you know, anything to stop the bleeding.
DAVIES: How did you put that dog down?
Mr. MOORE: I had to shoot him.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah, I had to shoot him and it was sad to do, and I regret every day for what I've done to any dog ever in my life - negative. And that's why I'm with the Humane Society of the United States as of '88, and a graduate of this program, also, to give back to my community and teach these youths that, you know, dogfighting is senseless - especially you know, nowadays, you know, you going to jail.
DAVIES: John Goodwin, I'd just like to turn to you on this question that I asked Sean about what the appeal is of dogfighting for people who do it. Do you have a perspective on this?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, I think some people enjoy just the bloodlust, you know, watching dogs tear each other to pieces. I think other people enjoy the betting and the gambling and the rush that comes with that. And I think others, you know, as both myself and Sean have commented on, do it for status - have the toughest dog in the neighborhood, you know, kind of use that dog to create an image for oneself that you're, as you said, Dave, was a guy not to be messed with. I think it's a, you know, the - kind of those three things, and probably a little different mix of all three for each different person.
We're speaking with John Goodwin; he is the director of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. Also with us is Sean Moore; he is a former dogfighter from Chicago who now works in the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting there.
We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guests are John Goodwin; he is manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. Also with us is Sean Moore; he was once a dogfighter in Chicago. He is now working with the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting there. He is also a graduate of that program.
John Goodwin, what's happened at the big level to kind of combat organized dogfighting?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, there's been a ton of activity in the wake of the Michael Vick case since that, you know, that - he pled guilty and was sentenced in December of 2007. So in 2008 and 2009, state legislatures and the U.S. Congress combined have passed 27 new laws around the country to strengthen penalties against animal-fighting. We've seen raids on dogfighting operations double from the year before Vick, 2006, to the year after Vick, 2008.
We've seen expansion of programs like End Dogfighting in Chicago that Sean's involved in, to - now we have End Dogfighting Atlanta, and a lot of perspective programs being developed in other cities. And so, there's been a real engagement of people on a community level, political level, you know, various levels to combat dogfighting all across the country.
DAVIES: Now, let's talk a little bit about Michael Vick because the Humane Society's decision to, in effect, join with him in his declared efforts to fight animal abuse were very controversial. What role do you expect Michael Vick to play in here?
Mr. GOODWIN: Oh, I think that Michael Vick can be a leader in efforts to eradicate dogfighting with young men that are at risk for getting involved in dogfighting, or are already involved in dogfighting. He's a credible messenger, and he's got a powerful story he can tell. I mean, this is a guy that was at the top of the mountain, that had over a hundred million dollars, that had fame and was loved by millions of adoring fans. And he fell all the way to the bottom and spent over 500 nights in a prison cell, all because he was involved in something as senseless and pointless as dogfighting. And this is a guy that I think can come and speak to young men and really get a receptive audience, and I think he can be a game-changer.
DAVIES: You know, as I understand it, Michael Vick came to the Humane Society and said he wanted to play a constructive role in fighting dogfighting. And it occurred to me that the Humane Society might have said well, that's terrific but you don't need to be a star athlete to do that. I mean, he didn't need - and in fact, one could argue that his story might have been even more powerful if he came and said, I've lost everything and I didn't get it back. I now have to work like everybody else. Was Michael Vick's willingness to play this role contingent upon the Humane Society supporting his return to the National Football League?
Mr. GOODWIN: No. We were clear from the beginning that we were agnostic on that. We weren't going to get involved one way or the other. Our agenda is to end dogfighting. And what sort of profession Michael Vick engaged in once he got out of prison, so long as it didn't involve harming animals, was not our concern. Our concern was how, if Michael Vick truly wanted to be a messenger against dogfighting, how we could help him be the most effective messenger against dogfighting.
DAVIES: Sean Moore, you spent a lot of years dogfighting in Chicago. What got you out of it?
Mr. MOORE: Well, that last episode. I told you about my last dogfight. Now I was pretty much swearing away from it anyway because that was just another problem going to be on top of the other problems I was causing to myself, you know, the gangbanging and the drug dealing. And dogfighting was just another problem that towards the end of my career doing illegal things, I couldn't afford to finance these dogs anymore. So that pretty much stopped me.
And what particularly stopped me from dogfighting was this one kid in Chicago named Julian. I'm sorry, I can't give him his last name. But this one kid was walking down the street one day with his dog. Two dogfighter dudes drove up on him, say come fight your dog with my dog. So this kid go, say no. I don't want to fight. He walk away. He walk home. These gangbanger guys drove around the corner, came back, by time this kid get home to his mother and tell his mother that these guys want to get him to fight his dog, they blew his brains out.
So that pretty much was 100 percent game-changer for me to where these guys taking this and killing people, it's not worth it. And I don't want to be a part of that. I don't want to be stated as a ex-dogfighter or a dogfighter at this time. And everything that come up under that - we unhumane(ph), we gangbangers, we drug dealers, and I can honestly say I was all of that. I don't want to be a part of that no more so that's what changed my life around.
DAVIES: And you're working to change it in the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting. Now, tell me what you do, because you're dealing with people whose mindset is, you know, where yours had been many, many years before. What approach works? How do you find people, and what do you tell them?
Mr. MOORE: Well, I find these guys that done fought dogs, that are fighting dogs, and that want to fight dogs. And I tell them one thing and one thing that they could understand. You know, I speak they - language. They could understand me and they see me doing positive things for the Humane Society of the United States. So that pretty much, you got to lead by example in my neighborhood. You just can't give a book to a guy because he might not read it to see, or he might not have the Internet to type my name up. You got to show him positive things.
And guys like Tio Hardiman and Jeff Jenkins, the Pit Bull Training Team, they come around my neighborhood to help me out and try to educate these young guys to come on, let's do the right thing - because 90 percent of the guys that are out here dogfighting is doing illegal activities. And dogfighting right now, today in Chicago, is equivalent to getting caught with a gun, to getting caught selling drugs or gangbanging. And that just won't...
DAVIES: You mean equivalent in the eyes of the law?
Mr. MOORE: Yes.
Mr. MOORE: That's it. Get caught...
DAVIES: So the risks are higher now. Right.
Mr. MOORE: Yes. Get caught with drugs would be the same charge you get caught dogfighting. You're going to prison.
DAVIES: So part of what you tell them is, you're really risking a lot by doing this, right?
Mr. MOORE: Yes. I mean, Michael Vick, look what he lost. It's nobody in my neighborhood - 10 guys could dream about what Michael Vick had lost. Hundred millions of dollars, we dream of things like that, this man had that and lost that. You got nothing. And especially, a lot of these young guys is young. I'm talking about - I started fighting dogs at 12 years old. In my neighborhood, it's the 7-year-old fought more dogs than me and Mike Vick - than ever fought in my life. And that's what I'm trying to change. They - we are miseducated where I come from when it comes to these pit bulls, and that's what I'm glad the Humane Society of United States is giving me the opportunity and the tools to teach my people about these dogs.
DAVIES: You know, we were talking earlier about how you got started in dogfighting. You were saying that having a dog that was aggressive, a dog that could kill, gave you status, you know, it made you somebody who was looked up to or feared. Now that you have a different kind of approach, are you in the same community? Do people look at you differently?
Mr. MOORE: Well, yes, they do. You know, especially when you have been doing wrong so long in your life. You know, they're wondering if I'm for real or if this just a gimmick, or I'm collecting a check. And the answer is to - no to all of those things. What I'm out here trying to do it is, I'm really trying to educate you to the point where pit bulls are not really bred to fight. Pit bull is the most loving breed of dog that you can own. In the wrong hands, it could be the worst dogs.
DAVIES: John Goodwin, you want to talk a little bit about this community approach, and where you see it going?
Mr. GOODWIN: Well, I think it's an incredibly positive thing, and I think it's having an impact. And I think that, you know, when we talk about the organized level of dogfighting, where you have a lot of guys that, you know, have a lot of money in this and are really ideologically committed to it, that's a world that can be dismantled with the law-enforcement approach. But I think when you're talking about the street fighting, I don't think that just a pure law-enforcement approach, by itself, works.
You have to have guys like Sean, that get out there and - have been in that world and are good messengers that can say, hey, you know, this isn't the way to go. And I want see this expand beyond Chicago and Atlanta - and now, we're looking at Philadelphia. I want to expand into all the cities because I think that this peer-to-peer contact is the most effective form of messaging that there is. And we've got good messengers, and they've got a good message. We just need to get it out there.
DAVIES: Sean, as you're doing this work in the community, do you ever get threatened?
Mr. MOORE: Oh, all the time, all the time. What I do, you know, I want everybody to hear and understand, I told you the story about this young guy Julian. I got to deal with them type of guys who going around killing people like Julian every day on a regular. It's a hard job, but one thing out of the negative that I could keep continuing so I won't have to - getting threat is my gangbanging status. You know, that pretty much helped me do this job, far as guys not trying to come at me or use gun play with me, trying to help them out. You know, that's the one positive that I've took from me doing negative and which helped me a million times over with this program.
DAVIES: Do you mean by that, that because you were known for a long time as a bad guy, that people are less likely to mess with you?
Mr. MOORE: Exactly.
DAVIES: Right, right.
Mr. MOORE: You know, they see me out here trying to do something positive. They didn't see me doing so much negative. And yeah, I get those naysayers and those hardheaded guys that, yeah, you did it or you can't stop me or if you try to stop me, I'll blow your head off and all that, you know, the whole nine that go with what I'm doing out here in this community to try to end violence. Yeah, you get threatened every day.
DAVIES: Do you own dogs now?
Mr. MOORE: Yes, I own three dogs.
DAVIES: Are they pit bulls?
Mr. MOORE: Pit bulls, yes.
DAVIES: Rescue animals, I'm guessing?
Mr. MOORE: One was not rescued, which is Jigger(ph), which he's on the front page of the Humane Society, if you want to look at it and see. And my other two is Beyonce and Chinchilla, which was a rescue.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: Where did that name come from?
Mr. MOORE: My wife came up with that name.
DAVIES: Well, when you walk your dogs in the neighborhood now, I mean, do you have people that come up to you and want to challenge you, like - like in the old days?
Mr. MOORE: I used to get that in the beginning part of this campaign, a lot of guys still would shout, you ain't got it no more - trying to put peer pressure, persuade me to do negative. But I'm older and wiser and much more stronger than that, and I got the most strongest gang that I've ever been in on my side. And that's the Humane Society of the United States, and they are willing to back me 100 percent on any calls with these dogs. So come on with it if you think you can come with me in trying to influence me to dogfight, do anything negative with these dogs. I got powerful people behind me.
DAVIES: Do you guys have a Humane Society tattoo?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MOORE: You just gave me a - idea.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: Well, we wish you the best of luck. Sean Moore, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. MOORE: Thank you for having me.
DAVIES: And John Goodwin, thank you as well.
Mr. GOODWIN: Oh yeah, thank you. It's been a pleasure.
GROSS: Sean Moore is a former dogfighter in Chicago who now works with the Humane Society's campaign to end dogfighting in that city. John Goodwin is the manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the U.S. They spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies, who's a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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