My first thoughts associated with the cable channel Animal Planet are an expose on a pride of lions in Africa and Steve Irwin cuddling with one of the world's most deadliest snakes.
When I was approached with an assignment to watch Animal Planet's upcoming feature—"Animal Witness: The Michael Vick Case"—my only real expectation was a focus on the wrongs of dog fighting.
Sure, that played a part of the story, but the prevailing focus of the detailed documentary was about how Vick's indictment really came to be, and what happened to all of his dogs that were seized from his property in Surry, VA.
Of the 49 pit bulls found malnourished and in kennels on Vick's property, only two had to be euthanized (one due to aggression and another which had sustained too many painful injuries from fighting).
The misconception is that pit bulls are naturally vicious animals. The reality explained in the documentary by Bay Area group BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls) is that pit bulls are one of the most obedient types of dogs that will do anything to make their masters happy.
If they are respected and taken care of, pit bulls are extremely friendly, but if they are encouraged to attack another dog to a human's satisfaction, they will take to that personality.
What was absolutely astonishing to watch is that after being harbored away from society and other dogs for four months in basically solitary confinement, these dogs showed zero aggression toward each other and still had a respect and care for humans, despite all of the hardships they had been put through.
One dog, named Leo, is so kind and social that he has become a therapy dog for cancer patients in California.
This makes it extremely difficult to have any sympathy for Vick, who is shown apologizing to his family and friends but not once showing any remorse for what he did to these dogs.
Animal Planet did a nice job of piecing the story together, with interviews with the reporters who covered the event, high-ranking PETA members, and most-importantly, former Surry Deputy Sheriff Bill Brinkman, who helped blow the case wide open, but was later fired for going over the heads of his bosses to involve the Feds when the case stalled.
My lone criticism, playing devil's advocate, would be to give a rationale or explanation from dog fighters about why they participate in this "sport," and also to give them a chance to defend themselves.
More than likely, any attempted defense would help the viewer side to an even stronger degree with the argument for the rights of dogs, but it would form a more complete picture.
The closest the documentary gets to the dark side of the equation is a description that inner-city gang members are the most predominant dog fighters, that starter kits for the materials and foods needed for dog fight are available on the Internet, that some anonymous bloggers brag about their exploits, and that an investigative reporter encountered a lot of difficulty trying to make his way into the subculture.
Regardless, anybody who wants to be brought up to speed about how Vick went from star quarterback to villain in an instant will want to tune in when this controversial piece airs in the foreseeable future.
For further discussion about the documentary, check out the following: