SI Flashback: The House on Moonlight Road
Though Michael Vick insists he knew nothing of alleged dogfighting on a Virginia property he owned, the case has cast a shadow over the star quarterback, alarmed the NFL and called attention to pro athletes' involvement in the grisly pastime
Posted: Tuesday May 29, 2007 9:22AM; Updated: Tuesday July 17, 2007 11:38PM
This article originally appeared in Sports Illustrated on June 4, 2007.
The brick house Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick owned on Moonlight Road in rural Smithfield, Va., is painted white. It has a white door, a white fence and a huge white gate that opens on a spare front lawn holding a white birdbath. In the woods behind the house, out of view from the road, stand five smaller buildings. These are painted black -- not gray or charcoal, but pure black, as if they'd been dipped in ink. They are set off from the house by a fence, also painted black.
Kathy Strouse, an animal control officer, was standing in front of those outbuildings as night fell on April 25 when a simple question came to her: Why the black paint? A moment passed before Strouse had an answer. At night, when most dogfights are held, no one would know these buildings were here.
Strouse, 54, is a member of the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force, a consortium of animal control and law enforcement officials from around the state. She serves as an expert witness in dogfighting trials and teaches investigative tactics to animal control officers nationwide. As she and officers from the Surry County sheriff's office probed each of the back buildings and the rest of the 15-acre property that night, she saw what she considers unmistakable evidence of a professional dogfighting operation.
In one building a scale hung from the ceiling. There were treadmills to exercise the animals and a "rape stand," a contraption that holds aggressive dogs in place during breeding. In other buildings Strouse found syringes as well as injectable diuretics and nutritional supplements commonly given to fighting dogs. Stuck in the ground between two buildings was a metal shaft with a tethering arm, designed to keep a dog walking in a circle. Like the treadmill, this setup can be used as part of what dogfighters call the "keep," the training regimen before a fight.
A long building held numerous kennels, each of which contained at least one dog. Most were American pit bull terriers. Some had wounds on their ears, necks and front legs. Contrary to early reports, those 30 or so dogs were not emaciated, nor were the roughly 30 pit bulls found in the woods, tied to car axles buried in the ground. "Give the dogfighter his due," Strouse says. "It is not in his interest to starve his dogs."