SI Vault
The House on Moonlight Road
George Dohrmann
June 04, 2007
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
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June 04, 2007

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

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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."

It was clear to Strouse, who has been an animal control officer for 22 years, that some of the animals had been used in fights, but not until she climbed a stepladder to the second story of the largest of the black buildings was she convinced that fights had been staged on the property. In a room about 16 feet square Strouse found blood: a smear on one wall, splashes near the base of walls, a spattering on a jacket hanging from an air conditioner. She also found a dog tooth on a bucket. Yet the most convincing evidence that this was the "pit"--the dogfighting arena--was the rectangular area in the middle of the room devoid of blood. "Dogfighters put down carpet to give their dogs traction," Strouse says.

Investigators would eventually find a bloodstained carpet elsewhere on the property, and later Strouse would proclaim to a friend, "We got him. We got Michael Vick."

But neither the case, nor Vick's connection to it, is so clear-cut. Since the raid, Vick, 26, has proclaimed his innocence and blamed family members who lived in the house for what was found there. "It's unfortunate I have to take the heat," he said to reporters in New York City on April 27, a day before the NFL draft. "Lesson learned for me."

As of Monday, Surry County commonwealth's attorney Gerald Poindexter had not filed animal-welfare charges against anyone in the case, including Vick and his cousin, 26-year-old Davon Boddie, whose arrest on suspicion of drug possession sparked the raid. (Boddie gave police the Moonlight Road address as his place of residence; when searching the property they found probable cause to seek a second warrant involving animal cruelty.)

Poindexter has said he's convinced dogfighting took place on Moonlight Road but also that he hasn't yet found enough evidence to charge anyone. He said he has no eyewitnesses to fights there and noted that as many as 10 people might have had access to the property. Two schools of thought have thus emerged based on the information uncovered so far: Vick is either, as some in the animal welfare community believe, the financier of a large dogfighting operation and an aficionado of that blood sport, or, he is, as he said, a victim of poor choices made by those around him.

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