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Dogfighting goes high tech

In an interview with "60 Minutes," ex-convict and newly instated NFL player Michael Vick had this to say about his ruthless alter ego: "When I was in prison, I was disgusted because of what I let happen to those animals. I could have put a stop to it. I could have walked away from it. I could have shut the whole operation down."

It looks like this new Vick has more in common with most of us than the old Vick. We're disgusted, too. But televised speeches can be deceiving, and it's too early to know in what ways and to what extent Vick really has changed.

The business of dogfighting, however, has undergone significant change in his absence. While no less vicious, it's grown more cunning, clandestine and adaptive to new technology since Vick brought the underground activity into the spotlight two years ago.

Mark Kumpf, an investigator based in Ohio who directs the National Animal Control Association, made clear in an interview with CNN that the thugs behind this blood sport are no dummies. Two new practices that have emerged since dogfighting came under fierce scrutiny: mobile venues and Internet broadcasts.

Fights have been staged in 18-wheelers on the go. "If you're driving down the road, there could be dogs in that truck driving next to you that are dying," Kumpf said. And, he said, to avoid large crowds, "we've seen fights where you've got the two handlers, a referee and Web cams everywhere broadcasting the fight on the Internet."

You might conclude that the attachment of a celebrity athlete to the illegal activity of dogfighting only served to drive it further underground and its proponents to new heights of ambition. But some good has come, as well.

Experts in law enforcement and animal welfare agree that the upside of the publicity from the Vick case is that people are more informed of what suspicious activity looks like — and more willing to report it.

Last week The Baltimore Sun ran a photo of a panting pit bull struggling to tow his owner through Patterson Park on a bicycle. Readers were outraged: "Did the photographer report this suspicious behavior to the police?" "Did The Sun think it might be promoting dog fighting by publishing this photo?" "Doesn't your photographer know that this poor pit bull is being abused? Pit bulls wearing heavy weights are being trained for dog fighting."

And a recent dogfighting case in Dayton, Ohio, resulted in three convictions because of a neighbor. According to CNN, "a neighbor called police when she saw a mangled dog that had apparently escaped from a home where investigators found 60 chained pit bull terriers, many being starved and wallowing in their own waste."

This kind of abuse is too inhumane to ignore; these stories too sad to forget. We are paying attention. The key is to give more attention to our communities and less attention to guys like Vick with his coulda, woulda, shouldas. May he make the best of his second chance, and may we turn our hearts and minds to more important things.

Woof!

Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Read all of Uncle Matty's columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to dearuncle.gazette@unclematty.com or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.