Bad Newz for Pittsburgh

By now, any of you not living under a rock know that The Pitttsburgh Steelers have hired dog fighting poster child Michael Vick, and you more than likely have formed an opinion on that. In an area as crazy about dogs as it is about football, the hiring was bound to result in some epic battle lines being drawn. I do believe the Steelers grossly underestimated the fallout from this decision.

But I am not here to rehash the many, many stories published by the media or the vicious battles being waged on social media. I am here to tell you about Phoenix.

Phoenix was a pit bull. She was seized during a raid at a Pittsburgh area property a number of years ago. It was believed that Phoenix had been used for dog fighting. We know that she was kept chained to a hillside her whole life. We know that she was horribly abused.

Phoenix was not a cute puppy. Her entire body was scarred from someone having thrown acid on her. One of her front legs had been so badly injured that she couldn't use it at all.

Phoenix came to the home of a friend as a foster when the court case against her owner was pending. After the case, Phoenix became what we like to call a "foster fail," meaning that my friend opted to keep her rather than having her put up for adoption or rehomed. I'm very glad that foster failed, because Phoenix became a part of my life, and I grew to love that dog.

Phoenix was reborn into the most joyful dog you would ever want to meet. She loved attention, craved affection, and would do anything for a treat. She and her adopted brother Rex -- another pit bull -- frequently escaped from their home to visit me. Their mom would call and say, "I think Rex and Phoenix are on your porch," and sure enough, I would hear a bang on the front door and look out to see Rex jumping like a maniac and Phoenix sitting calmly, waiting for me. She and Rex and I had "puppy piles" on the couch, where, fortunately, they let me be in the middle, where I could still breath.

I was amazed every time I looked at her. After the horror of the abuse she had suffered for years, how on earth had this dog ever reached a place where she could love and trust? Where she could be affectionate and playful? I don't know if I could come back to such a place if I had experienced what she had.

And the question always arose: Who could torture and abuse such a beautiful heart? What kind of sick person would not be moved by the pain and fear she felt, or accept the love she had to give?

Phoenix lived out her old age, and I was with her the day that she peacefully went to sleep one last time in a vet's office. Her mom was afraid that she had waited too long, that Phoenix was in such pain that she might become vicious when handled. Nope, not Phoenix. I touched her. I talked to her. And then I lifted her out of the car. She would leave this world the way she had come into it -- loving and trusting.

We now know much more about the world of dogfighting than we did a few years back when Phoenix was being tortured and Michael Vick was actively participating in the horrifying acts that took place at his "Bad Newz Kennels." We now know full well what type of a person lays their hands on a dog and slams it into the ground over and over again. We -- not to mention FBI profilers -- know that this is not a mistake in judgment, it is not a behavior that one can easily correct. It is a fundamental part of that person. It is not WHAT he has done, it is WHO he is.

That being said, what can we do to make a real difference now that the Steelers have shown that the Black and Gold is tinted with blood red? For one, we can contact our state representatives in the Pennsylvania House. SB 373 is sitting in the House Judiciary Committee, waiting for a full House vote. Many see the bill as a way of saving dogs with idiotic owners, because it prohibits the 24/7 outdoor tethering of dogs. It is, but it also is a tool to combat dogfighting and puppy mill operations. Dogs used in fighting are commonly tethered outside, with massive chains around their necks attached to things like car axles buried in the ground. Simply seeing dogs tethered outside during bad weather will be enough to get law enforcement across the property lines, where they are likely to find additional evidence of animal abuse. Our state legislature already has adopted legislation that makes it illegal to possess paraphernalia used in animal fighting. We are slowly working our way toward bringing to real justice people like Michael Vick. You can help make that happen.

And for any of you who happen to look into your own dog's eyes and imagine the unimaginable, there will be a candlelight vigil held for Michael Vick's victims near the Art Rooney statue at Heinz Field on Thursday, Sept. 3, beginning at 6 p.m.

We will never forget. It's the least they deserve.

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