August 27, 2012; Source: Washington Post (Associated Press)

It is nearly impossible to imagine that anyone, even people who don’t care a lick for professional football, don’t know who Michael Vick is. The quarterback was convicted of training and abusing dogs for the purpose of dogfighting. Vick, who the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons at the time, went to jail for the charges and found himself suspended from the National Football League for a time. Now Vick is reportedly a changed man, an advocate for better treatment of canines and, since his release from prison in 2009, a volunteer for the Humane Society who campaigns against dogfighting.

Vick’s rehabilitation of his image and behavior won him acceptance back into the NFL, where he now plays quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Although some people cannot and will not ever forgive him for his cruelty to dogs, the almost ubiquitous protests against him as a heinous symbol of cruelty to animals have pretty much faded away.

But the property Vick used for training and torturing dogs is back in the news. After pleading guilty to interstate dogfighting conspiracy, Vick sold his 15-acre complex (Bad Newz Kennels) for $600,000 to an organization called Dogs Deserve Better (DDB). Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that Surry County, Va. Chief Animal Control Officer Tracy Terry has received numerous complaints of animal cruelty and improper care for dogs at the site and has filed charges against Dogs Deserve Better and its founder, Tamira Thayne.

Although a squib on the Post’s sports pages said that the sheriff’s office hadn’t been able to find Thayne to serve her with papers, the Associated Press (AP) quotes Thayne as saying that she was unaware of the charges and had been on her honeymoon in St. Lucia. Thayne isn’t particularly pleased with the charges, noting that her dogs “have a great life here. Vick tortured dogs to death and never once got charged with animal cruelty. Somebody needs to tell me what the hell is going on here.”

Terry hasn’t elaborated on the specific charges against DDB and Thayne, but told the AP that the organization has been operating without state approval. Thayne countered that the state veterinarian had told her to rectify some things in order to get state approval, which she says she did, but she hasn’t heard back from the state. She says that her facility cares for nine dogs, including her personal pet, and asserts that all of the dogs live comfortably in the house there.

The website for Dogs Deserve Better touts the acquisition of the Smithfield, Va. site, now called the Good Newz Rehab Center for Chained and Penned Dogs, and its Form 990 (for the tax year ending June 30, 2011) suggest that this is a formerly small but growing organization, with total revenues increasing from $265,309 in the prior year to $560,739 in the most recently reported year, an increase of 111.4 percent in just one year. Contributions and gifts to the organization hovered between $122,000 and $189,000 annually from 2006 through 2009 before jumping to over $499,000 in 2010, obviously a reflection of DDB’s acquisition of the former Vick site and the attention it received as a result.

Unless there is some compelling reason to do so, we don’t expect to see any involvement of Michael Vick with Good Newz. But due to his celebrity, a minor tête-à-tête between a small animal welfare charity and a governmental inspector gets attention. If Thayne defeats the charges, it could further boost DDB’s profile for fundraising purposes. If the animal control officer has some documented issues to pursue and prove, we wonder what impact it might have on small, individually controlled animal welfare charities.—Rick Cohen