What a dog can do that Michael Vick can’t

October 30, 2009

I know you’re all jealous of my life. Don’t try to hide it. Jetting from one exotic location to another, mingling with the pretty people, entre to the most exclusive events, access to the power brokers… who wouldn’t envy me?

Perhaps anyone who could have been a fly on the wall when I had to stop an interview in mid-stream yesterday to unwind all the Borzoi hair from the base of the keys on my keyboard. Two years of accumulation meant I’d hit critical mass and lost the “S” and the shift keys.

Fortunately I was interviewing someone who is as much a dog person as they come, Marthina McClay of Our Pack, the rescue group that turned ex-Vick dog Leo into a therapy dog.

I was interviewing her for my column on SFGate.com, but she made some great comments that won’t fit into that piece, so I thought I’d share them with you here. Believe me, they make better reading than the story of how I had to use a knitting needle to untangle Borzoi hair from my keyboard.

leoschool2I asked her about Michael Vick talking to at-risk youth about dog fighting on behalf of HSUS. She responded by telling me about a visit Leo made to a school for youth who have been in trouble with the law in San Jose, Calif. — some of them with dog fighting in their backgrounds:

We heard the kids going, “Oh, that’s a bad ass pit bull,” when we walked in. It’s like a cool thing to have a pit bull.

When we got into the classroom, I just took off Leo’s leash and let him walk around and do his thing. I let Leo speak for himself. He just connected with everyone, these kids. They went from hard to soft within 20 minutes.

Then the teacher said, “By the way, would you guys like to know where this dog came from?”

The kids said, “Where?”

She told them, “This dog used to belong to Michael Vick.”

You could hear a pin drop. Their mouths were open, their eyes were riveted on this dog. They said, “What?” They couldn’t believe it.

I could hear one of the kids being interviewed by a reporter from the Washington Post, and he said he’d assumed a dog like this, a Vick dog, would be aggressive and mean. Instead, he said, he’s a nice, sweet, friendly dog. “I really like him,” he said.

We’re not a farming culture anymore. We have lost our connection with animals. We almost never work hand in hand with our dogs anymore. We go to work in an office or cubicle, or we go to school, but there’s nothing to give us that feeling of how we fit into the world of animals.

So you bring a dog into the classroom and say, “Would you really want something like that to happen to this dog?” Before Leo showed up, I don’t think they cared. The Vick dogs were distant and not connected to them. But after they met Leo, all that changed. It mattered to them.

So what I’m saying is, don’t bring Vick to talk to at risk kids. Bring his dogs. His dogs will do a lot more for people who need to see the light that these are sentient, feeling, loving beings, and that it’s our job to care for them, than Vick can ever do.

By the way, Marthina told me that Leo has found his forever home… with her. As if anyone thought it would end any differently.

Filed under: pets, connected — Christie Keith @ 5:00 am


  1. Thank you Christie. That was beautiful & I’m so glad of the outcome for Leo

    Comment by Erica Saunders — October 30, 2009 @ 5:53 am

  2. I’m choking up. That was beautiful :)

    Comment by Jen — October 30, 2009 @ 6:21 am

  3. Christie, thanks for sharing this. It so true that our pets communicate more without words than we do with them.

    If only the HSUS had the good sense to have shunned Sick Vick like the unrepentant psychopath he is and instead taken his VICK-tims around to “speak” to at-risk youth … well, I’m glad someone gets it, even if it wasn’t the HSUS. (Which is still defending its phenomenally bad decision.)

    Leo, I love you. Vick, rot in hell.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — October 30, 2009 @ 7:50 am

  4. brilliant. Marthina is da BOMB

    Comment by EmilyS — October 30, 2009 @ 8:07 am

  5. Beautiful!

    Comment by Amy — October 30, 2009 @ 8:07 am

  6. The exciting thing about this article is Leo is not the exception. We have so many other success stories from less well known busts but ALL of them are thriving in their new homes as part of a family, some with kids, all with other dogs and other Therapy dogs too! Marthina really is da BOMB!!


    Comment by Mary Campbell — October 30, 2009 @ 8:16 am

  7. Absolutely Brilliant idea!

    Comment by Bett Sundermeyer — October 30, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  8. Thanks so much for all the kudos to Leo. He really has made such a difference in the world of Pit Bulls. I’m so proud of him and better yet he’s proud of himself!
    Mary is right Leo isn’t the exception to the rule, he IS the rule. We’ve taken many other bust dogs from around the country and have had wonderful success with adoptions and with the dogs becoming therapy dogs. I think these dogs are just cut out for that work. Love’em!

    Comment by Our Pack — October 30, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  9. What a wonderful and inspiring piece. The author is correct, Leo can change minds as Vick will never have the “feelings” to make a difference. Seeing, touching, talking to Leo, a survivor is very powerful tool to change the minds of the youth.

    Comment by Gale — October 30, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  10. What a great article and so important to communicate. Leo is my forever companion as well living in our home. He is such a joy and inspiration to everyone who meets him. He has a big responsibility, but measures up to it continously. Michael Vick, I hope you are paying attention, your ex-associate has something to teach you and without an “I told you so” or any since of guilt, just pure love, which Leo is. Thank you so for your wonderful expression of this heart warming story.


    Comment by Mike — October 30, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  11. Thank you for this post! Marthina and Our Pack are heroes, just like so many rescue organizations that are committed to putting the dogs first and doing what is best for them. Leo and other bust dogs that are now doing therapy or service work are incredible educators and, as Gale said, are very powerful tools in educating the public and changing minds.

    Comment by Suzi S. — October 30, 2009 @ 10:55 am

  12. BRAVO.. as an owner and breeder of a “bull breed” I know that NOTHING can be better than a face to lick encounter with a “pit bull”. Lovely piece with a terrific ending.. let’s hope for LOTS more like this one..Go Leo ..

    Comment by bestuvall — October 30, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  13. Wonderful piece, thank you for writing about Leo and all the good work he does. Leo and his former kennel mates can do far more with a look and a wag than Vick can ever hope to with his well-scripted BS. Looking forward to the full article this week.

    Comment by Christina — October 30, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  14. Marthina’s beautiful Leo story and her deeply touching comments merit another impactful SFGate piece!

    And…so many other incredible successful adoption stories would be enough to create an ongoing column that could educate and inspire. These kids in the story had no idea, so one would surmise that the word isn’t getting out there far enough or fast enough.

    Comment by Nadine L — October 30, 2009 @ 11:12 am

  15. Thanks Nadine!! I agree, an ongoing column would be helpful. You’re right the word does need to get out three much faster. I don’t there is engough education in humanities at this time, especially compared to how it used to be.

    Comment by Our Pack — October 30, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  16. While Caesar and Cleo both have far less famous previous owners, the reaction is ALWAYS the same. Caesar is blessed with not totally looking pittie. While my weekly visits to petco are actually under the guise of rescue fundraising, I do far more educationally with the pups. An ex fighter, a would be fighter and the bulldog bait dog. Who ever gets the chance to meet them gets a change in perspective.

    Comment by Cindy — October 30, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  17. Wow, that brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for figuring out how to SHOW people what so many of us have bee *thinking*.

    Vick might raise $$$, but those dogs will raise hope and spirit!!!

    Comment by Tracy — October 30, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

  18. I agree, Vick’s dogs can teach more than Vick. Good point.


    Comment by Kevin R. — October 30, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

  19. Christie Keith, Marthina and Leo – thank-you – and like Tracy writes my hopes have been raised and the spirit is alive!!

    Comment by mary frances — October 30, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  20. Wonderful post. Amazing what one dog in 20 minutes can do to change a roomful of minds and attitudes. How many people can claim as much? If we ever want to have peace in the world, we need to offer kids more opportunities to meet real heroes like Leo. Thanks for telling this story.

    Comment by Rebecca — October 30, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  21. Great post, I really enjoyed reading it and plan on sharing it with others!

    Comment by Lisa — October 30, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  22. Although I think it’s great that Vick’s ex- dogs are breeding education. (which I have experienced FIRST hand… as my rescue had RESCUED Gracie– a Vick dog) it is totally irresponsible to state that Vick is a paid spokesperson for HSUS. It is disgusting that you are bringing a big name like HSUS into your article for more recognition. Congrats on your work with Pit Bulls. This speaks for iteself. Please do not dirty other’s hands. Most caqn dirty themselves.

    Comment by cOURTRE — October 30, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  23. cOUTRE … in no place does the word “paid spokesperson for the HSUS” appear. I have no idea what arrangements financial or otherwise Michael Vick made with the HSUS, but he is, in fact, speaking to at-risk youth on their behalf.

    If anything, he should have paid THEM for making his return to the NFL possible.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — October 30, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

  24. Sorry, but Michael Vick does not speak on behalf of HSUS about anything. Total fabrication.

    Comment by Courtre — October 30, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

  25. Try using Teh Googles before posting. It’ll go a long way towards keeping you from appearing to be a complete idiot.

    Too late for this blog, by the way.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — October 30, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

  26. http://www.hsus.org/press_and_publications/press_releases/statement_of_wayne_pacelle_on_vick_contract_081409.html

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — October 30, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  27. Oh wait, maybe I should’ve proof read… my rescue took in 4 Michael Vick dogs… Google Gracie or Alf. Michael Vick in no way speaks on “behalf of HSUS.” Once again, a great article when it comes to Leo, but to dirty the hands of HSUS is idiotic.

    Comment by Courtre — October 30, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  28. Courtre, did you even read Gina’s link?

    HSUS cut a deal with Michael Vick. It has nothing to do with your rescue. HSUS is their own organization and they do not run any rescues or any shelters.

    I think you’re confused . . . . . . . . . . .

    Comment by The OTHER Pat — October 30, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

  29. Another fabrication: In reply that disgraces this article further:

    “Are you supporting Vick’s return to the NFL?

    We did not take a position on Vick’s reinstatement to the NFL, and we did not lobby the NFL or any team to hire him.”



    Comment by cOURTRE — October 30, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

  30. HSUS has never authorized Vick to speak on their behalf.

    Comment by cOURTRE — October 30, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

  31. cOURTRE, I have no clue who you are, but I sat with Wayne Pacelle two nights ago and listened to him discuss why he decided to let Michael Vick work with HSUS to address at risk youth about dog fighting. If you want to parse words with me about what “speaking on behalf” means, you’re going to lose that game.

    If you’re more of an authority on what HSUS does and doesn’t do than its CEO, by all means, uncloak yourself.

    Comment by Christie Keith — October 30, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  32. Christie thank you so much for such a wonderful and inspiring piece. We definitely need more of these so please keep them coming!

    It comes as no surprise to me that Leo could change more minds about these dogs in the span of 20 minutes than Vick could ever possibly do in his lifetime.

    There’s just no comparison. When I look into Leo’s eyes and I see love and kindness and warmth and appreciation. When I look into Vick’s eyes, I see nothing…no soul, no remorse…just an empty shell of a person acting as a puppet for the HSUS and going through the motions simply as part of a PR move. It’s really that obvious…

    Comment by Angie — October 31, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  33. I would just like to thank Christie again for talking about Leo and what he does while at the same time not forgetting what MV has done.

    It’s easy to get off onto other things and this just lets us forget the real crime and the people who really are to blame in these horrible situations.

    Thanks so much for the extremely well written article! Leo thanks you too!

    I also want to thank Leo for making at all better.:)

    Comment by Our Pack — October 31, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  34. A few years ago, I visited the “Youth Treatment Center” in my city. It was housing for non-adults who had committed felonies. Most of those kids’ exposure to dogs have been human-aggressive dogs and yes, many of those dogs were ill-bred, scared or poorly-socialized pits or other muscular, short-haired breeds (rotties for ex.) kept as guard dogs or for show. After seeing the kids’ reactions to my big, goofy, friendly retriever, I would love to be able to bring them a “Leo”. My retriever showed them what most dogs are like. I think a “Leo” dog would go a step further and give them hope of a better life.

    Kudos to Leo’s rescuers, Leo’s owner, and to Christie for bringing us this story.

    And, cOURTRE, ?????? WTH???

    Comment by Deanna — October 31, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  35. According to Bad Rap, Gracie was taken in by Richmond Animal League. Looks to me like RAL needs to get better (ie; coherent) spokespeople.

    Then again, it’s quite likely that RAL never ‘authorized’ Courtre to ‘speak on their behalf’, either.

    On a side note, why does any blog post even tangentially mentioning HSUS cause the crazies to come out of the woodwork?

    Comment by FrogDogz — November 2, 2009 @ 6:45 am

  36. What a Gorgeous dog Leo is!!!!

    And look at the faces of those “street hard” boys, they look like lil kids again as they look into Leo’s eyes. Isn’t it amazing what one friendly little dog can do for a persons’ outlook on things…
    As for the HSUS and this controversial MV stuff, I can see their point concerning Vick SOMEWHAT…I just don’t agree with it. But I also can’t attack the HSUS for such a mistake when they still do so much for animals in need of help and care. We still need to support the HSUS and ALL responsible rescue organizations in our communities.
    Thanx to Christie for this story, and a HUGE THANX to all of you who make a difference in an animals’ life (ANY animal)!

    Comment by Dave — November 26, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

  37. Time has a news article about the “rehab” of fighting dogs and the success rates….”


    Comment by Snoopys Friend — December 2, 2009 @ 10:34 am

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