A federal grand jury indicted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on Tuesday, charging him with taking part in a dogfighting operation. When police raided his rural property in Virginia in April, they discovered dozens of pit bull terriers. They also found a “rape stand,” a pry bar, treadmills, and a fight pit, all of which authorities said pointed to the illicit sport. What is this equipment?
Legitimate dog training tools for the most part, but ones that come in handy for turning pit bulls into vicious fighters. Pooches die so often in fights that owners always need new dogs. This is where the rape stand, also called a breeding stand, comes in. It consists of two steel poles mounted to the ends of a platform that’s often made of wood. U-shaped pieces of curved metal sit atop each pole; one goes around the belly of a female pit bull and the other around her neck. The stand isn’t illegal, but dog breeders don’t normally use it; after all, female dogs in heat aren’t so particular. And most people wouldn’t want to breed poorly socialized dogs that must be strapped down to mate. But breeders of attack dogs place special value on females that are so mean they might bite any male dogs that get too close. People find these stands online or through an underground dogfighting magazine, or they make their own.
Authorities also discovered performance-enhancing drugs on the property, and one news report suggested Vick regularly purchased syringes. Dogfighters might inject their dogs with stimulants before a fight. Afterward, they might give antibiotics to prevent infection, or a steroid like dexamethasone to reduce pain and swelling and help rebuild torn muscles. Legitimate breeders and kennel owners might also have syringes, for administering vaccines or medicine.
Some of Vick’s other equipment wasn’t so unusual. A pry bar, also called a break stick, is a plastic or wooden stick used to break up a fight when dogs won’t stop biting each other. The tool looks like a hammer handle with a flat edge and can be inserted into the mouth behind the molars to pry open the jaw. Anyone who works with dogs for a living would probably own the tool, and it’s especially recommended for pit bull owners, since the breed is extremely strong-willed. Treadmills, also found on Vick’s property, are commonly used to exercise sled dogs like Siberian Huskies or dogs preparing for weight pull competitions. To build a pit bull’s strength, a dogfighter might make the animal wear a weighted collar while walking up an incline on the treadmill.
Vick also kept a dogfight pit on his property. Dogfighters commonly abide by what are called Cajun rules for how big these pits can be—about 12 feet per square side, with plywood walls 2 feet 6 inches high. They often lay down carpeting to give the pit bulls more traction, which might explain the bloodied carpet lying around Vick’s house.
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Explainer thanks John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States and Paula Thomas of White Oak Animal Hospital.