Campaign against dogfighting comes to Atlanta

Event comes on eve of Michael Vick's release from prison

The night before Michael Vick is expected to leave a federal prison, animal lovers kicked off a campaign to end dogfighting in Atlanta.

Michael Markarian with the Humane Society said Vick's case got people talking about dogfighting. And now, the former Falcons quarterback has committed to help the group's efforts to educate young people.

Vick faces two more months of home confinement for his dogfighting conviction in 2007.

"How we treat animals says a lot about our own character," Markarian told a crowd of 140 Tuesday night in Sandy Springs. "We want society to treat animals better."

The campaign against dogfighting began in October in Chicago, and Atlanta is the second city to join the grassroots efforts.

"We go out there and hit the streets," said 31-year-old Darian Prather of Decatur.

Prather is part of a "boots on the ground" team of volunteers that hit the streets, looking for young people who may be participating in the sport. Then, he tells them about free dog training classes offered on Saturdays.

"Everybody wants a tough dog," said Prather, who owns two pit bulls. But the stereotypical "mean" breeds can be trained.

"There's an alternative to fighting these dogs," said Amber Burckhalter, a dog trainer. Burckhalter volunteers her time as the leader trainer for the Atlanta campaign. "It's who trains them. It's not their nature."

Burckhalter and fellow trainer Ken Dupcak had a pair of pit bulls with them for the event — 6-month-old sisters, Ruby and Martha, who were rescued by Anna Ware of Atlanta.

"I was apprehensive at first about having a pit bull," Ware said. "I found out pit bulls were as sweet as any other dog with proper training."

Georgia now has some of the nation's toughest laws to prevent animal abuse, said Secretary of State Karen Handel, who attended the event.

"I'm all about my puppies, ya'll," said Handel, the owner of two cavalier spaniels, Maggie and Mia. "I don't know a dog out there that doesn't want to be anything but a lover to its owner."

Officials with the Humane Society have been talking with Vick's legal team for months to determine what the former NFL star's role will be in the campaign, Markarian said. But having Vick involved should help spread the word that dogfighting should stop.

"Hopefully Michael Vick learned something in prison," said volunteer Ralph Hawthorne. "He can turn it around. We all fall down, but we get up."