Vick’s dog fighting past not forgotten in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The wound is old. Old and deep. Soul-deep. Rob Chesser can’t stand Michael Vick. Because when he thinks of Michael Vick, it opens up this little scar. It breaks his heart into a million tiny pieces, like a light bulb underfoot.
 
Because when he thinks of Michael Vick, he can’t help but remember Toby.  Those eyes. That face.
 
Holy geez, that face.
 
“This poor dog was like hamburger,” Chesser says.
 
Rob had gotten a call from a shelter in Sedalia, Mo., years ago, asking for help. A pit bull, they’d said. Young, male, badly wounded. Based on the bite marks, probably a fighter.
 
“He was the nicest dog,” Chesser continues. “He looked like a cartoon. It was a joke. They needed to do a 100 stitches.”
 
Chesser is the treasurer and one of the co-founders of Missouri Pit Bull Rescue (or MPR), a non-profit based in greater Kansas City. Rob and his wife, Veronique, launched MPR in 1999 in order to promote responsible pit-bull ownership, find loving homes for rescues, and teach locals about the breed.
 
They’re also Chiefs fans, and this is where things start to get, as they say on Facebook, complicated. Because the more the couple starts to do the math in their heads, the more uneasy they become.
 
The Chiefs need a quarterback. Actually, they need several. The Chiefs’ new coach, Andy Reid, is on record as a Vick fan after their sometimes-fruitful partnership in Philadelphia between 2009-12.
 
Vick is under contract with the Eagles through 2017. But it’s a hefty contract, on a club that’s looking to shed some payroll. No worries: The Chiefs reportedly had at least $16 million in cap room at the start of last season. Plus, it’s shaping up to be a weak quarterback draft, which means …
 
“It’s making way too much sense for my comfort,” Chesser says.
 
To that end, MPR recently launched something of a small pre-emptive strike, just in case Vick, who served 21 months in prison for financing an interstate dog fighting ring and who admitted to playing a role in the death of at least a half-dozen the aforementioned dogs, lands on the Chiefs’ off-season shopping list.
 
Last month, Veronique set up an online petition — “Tell the Kansas City Chiefs That We Do Not Want Michael Vick” — at the web site www.causes.com. As of early Tuesday morning, the petition had received 2,853 signatures.
 
“She’s tried to reach out to the Chiefs to say, ‘Hey, we don’t want this,'” Chesser says. “I have conflicting thoughts on this whole thing. When someone goes to prison, they’ve paid their dues, they should be given a chance (at redemption).
 
“We’re not saying he should be banned for life or imprisoned indefinitely. But I don’t really want him as a part of the Chiefs. Let him go have his life, live his life as a normal person, not this life in pro football.”
 
Vick is reportedly due a $3-million roster bonus on if he’s still an Eagle through Wednesday, although the team reportedly isn’t expected to make a decision on the veteran signal-caller until next month. Free agency is slated to begin in earnest on March 11; Chesser says his wife has, in the meantime, been encouraging MPR members to write to the Chiefs to voice their concerns.
 
Not the least of which is this: One of greater Kansas City’s largest animal shelters, where several pit bulls currently reside, sits roughly 1.2 miles from Arrowhead Stadium. That’s a potentially awkward public-relations headache for an organization that’s already weathered too many of them over the past six months. Plus, MPR isn’t the only local organization that’s wary of Vick reuniting with Reid.
 
“The Kansas City Chiefs know this is a great town, not just for football fans but for animal lovers, and I’m sure they will keep that in mind when they make their decision,” Cynthia Smith, president of Wayside Waifs, another Kansas City rescue group, said in a written statement. “We have rescued and rehabilitated many animals injured from dog fighting in the Kansas City area. The most positive thing football fans can do is adopt a shelter animal to sit on the couch with them and share the excitement of the new season.”
 
Vick is a tricky subject for shelters and rescue organizations around town; while the signal-caller’s personal narrative — and presence — raises awareness of the ills of animal abuse, it also heightens the publicity for pit bulls as a breed.
 
And for pits, as they’re often called, more publicity usually means bad publicity: The dogs are already banned throughout much of the Kansas side of the metro and in several communities on the Missouri side.
 
Chesser’s mission is to dispel myths, educate the populace — did you know “Petey” from the “The Little Rascals” was a pit? — and find rescue homes that fit. Like many pit-bull advocates, Rob grew up with the breed, which is renowned for its loyalty as much as its physical power. Comedian Jon Stewart is a pit bull owner; so is celebrity chef/host Rachael Ray. Hellen Keller had one, for pity’s sake.
 
“We often times, talking to those who say, ‘I want a pit bull,’ we often talk them out of it,” says Rob, who’s got a two of his own. “We (try to get them) to realize what they want is a Labrador retriever that they (can) take to the dog park … we promote being super, uber-responsible. We’ve had enough with the breed already. We don’t want to set the breed up for failure.”
 
Fortunately, MBR’s winning percentage is pretty darned good in that regard. Toby’s victory proved especially satisfying, one of Rob’s all-time favorites. MBR eventually found a home for him with a family in north Kansas City, casting Toby into the waiting arms of a couple that already owned a female pit.
 
“This dog had been like someone had sliced razor blades, sliced him all over the place, it was like nothing we’d ever seen,” Rob says. “He was a fantastic dog and he turned out to be an amazing pet.”
 
Those eyes. That face.
 
Holy geez, that face.
 
How could you forget, much less forgive?
 
“That’s a great question,” Rob says. Then he pauses. “And it’s a terrible answer.”
 
Another autumn of Matt Cassel would be hard on Chesser’s eyes, granted, but kinder on his conscience. It’s an old wound. All he asks of the Chiefs is to not pour salt in it.
 
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com